Signs of welcome should not be considered divisive or polarizing

Response to “Welcome to the culture wars”

Kevin Neuhouser, Guest Writer

Wearing a shirt to show support for LGBTQIA+ individuals Dr. Kevin Neuhouser speaks at a demonstration outside of Demaray Hall in Seattle, Wash. on May 24th, 2022. (Rio Giancarlo)

On Jan. 30, students in my classes discussed the SPU Falcon article – “Welcome to the Culture Wars” written by Audrey Oscarson. The article documents the rapid removal of flags and messages on the morning of Jan. 27 that had been placed by students protesting current SPU policies affecting LGBTQIA+ members of our community. According to the article the “display was planned as a response to an email from SPU admin on Jan. 13, asking faculty to ‘take down any messages or signage that are diverse, polarizing, or show dissension.’”

This protest and the SPU administration’s determination to immediately remove all evidence that a protest had taken place raised many, many issues about the role and limits of freedom of speech on our campus. What students in my class seemed most interested in discussing, though, was the phrasing in the email sent to faculty: “messages … that are divisive, polarizing, or show dissension.” They focused on those three words – divisive, polarizing, dissension – and they raised two critical questions about them.

The first question was who gets to determine which messages are divisive, polarizing or express dissent? It was quite clear to my students that they do not have any say in defining those terms. As a faculty member, I can say that faculty have had no role in defining those terms. 

That leaves only our board and senior administrators. Messages, then, that the board/senior administrators find disturbing to themselves run the risk of being denied expression on our campus, as occurred on the 27th.

The second question was why could the pride flags be polarizing and divisive? My students accepted that they could be understood appropriately as an expression of “dissent” with official policies, but why would they be considered divisive?

A pride flag can be seen hanging in the window of Dr. Kevin Neuhouser’s office. (Courtesy of Kevin Neuhouser )

The pride flags have not divided our community, they argued, it was the board’s decision that splintered our community. Something can only be “divisive” if the starting state is unity. Clearly on the morning of Jan. 27, the flags did not destroy a pre-existing consensus.

At a deeper level, though, what could possibly be divisive about an expression of welcome? Pride flags symbolize that queer folk are recognized, appreciated and welcome. No one is being turned away. If we have an SPU banner that welcomes BIPOC folk, is that divisive? It seems that such a banner would only be “polarizing” if someone felt uncomfortable with the inclusion of BIPOC individuals in our community. It is not the banner’s message that is divisive and polarizing, it is a racist response to the message that is divisive and polarizing.

Is that also not true of pride flags? Welcoming queer folks into our community is not a rejection of cisgender heterosexuals. At least I can say as a member of that category of people that I do not feel rejected or unwelcome when I see those flags. In fact, when I see them, I feel more welcome because I believe that this is the kind of beautifully diverse community I want to belong to.

It seems that the only people who interpret pride flags as divisive and polarizing are those who, in fact, have divided and polarized our community by refusing to accept that God loves LGBTQIA+ folk as much as cisgender heterosexual folk.

This message is neither divisive nor polarizing. It is simply the Gospel. Unfortunately, the message of the Gospel now appears to be interpreted as dissent at SPU.