Crossroads GSA E-board members gather for a group picture before the Blue and Orange Madness “Madness Village” event Oct. 8, 2021. Pepperdine recognized Crossroads as a student organization in 2016, and it has since been a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community on campus. Photo courtesy of Danica Christy
While Pepperdine, along with other Church of Christ universities, defines marriage between a man and woman, other Christian universities disagree on how they define marriage — if they even define it at all.
According to Pepperdine’s Sexual Relationship Policy, “Pepperdine University affirms that sexual relationships are designed by God to be expressed solely within a marriage between husband and wife.”
Despite this, some students said they still question whether a sexual relationship policy is necessary — especially if it doesn’t affirm LGBTQ+ students.
“To be candid about it, I was confused and thought of it as both a vague statement and one that didn’t really apply in the 21st century,” said Joseph Heinemann, a sophomore and Graphic staff writer who identifies as bisexual.
Pepperdine students, staff, faculty and administrators discuss how to balance the University’s Christian heritage against being inclusive toward LGBTQ+ individuals on campus.
For instance, both Lipscomb University, a fellow Church of Christ school in Tennessee, and Loyola Marymount University, a Roman Catholic university in LA, avoid student handbook language that excludes LGBTQ+ individuals, and neither exclusively define marriage regarding to sexual conduct or otherwise. Lipscomb, however, is one of the few Church of Christ colleges that doesn’t explicitly define marriage as solely between a man and a woman in their handbook.
Views on Marriage and Sex
The Pepperdine Student Code of Conduct consists of standards and procedures every student agrees to follow and abide by. Seaver College and Pepperdine’s graduate schools each have their own Standards of Conduct, which vary on some rules.
This standpoint is based on historic Christian views regarding marriage and sex, and aligns with Pepperdine’s religious affiliation with the Churches of Christ , according to the statement.
Students previously contested this policy and requested its removal, according to a Graphic article published in May.
While many Church of Christ universities — Harding University, Freed-Hardeman University, Abilene Christian University and Lubbock Christian University — define marriage as a union solely between a man and a woman in their student handbooks, Lipscomb University does not. Lipscomb’s student handbook takes a traditional view that sex should be reserved for marriage but does not indicate who can marry.
The handbook for Florida College, a loosely affiliated Church of Christ university, also mentions abstaining from sex until marriage and, similar to Pepperdine, references Genesis as the basis. Florida College’s handbook, however, doesn’t state marriage can only between a man and a woman.
Handbooks for other notable Christian schools, like Liberty University, Baylor University, Westmont College and Fuller Theological Seminary, also say marriage is between a man and a woman. LMU, though affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church, has no clause about sex and marriage.
Consequences for LGBTQ+ Individuals
Pepperdine’s student handbook says LGBT-affirming students, including those openly out and in same-sex relationships, won’t lose their scholarships or their positions at the University.
Lipscomb, ACU, Lubbock, Baylor, Fuller and Westmont’s handbooks also don’t explicitly ban LGBTQ+ acts. Similarly to Pepperdine, students don’t need to fear losing scholarships or their education if they openly support or identify as LGBTQ+, but all policies call students to follow Biblical standards for sexual morality.
Lubbock, Fuller and Westmont’s handbooks explicitly denounce relationships outside of marriage between a man and woman, deeming them “unacceptable” and “inconsistent with the teaching of scripture.”
Baylor’s policy bans students from advocating for policies that go against “traditional views” on sexuality.
Harding and Freed-Hardeman are Church of Christ universities that categorize homosexual acts a punishable offense. More specifically, the handbooks forbid homosexual dating or activities.
In 2018, Harding students launched a publication named “HU Queer Press,” a self-published and privately funded publication about the Queer environment at Harding. It’s also where students discuss LGBTQ+ terms and issues while in a Christian space.
Liberty University’s Student Honor Code goes the furthest — it bans LGBTQ+ expression, from same-sex handholding to using different pronouns and gender expression outside of one’s assigned sex at birth.
Title IX Exemptions
What sets Pepperdine apart from some other Christian schools is Pepperdine no longer has a Title IX exemption that would have allowed greater discrimination against LGBTQ+ youth.
Title IX is a federal policy that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, and its scope also includes sexual orientation and gender identity.
Pepperdine gained exemption in 1976 among other Christian universities for religious reasons, wrote President Emeritus Andrew Benton in a January 2016 letter to the Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Education. This allowed administrators to avoid Title IX regulations that conflicted with religious belief, such as taking disciplinary action against those who violated established religious beliefs on marriage. It also allowed Pepperdine to restrict women in certain fields and roles, such as preaching ministry.
