Art by Hee Joo Roh
Transparency Item: The Perspectives section of the Graphic is comprised of articles based on opinion. This is the opinion and perspective of the writer.
My parents are members of the Churches of Christ, and I grew up visiting Pepperdine for the Bible Lectures. Pepperdine’s Seaver College was the only school I ever wanted to attend, and there was only one thing that made me question my place as a future Wave: the statement on Sexual Relationships at Pepperdine.
“Pepperdine University affirms that sexual relationships are designed by God to be expressed solely within a marriage between husband and wife,” the Student Code of Conduct says. “This view of sexuality and marriage is rooted in the Genesis account of creation and is maintained consistently throughout scripture.”
The website affirms that despite the statement, LGBTQ+ students will not be stripped of scholarships. Pepperdine claims in its Discrimination and Harassment Policy that as an institution it does not discriminate against students.
“Pepperdine University affirms that all members of our community are created in the image of God and therefore should be treated with dignity and respect,” the Discrimination and Harassment Policy says.
Paragraph II of the Student Code of Conduct states, “It is expected that all students will maintain the highest standards of personal honor, morality, and integrity. The University reserves the right to refuse admittance to, or dismiss any person who violates these principles.”
These statements are what make LGBTQ+ students, like myself, feel like we are constantly living in fear, that at any moment some figure will appear informing us that we were caught and will be dismissed.
This statement comes off as a fear tactic used to make LGBTQ+ students feel inferior, unwanted and unwelcome at Pepperdine. I believe this statement is meant to deter LGBTQ+ and ally students from wanting to attend Pepperdine in hopes of attracting more conservative students.
Despite this statement, there are LGBTQ+ students who come here. Some come for financial reasons and others are forced by their parents, but regardless, there is a strong LGBTQ+ community here.
Crossroads Gender and Sexuality Co-President Dani Christy, who is a lesbian, said she first came across the statement on sexual relationships the summer before her first year, while reading the Student Code of Conduct.
“I read [the statement on sexual relationships] and I panicked,” Christy said. “I had already paid my deposit, I had already committed to Pepperdine. I suddenly didn’t know if this was going to be a safe space for me or not.”
Christy said since coming to Pepperdine, she realized there are other things that need to be changed on campus to make it safer for LGBTQ+ students, but she is excited for the day the statement is removed.
She said it was her first experience as a gay Pepperdine student realizing there was the distinct potential that her arrival to campus would also mean her arrival to a potentially dangerous environment.
The University Code of Ethics states that as an institution, Pepperdine does not unlawfully discriminate on the basis of any status or condition protected by applicable federal or state law. In addition, it states Pepperdine believes in the inherent worth of each member of the community and does not engage in any form of harassment.
Psychology professor Steve Rouse disagrees with the Statement on Sexual Relationships, believing it to violate Title IX. The Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 was established to protect people from discrimination based on sex and gender within federally funded educational programs, activities and environments.
“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance,” according to Title IX.
Despite this, higher education institutions can claim religious exemption from participating in Title IX. Rouse said because former President Andrew K. Benton withdrew from Title IX exemption in 2016, he does not believe the Statement on Sexual Relationships is legal.
“After the Supreme Court’s decision in the Obergefell v. Hodges case, it’s my understanding that marriage cannot be legally limited by the genders of the people in the relationship,” Rouse said. “Now, perhaps if Pepperdine had a Title IX exemption, it could make a statement that defies the Obergefell ruling. But a formal statement in a Student Handbook stipulating that the University defines marriage as being between a man and a woman seems, to me, to be setting the institution up for a lawsuit.”
Students and faculty cite inconsistencies and the statement’s fundamentally exclusionary nature as reasons why it should be removed.
“I feel that there is a subtle but serious inconsistency in this statement,” Rouse said. “The statement reads that ‘Pepperdine University affirms’ this definition of marriage and that ‘all members of the University’ are expected to follow the expectation that all unmarried people within the University community are ‘called to a life of chastity.’ However, as far as I can tell, the only places where these statements appear are in documents specific to Seaver College.”
Christy said she believes the statement is discriminatory, and its wording deliberately targets LGBTQ+ students.
“It goes out of its way to target Queer people,” Christy said. “It could very easily end at ‘sexual relationships are designed by G-D to be expressed solely within marriage.’ Instead, it implies that Queer relationships should never be allowed to engage in sexual activities, even within marriage.”
