Students grapple with announcement regarding sexual conduct expectations

Audrey Oscarson and Caleb Cissna

Many students, while voicing their frustrations with the Board of Trustees decision regarding SPU’s statement on human sexuality, express that they feel regret or embarrassment for going here based on the decision. (Shianne Heeraman)

On May 23, the Seattle Pacific University Board of Trustees sent out an email to faculty, staff and students, announcing that they would not be changing the university’s lifestyle policy. The announcement came after an almost two year controversy and shortly after the university settled the lawsuit with former professor Rinedahl.

“The Board acknowledges that there is disagreement among faithful Christians on the topic of sexuality and identity,” states the email. “However, the decision means SPU’s employee conduct expectations continue to reflect a traditional view on biblical marriage and sexuality, as an expression of long-held church teaching and interpretation of scripture.”

Shortly after the LGBTQIA+ Work Group made their recommendations to the Board of Trustees, the Free Methodist Church announced a change to their policies, stating that any change in policies would be considered disaffiliation with the denomination. The board reported that two members who were also a part of the Free Methodist Board did not vote in this latest decision. 

As part of SPU’s official statement, the board also added the following:

“While the board has landed on a decision that reflects a prayerful and sincere commitment to the wellbeing of SPU’s identity as an orthodox, evangelical, Wesleyan, and ecumenical institution of faith and learning, there is also sober acknowledgement of how this news will be received. The board acknowledges that there is disagreement among faithful Christians on the topic of sexuality and identity,” the statement reads.

Many students are disheartened by the decision and wish that LGBTQIA+ staff and faculty were included more in the conversation.

First year nursing major Madi Ourada shared her reaction to the announcement.

“I was very upset. I participated in the protests, so I saw how important it was to all of the students and the alumni that showed up, that was really moving for me,” Ourada said. “I had hope, I honestly wasn’t expecting it to go well for us. I’m not very surprised, I’m just more so disappointed. I thought, you know, you can always make change and they chose not to, and that’s really disappointing.”

Chloe Guillot, ASSP vice president of ministries, has worked on multiple LGBTQIA+ efforts during her time at SPU, and shared her thoughts about the decision of the board.

“It’s past frustration, and just into a sense of anger at the unwillingness for the Board of Trustees to see what is going on in this campus outside of their own lense and biased perspectives,” Guillot said. 

Guillot explained that this year’s anger felt closer to home than before.

“Last year, the outrage at an external group of people that we had no context of who they were just made this decision, but this year we’ve been in a room with them,” Guillot said. “We’ve sat with them. We’ve watched people cry to them, tell them their stories, and to know they can still look someone in their eyes as they are crying and telling them how much this university has hurt them and still come back and not only say ‘we’re not gonna change anything’, but to double down and say this campus believes in a traditional view of marriage. That this campus backs that up, when that is fundamentally false,” 

Senior applied human biology major Pamela Styborski was very emotional, sharing her disappointment in the decision.

“I think last week I finally had hope, after a really good one-on-one phone call with a board member, who reached out to me because he saw me at an event where leadership was present, and he spoke a lot of words about wanting to make change, and wanting to engage and was inspired by my story and went as far as having me draft a statement for the board,” Styborski said. “I had felt hope for the first time after joining others all year to work to change this. It honestly just feels like a kick in the ass. It’s invalidating, it sucks.”

After many discussions, protests, and conversations, some students feel that the university and Board of Trustees have exploited their activism.

“I know that I would love to keep fighting, but I don’t want anybody else to feel like they have to keep coming here, and having their soul and their heart on the line to change something, and to keep being told no,” Guillot said. “That’s not fair to expect people to do, and as much as I love the people at SPU, and my professors and staff and faculty and everyone here, and as much as I would recommend that community to people, I can’t recommend a space that keeps making you feel like their going to exploit your willingness to show up, I want to keep fighting, but also I don’t want people to have to do that. It’s not fair.”

Laur Lugos, ASSP president, is unsure of how the next few weeks will look, but is tired of not seeing any changes.

“I think one of the things that I am anticipating coming up over the next few weeks is that we are going to be told that we need to calm down, and be in relationship with our oppressors, but I want to make it really clear that that is not true,” Lugos said. “SPU likes to throw around the word relationship, and use it in times like this to tell us to settle down, but this relationship is an abusive one, and I’m not interested in being a part of it. We’re past conversations, so we’re burning it down at this point. We’re not sitting down and having a conversation with anybody.”

Some students are concerned about the ramifications this decision will have on SPU.

“I know right now, people are already wanting to leave the school and I think this will motivate more people to leave, and I would not be surprised if professors wanted to leave too,” Ourada said. “If they are going to discriminate against us and the people at the school, then why would you go here, why would you stay?”

Lugos wants to ensure that LGBTQIA+ identifying students, staff, and faculty feel welcome at SPU despite the decisions of the board.

“I hope that every queer student on this campus and every closeted student, queer faculty or staff member, knows that they are loved and that there is space for them despite the board,” Lugos said.

Students can learn more about the Board’s decision here.