ReachOUT recognition denied, LGBT advocates turn to online petition
Seniors Alexander Cooper and Lindsay Jakows, co-presidents of Reach OUT, have released a Change.org petition in response to the administration’s decision not to grant official club recognition to the LGBT group. Titled “Pepperdine: Overturn Your Decision to Deny Recognition to LGBT Students,” the petition is an effort to demonstrate to administrators what Jakows believes to be a broad base of support for club recognition.
According to a written explanation accompanying the petition, “Until now, the university’s policies have created an atmosphere of silence and anxiety that alienates not only the LGBT student population but also anyone concerned for their well-being.”
Cooper and Jakows submitted an application for club recognition Nov. 9 and were notified Dec. 13 that their application had been denied.
“We think Pepperdine overestimates the number of people who would be against a club,” Jakows said. Reach OUT’s petition has received online coverage from The Advocate, a news source for LGBT issues, and at press time, it had received 1,280 signatures, largely from Pepperdine students and alumni.
Professor Robert Williams signaled his support for Reach OUT by signing the petition. “I believe that universities ought to be leaders in the effort to end discrimination. And Christian universities ought to lead the effort with grace and humility.”
Dean of Students Mark Davis has been exploring the best ways to meet the needs of LGBT students through the Building Bridges committee meetings, but the petition also states that the activities of Building Bridges have not gone far enough to create a sense of community for those touched by LGBT issues.
President Andrew K. Benton expressed a desire to fill these gaps. “It hurts me to think that we’ve got students who are struggling with these issues, who are questioning, and they feel like they don’t have an outlet. I don’t want this to be a place where people can’t find a voice,” he said.
Davis said that while he is open to receiving any kind of thoughtful input, “when it comes to issues related to the sexual relationships statement, those decisions aren’t made based upon a popular vote. Those decisions are made based upon principles and values the University decides are important.”
From the administration’s perspective, the issue remains how Reach OUT will align with the Pepperdine mission and tradition. While Davis acknowledged that the relationship with the Churches of Christ is important, more central is honoring the biblical conviction that sexual activity should be reserved for a husband-wife relationship.
“Pepperdine seeks to be faithful to this teaching because we believe it is God’s will,” Davis said, “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.”
Both Davis and Benton pointed to a wealth of commonality found through conversations with Reach OUT members and commended Cooper and Jakows for their maturity and respectfulness in presenting their position. All parties expressed a desire to continue to seek common ground through open dialogue, which will take place as the Building Bridges meetings continue throughout the semester.
According to a letter from Davis, goals for the meetings will include “creating support/discussion groups where LGBT students and their peers can engage in open and safe dialogue, providing additional educational forums for the University community to become better informed about LGBT issues and disarm destructive stereotypes, and strengthening the University’s harassment policy to make it clearer that all members of our community must be treated with dignity and grace as fellow human beings bearing the image of God.”
Said Benton, “As we go into this period of conversation, I’m anxious to find ways to not only make sure these students have counseling opportunities where they can say anything they want to say with the cloak of confidentiality, but, as I learned in my conversation [with Cooper and Jakows], it’s not just that — it’s a sense of community, and boy do I get that. Not one of us wants to be alone in this world.”
As Reach OUT members seek to form community through an officially recognized club, they see themselves as serving the mission of Pepperdine rather than combating its principles.
“Reach OUT does not see itself in conflict with the core of Christian values in any way,” Jakows wrote in an email. “We do not endorse sexual activity, we uphold Pepperdine’s maxim that ‘truth has nothing to fear from investigation,’ and we foster a much-needed environment where LGBT students do not feel marginalized from the Christian community.”
“[W]e do not expect the university to completely agree with our view. We think the administration can make a strong statement that our voices should be heard while also saying that they do not necessarily agree with everything we have to say. … The only values we want the administration to endorse are free speech and an equal voice for all students.”
Cooper lamented the rejection that gays and lesbians feel in being turned away by some Christian circles. He has seen this place a barrier to faith before those in the LGBT community.
“If this is how I feel in the presence of Christ’s followers, how can I worship God? It leads to a lot of disillusionment,” Cooper said.
He also explained Reach OUT’s refusal to affirm the traditional view of marriage espoused by Pepperdine. “If we were to adopt that rule, it would limit our ability to be a beacon to those who don’t adopt that stance.”
For Benton, the opportunity to care for students far outweighs the limitations of the situation.
“The only thing that we’re not able to do is what looks like endorsement. I’d like to get beyond that to get to the deeper issue: What do you really need, and how can we be encouraging to you without compromising and without walking away from our mission and those who have been so good to us for so many years?” he said.
Benton stressed Pepperdine’s efforts to meet student needs while honoring its commitment to a traditional path.
“Pepperdine has not been mercurial on this subject. We’ve been very consistent, and I think we’re been very loving,” he said. “We really are desperately trying to care for our students in a way consistent with our historic and traditional support for biblical marriage.”
Davis encouraged all involved to be respectful and loving as they continue to explore options.
“Friends can disagree on moral issues and still maintain loving relationships. No one — on any side of the issue — should be belittled, misrepresented, or demeaned for holding a different viewpoint,” he wrote. “My hope for the Pepperdine community is that we can hold our convictions with humility and grace while caring deeply about each other.”