Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra cuts ties with SPU

SYSO cancels reservations at SPU due to hiring policy

Ella Beth Sessions, Staff Writer

Seattle Pacific University’s McKinley Hall, department of theater. (Wesley Sui )

In December 2022, the Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra canceled all venues with Seattle Pacific University via email. They cited SPU’s current employee lifestyle expectations as their reason.

“We are writing to inform you that, due to your discriminatory hiring policies, Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra has canceled our venue reservation at SPU for February 2023, along with our plans to rent space from SPU for our two-week residential music program next summer,” read the email.

The employee lifestyle expectations, listed on SPU’s website, require faculty and staff to refrain from sexual behavior outside of the university’s understanding of Christian and biblical standards. These behaviors include cohabitation, extramarital activity and same-sex sexual activity. 

The hiring policies in question have been the root of much on-campus and widespread community protest, specifically due to the standard that employees must abstain from same-sex sexual activity. SYSO deemed this policy discriminatory and has severed ties with SPU because of it. 

“SYSO believes in supporting and uplifting all of our students, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation,” read the email. “We cannot be true to our values while sending our students to a campus that actively excludes LGBTQ+ people, nor can we in good conscience provide financial support for an institution that refuses to change its anti-LGBTQ+ policies despite repeated calls from your students, staff, faculty, and the community.”

Christopher Hanson, director of music education and orchestral activities at SPU, is contracted with SYSO as a guest conductor for the junior youth symphony, harboring a connection between the two organizations.

“The director of the Marrowstone Festival – the primary entity that contracts with SPU for facilities over the summer – she’s actually a friend of mine. That’s how I got introduced to SYSO,” Hanson said. “I met their artistic director, and throughout the summer, they were negotiating with me to be a guest conductor. The Festival really wanted to nurture a relationship with SPU, but going into the fall, the SYSO board of directors discussed what was going on with SPU and decided to boycott business until the hiring policy was changed.”

While that relationship between SPU and SYSO is now severed, Hanson was assured his connection to SYSO was safe.

“They were worried that when that information became public I would be concerned, so they did reach out to me before they sent the letter to say, ‘We want you to know that this is happening. It does not affect our relationship with you. We respect you as a professional musician, conductor and we still want you to work with our students. But we do not want to pay to use SPU facilities and support the institution financially with what’s going on,’” Hanson said.

SPU’s financial situation is increasingly becoming an object of concern. SYSO’s withdrawal of venue use reflects a larger pattern of alumni, organizations, and community members removing financial support.

SPU declined to comment on the issue.