Christy also believes the fact that Pepperdine’s website includes questions like “Can students lose their scholarships or face disciplinary action just for identifying as LGBT?” and “How will Pepperdine respond to the harassment of LGBT students?” within the question and answer section shows that the University is aware that the statement attacks LGBTQ+ students.
“[These questions and the University’s answers] show that the University is aware that the statement is discriminatory, targets members of the LGBTQ+ community and makes Queer students feel unsafe and uncomfortable,” Christy said. “The University just doesn’t care if Queer students feel unwelcome.”
Rouse said he has been told removing the statement on sexual relationships would undermine the mission of the University.
“Yet, apparently it doesn’t undermine the mission of the University for this statement to be absent from the student handbooks for the graduate schools,” Rouse said.
Christy said the statement made her feel like she could never be accepted at Pepperdine. She believes that removing the statement has the potential to make LGBTQ+ students feel listened to and acknowledged by the institution.
Senior Charlie Markham was one of several students who provided written statements for SGA’s Resolution #11-S22. The Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council of the Student Government Association’s Resolution #11-S22 was an attempt led by students to remove the Statement from both the Code of Conduct and the Pepperdine website.
In his statement, he argued the statement directly incites devaluation of LGBTQ+ students because of its language.
“The straight, cisgender approach to faith is not universal, and Queer Christians must not be forced to abandon who they are to follow God,” Markham wrote.
SGA’s Resolution #11-S22 passed in spring semester of 2022. After it passed, it went from the Seaver Diversity Council, then to the University Diversity Council and finally, the Office of the Provost, SGA Vice President Mallory Bedford said.
“SGA has been told that the resolution is currently being carefully considered by the Provost’s Office,” Bedford said.
The Graphic reached out to the Office of the Provost for clarity on what the consideration process looks like and what the approximate timeline would be and if there was an interest in removing the statement within administration. The Office of the Provost did not respond.
In addition to Resolution #11-S22, other attempts to remove the statement include a petition created by a student and multiple requests from Crossroads GSA.
Senior Coby Rogers created the petition for his COM 180 class. Since its creation in the spring of 2021, it has garnered 378 signatures as of March 14. Despite student, faculty and staff support for the petition, Pepperdine never issued a formal statement on it.
Alumna and former Crossroads GSA President Mary Buffaloe said the club has tried multiple times to request the statement’s repeal from the University through the group’s constitution. The club was denied without explanation — once when the club was incepted in 2016 and again during the 2019 school year.
In all of the instances listed above, the University never so much as acknowledged these requests, even when students have gone through the proper channels for implementing change on campus.
The University’s Office For Community Belonging was founded in 2020 with the goal of promoting unity, belonging and support for marginalized students across campus.
“The Office for Community Belonging (OCB) facilitates the creation of fertile ground in which all Pepperdine community members know they belong and can reach the levels of spiritual, intellectual, and professional development that God has planned for them,” the website says.
However, I have not nor have many of my LGBTQ+ peers across campus been able to reach higher levels of spiritual, intellectual and professional fruition while living under statements and in communities that actively are against us. It is counterintuitive to argue in favor of student development while simultaneously contributing to their decline.
If the University is actually interested in creating a supportive environment for LGBTQ+, administration must acknowledge students and remove this statement. If they are not, it is time to stop creating an environment of silence.
Students deserve answers. We deserve to be acknowledged and to be told directly by the institution that there is no interest in bettering our experiences. We deserve to be told that they do not care about us.
Students have tried multiple times and through various fashions to get this statement removed, and the University has proven through their silence that there is no interest in promoting equality across all of Pepperdine’s campuses or bettering the experiences of LGBTQ+ students. There is no interest in treating LGBTQ+ students with the respect and dignity they deserve as G-D’s image bearers.
Students are on campus for four years, which is a limited amount of time to accomplish anything substantial. At this point, almost a decade’s worth of students have tried to get this statement removed, and it hasn’t amounted to anything.
There are faculty, staff and administration who are allies and even a few who are part of the LGBTQ+ community. It is up to these allies, colleagues and us, as students, to defend and fight to get statements like this removed. The community will continue to suffer unless changes are made.
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