Benton asked for the DOE to revoke Pepperdine’s Title IX exemption in 2016, according to Campus Pride and Graphic reporting. Benton indicated in his letter that Pepperdine administrators had never used the exemption.
Florida College, Harding, Freed-Hardeman, Baylor, Westmont and Lipscomb all have Title IX exemptions, according to Campus Pride. In total, 119 universities have been granted a Title IX exemption, according to Campus Pride.
Campus Pride is a non-profit research institute and advocacy organization working to create safer, more Queer-friendly learning environments at colleges and universities. The organization’s Campus Pride Index publishes a “worst list” of colleges in terms of how they treat LGBTQ+ students, and any university with a Title IX exemption makes the list.
Benton revoking the Title IX exemption removed Pepperdine from the “worst list” and made the University more inclusive, said Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride Index.
Pepperdine has taken other steps to improve as well, including establishing an Office of Community Belonging and hiring a new chief diversity officer and assistant vice president for Community Belonging, J. Goosby Smith and April Harris Akinloye, respectively. The University worked with Zoom to create a pronoun field to help individuals better express their gender identity, according to a Pepperdine-wide email sent Nov. 9.
Campus Pride Highlights Loyola Marymount for LGBTQ+ Inclusiveness
The Campus Pride Index also has a “best list,” and the organization named LMU one of the most LGBTQ+ accepting Christian universities in the nation in 2021.
Campus Pride Index compares and evaluates schools on star rankings and eight areas — LGBTQ Policy Inclusion, LGBTQ Support and Institutional Commitment, LGBTQ Academic Life, LGBTQ Student Life, LGBTQ Housing, LGBTQ Campus Safety, LGBTQ Counseling and Health and LGBTQ Recruitment and Retention Efforts.
“So what it looks at is the foundation of policy, program and practice,” Windmeyer said. “That tool is meant to highlight positive work that’s happening across the country on any campus.”
Windmeyer said the organization also evaluates schools’ policies and institutions, such as whether the school has student-help organizations dedicated to LGBTQ+ youth or has bathrooms for those who don’t identify as male or female.
LMU has a webpage about how student services and staff are more inclusive to LGBTQ+ youth. This includes all-gender restrooms and all-gender housing. LMU also offers LGBTQ+ programs and events, like their LGBTQ+ Student Getaway Retreat and their LGBTQ+ Spirit Day in October to combat bullying against Queer individuals.
Emotions Run High at Pepperdine on Sexual Relationship Policy
For some community members, the biggest issue is the Student Handbook phrasing that defines marriage as consistent throughout scripture and based on Genesis.
“It’s a pretty limited passage,” Religion Professor Christopher Doran said. “Especially when you think about how the Old Testament was a very patriarchal place and men had multiple wives all throughout the Old Testament.”
Doran said evaluating student critiques over the policy has real urgency, especially when taking into account the higher suicide rates among LGBTQ+ individuals — and more specifically, youth.
“We as Christians have a substantial moral obligation to think about what the positions are that we’re taking and how they’re impacting people’s existential livelihoods in the sense of who they are as human beings and whether they think they’re worthy of living,” Doran said.
Senior administration and the Board of Regents review all Student Handbook policy changes, Dean of Students Mark Davis wrote in an Oct. 20 email. The Office of Community Standards also listens to student input.
“We have reached out to all student organizations in the past when revising, for example, the Hazing policy and the Good Samaritan policy,” Davis wrote. “Students can share their input in any format that best communicates their concerns.”
Both junior Hee Joo Roh and Steve Rouse, Psychology professor and the faculty adviser for Crossroads, said they believe Pepperdine should remove the Sexual Relationship policy for students.
Faculty successfully lobbied against such a statement in the faculty handbook in 2004, after the Board of Regents moved to include a sexual morality statement. While there is no such statement now for faculty, Rouse said he believed faculty and staff were more limited than students.
“Many LGBTQ+ employees at Pepperdine feel like their jobs would be endangered if they were honest about their identities,” Rouse said. “The culture needs to change so that other LGBTQ+ employees of Pepperdine can still feel as secure as I can.”
Roh said they would also like to see greater education at Pepperdine on Queer issues.
“The bottom line is, just start with sensitivity training and see how much progress that gets us, and then we can see where to go from there,” Roh said.
Heinemann said students have their own community to fill in what Pepperdine is missing regarding LGBTQ+ inclusivity.
“While the school has lots of faults when it comes to LGBTQ+ representation and acceptance and love of those people at school, the people within the LGBTQ+ community on campus have been able to show love I haven’t received from the administration, that I haven’t received from the greater school,” Heinemann said.
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