Faculty and staff take action

SPU Faculty and staff take on statement of human sexuality in senate meeting and in letter of lament

Kyle Morrison, News Editor

Flags covered various parts of campus, including Tiffany Loop, for several days this past week. (Marissa Lordahl)

On Feb. 12, Seattle Pacific faculty met for their monthly faculty senate meeting. This month the focus of the meeting was on the statement of human sexuality. Faculty senate functions as a decision making body on issues of curriculum, class selection, and other campus wide issues.

According to multiple SPU faculty members, the senate created a survey for all members of faculty to fill out which contained various questions all having to do with the statement of human sexuality. The results of the survey have yet to be released to the general public and faculty members have been discouraged to release the results. However, there does seem to be a general level of support for eliminating the statement.

“In terms of the people that voted and in terms of faculty conversation … that seems to be the dominant voice, that change is necessary and that it’s in fact too late coming,” English professor Dr. Traynor Hansen explained.

While the main section of the meeting focused heavily on the survey, faculty members went into breakout groups where more in-depth discussion about eliminating the statement on human sexuality and healing the SPU community took place.

“We had some breakout groups where we did talk about what the next steps would be,” Communication professor Dr. Matthew Bellinger recalled. “I didn’t really hear in that discussion any clear consensus. There’s been some discussion amongst the faculty of what reparations would look like, one of the things that was talked about was possibly a scholarship, I would be in support of that.”

After the senate meeting ended, a group of SPU faculty and staff sent out a letter of lament, outlining different ways SPU has failed the LGBTQIA+ community. Production on this letter began on Feb. 1 and it was inspired by a similar letter written by the congregation of a local church in the SPU community.

“I’ve been a part of a church that has dealt with very similar issues around LGBTQ inclusion and people who have been on both sides of the issue,” Education professor Emily Huff explained. “The things that came out of discussion was to have a group write a letter of lament.”

Huff and the professors involved with writing SPU’s letter of lament did not want to divulge the identity of the church that inspired the action.

Student financial services counselor Carlie Curlee said that she helped write the letter because she does not believe that SPU is currently living up to its mission as a christian university.

“This is an issue we’ve been wanting to change for several years and sometimes as staff you feel kind of siloed in your individual efforts to reach administration,” Curlee said. “We need to support our students and we need to have faculty and staff that look like them, know about their life and it just felt like we weren’t living out the ecumenical part of SPU’s mission.”

Associate Vice President for Enrollment Operations and Student Financial Services Jordan Grant has major theological issues with the statement on human sexuality.

“Theological points of view differ on this and on many things in the bible and I think that’s one thing that strikes me in particular… is that this institution somewhere in the past chose this particular debate to be so important to derive a policy,” Grant said. “We do not have a policy on abortion, we don’t have a policy on divorce, communion, baptism, and we have a policy on human sexuality. So that’s difficult to overcome and to rationalize.”

Grant believes that his reasons for eliminating the statement of human sexuality are very simple.

“I can make a lot of things in my own life complicated, but Jesus makes a lot of things uncomplicated,” Grant explained. “Jesus says two things are most important, Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind and love your neighbor as yourself. We’re (SPU) doing a good job of loving the neighbors we’ve decided to let into the neighborhood, it’s now time to open up.”

Undergraduate academic counselor Kate O’Donnell says being a part of the SPU community makes her feel complicit in discriminatory behavior.

“This is one of those areas where there’s been a lot of silence on and I feel personally incredibly complicit like everyday that I work here,” O’Donnell explained. “One of the last requests we put on that list is repentance and moving forward with authenticity and integrity so we can find some actual healing.”

The letter of lament is open to all members of the SPU community. It currently has over 300 signatures from alumni, staff, faculty, and students. The writers of the letter will be accepting signatures until Feb.19, so that it can be presented to the Board of Trustees the following week.

While administration has not openly taken a position on the statement of human sexuality since Jeaux Rinedahl filed a sexual orientation discrimination lawsuit on Jan. 11, multiple faculty members confirmed that they have been very accommodating in allowing them to write the letter of lament and present it to the Board of Trustees.

“I don’t think we know yet about administration response overall. I think it’s pretty encouraging that we were given the green light to submit it to the board of trustees procedurally even before it was completed,” Assistant Professor of Teacher Education Dr. Jill Heiney Smith explained.

Overall, the faculty and staff who helped write the letter of lament are hoping for the Board of Trustees to at the very least respond to the letter of lament instead of pushing it to the side like they have done to prior proposals to eliminate the statement on human sexuality.

“Based on the fact the student submission a couple years ago received no response, I think at least from my standpoint, my primary goal is to receive a response,” Associate Director of Graduate Programs Megan Hamshar said. “Secondly I would absolutely love to see this policy removed.”