LGBT makes strides
In a move that deviates from the school’s conservative track record on the issue, the Vinci-Ellsworthe Scholarship for students of LGBT causes will now be offered, according to the Pepperdine Reach OUT Twitter account.
The scholarship is a need-based scholarship given to those “promoting the health (mental or physical) and wellness of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) community,” according to the online application.
“The Vinci-Ellsworthe Scholarship was established and funded by Pepperdine donors Frank James Vinci and George Bushnell Ellsworthe,” Provost Darryl Tippens wrote in an email.
“It has not been awarded to anyone at this time. Students of all genders or sexual identities are eligible.”
Furthermore, Tippens said the scholarship is a continuation of the university’s commitment to diversity rather than a change in policy or practice.
“The scholarship does not indicate any new direction or policy at the university,” Tippens wrote. “Rather, the scholarship supports the university’s longstanding commitment to provide a welcoming environment to all students, regardless of orientation. I do not foresee any changes in the character, mission or constituencies of the university. We remain a seriously Christian university, dedicated to the same principles and expectations that are articulated in our various documents, policies and handbooks.”
Noelle Marion (‘10) is a recent alumna and creator of the Facebook group “Pepperdine Support for Reach OUT and the LGBT Community,” whose main purpose is to get Reach OUT recognized as an official club on campus.
“I believe the scholarship will have an undoubtedly positive effect on the LGBT community on campus,” Marion wrote in an email. “The allocation of this scholarship is an indication that the university acknowledges that LGBT students (and supporters) are represented in the Pepperdine family and more notably that these students are worthy of positive recognition.
“It will provide prospective LGBT students with the understanding that there is an LGBT community in the midst of Pepperdine’s conservative and religious climate and that these individuals are being financially supported by the university,” she continued.
Alumnus and former president of the unofficial on-campus LGBT support group Reach OUT, Lindsey Jakows (‘12) said she thinks the scholarship is a sign of progress, but it’s not the end of the struggle for equal representation.
“I think it’s really good step in the right direction overall, and it’s obviously really generous of Mr. Vinci and Mr. Elsworth,” Kakows said. “I definitely applaud Pepperdine in being willing to make a statement that it values its LGBT students and their work toward the community. But I do have some critiques.”
Jakows said university administrators still fail to recognize Reach OUT or any other group as an official LGBT club on campus, a struggle the LGBT community has pushed and petitioned for several years.
“I think what would accomplish the most good for the LGBT community is a university-recognized group on campus,” Jakows said. “I think it’s really important to have a totally stigma-free space where they can feel totally free to be open and honest about their identity.”
Jakows said she thinks the LGBT community plays a unique role on campus, and that open dialogue will allow students to learn from each other.
Furthermore, Jakows urged alumni to hold donations in protest of the lack of recognition.
“I don’t really see Pepperdine taking the step to recognizing a group like that without some kind of pressure to do so,” Jakows said. “I think it’s definitely no secret that the biggest roadblocks to Pepperdine recognizing the group has been the fact that its top donors are usually wealthy, conservative Church of Christ members who are largely opposed to the group. I think the strongest and most effective tool we have as alumni in pushing Pepperdine to recognize a group is boycotting donations.”
Marion said she thinks the scholarship represents an important step for the LGBT community and that she is hopeful for the future of the group.
“I am thrilled that Pepperdine has incorporated this scholarship and view it as a healthy and encouraging shift from their previous dealings with the LGBT community in the past,” Marion wrote. “My personal take is that every student on the Pepperdine campus (and campuses nationwide) has the right to feel accepted, loved and free to be themselves regardless of race, religion, upbringing, gender, sexuality, etc. This scholarship gives me hope that the Pepperdine administration is beginning to agree.”
Follow Nate Barton on Twitter: @TheNateBarton