Pepperdine University Gives It to Students Straight: There's No Room for an LGBT Group on Campus
Last year, the Pepperdine student newspaper The Graphic asked the university to finally come out with a decision about whether a gay-straight alliance group on campus was acceptable, after hemming and hawing for the better part of a decade. The university did just that, announcing that nope, Reach OUT isn't aligned with the core religious values of the university, which is affiliated with the conservative Church of Christ.
Dean of Students Mark Davis released a statement to The Graphic explaining the university's rejection of the gay support group:
"Pepperdine seeks to be faithful to this teaching because we believe it is God’s will and therefore we cannot endorse another view or take a neutral position on sexual morality. Although Reach OUT stated in its application that it has no position on sexual activity, we do not believe it is possible for a LGBT student organization to maintain a neutral position."
The students in the Reach OUT group aren't letting the issue drop. They created a petition on Change.org that so far has collected 4,697 signatures that includes the signatures of people claiming to be current students, alumni, former professors, Christians who support gay rights, along with others not affiliated with the university who support gay rights.
One quasi-anonymous user on the petition claiming to be a current gay student at Pepperdine writes that the university's stance hurts current students who identify as gay on campus:
The effects of silence on gay students at Pepperdine are emotionally stressful and spiritually devastating. As a gay Church of Christ junior on campus, I can personally attest that the silence harbors not only an atmosphere of "don't ask, don't tell," but also an atmosphere where those who hold dangerous attitudes toward homosexuality feel both comfortable and protected speaking out, through religion, against gay individuals. I've spoken to classes and a Bible study group at Pepperdine, and have felt the deep pain and fear expressed by gay individuals who have sought my advice afterward. Faculty is afraid of engaging the topic altogether, and when I recently asked my professor if s/he would sign the petition, s/he simply replied, "I'm not tenured, Dillon. I'm sorry." Break the silence. Speak out.
A user claiming to be Robert Cargill, a former professor of religion at Pepperdine who now works at the University of Iowa, signed the petition. His comments hint at the tightrope the university walks between its Church of Christ affiliation, which opposes homosexuality, and the tide of public opinion among students and faculty that have been moving in the opposite direction:
Unfortunately, Pepperdine is moving in the wrong direction as an institution seeking to be considered among the nation's best universities, particularly on social issues. By suppressing voices of differing opinions, Pepperdine is seeking to become more like other, more conservative Church of Christ schools rather than leading the way as a national university. Because of this, Pepperdine will sadly continue to be associated with the far right wing of social and political issues, rather than being a place that welcomes and promotes real discussion of difficult social and religious issues.
The petition organizers are lobbying for the university to reconsider its decision.