After concern from California’s religious institutions, which have led to a nationwide conversation, Senate Bill 1146 (SB 1146) is finalized and waiting for Gov. Jerry Brown’s approval by Sept. 30.
The bill was spurred by Los Angeles County Sen. Ricardo Lara in an effort to make students aware of private institutions’ beliefs and rules before enrollment. The discussion focused heavily on the rights of the LGBT community, as the bill’s goal was to ensure that these students knew the policies in place at religious colleges before they committed to attending.
“APU’s goal all along was to make sure that our common concern was—and we shared [this] with Senator Lara—that students choose an institution that is a good fit for them,” College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean Jennifer Walsh said. “If an institution didn’t fully affirm LGBT students, they would be aware of that ahead of time, and they could either modify their choices or go to another institution, or at least understand what kind of values were going to be in play when they arrived.”
APU originally opposed the bill in its earliest form because it would have meant changes in the university’s hiring policies and faith integration in general education courses. One version of the bill said private institutions would not be able to hire only Christians, while another said only biblical studies courses could incorporate faith-related topics.
“We wanted to make sure that we had an opportunity to share how faith impacts our history courses and our sociology courses and biology and even computer science,” Walsh said. “That was a fun conversation for us to have because it gave us an opportunity to share with lawmakers about who we are.”
After these concerns were addressed, APU moved to a position of support for Lara’s final version of the bill. This version states students need to be notified of policies regarding sexual fidelity and LGBT practices in advance of admission, which APU already does. The bill also requires colleges with a Title IX waiver to disclose information specific to their institution, which does not affect APU.
Alongside President Jon Wallace and Executive Director of Strategic Communication Maureen Taylor, Walsh went to Sacramento in June to have this discussion with lawmakers about their concerns in hopes of achieving reconciliation and maintaining the institution’s religious identity. Walsh said that just as APU faculty and staff were motivated by the protection of APU’s students, Lara was motivated by compassion for students who identify as LGBT.
“We, too, care very much about the experience of all of our students, including LGBT students, and are committed to making sure their experience on campus is safe and supportive, and we are eager to demonstrate that going forward,” Walsh said.
Another concern of religious universities in regards to the bill was the effect it would have on Cal Grant recipients, as one version stated it would take this funding away at private institutions if the bill passed and the colleges did not comply. This part of the bill was taken out prior to its final version after faith-based schools rallied together to maintain this funding before the bill was sent to Gov. Brown.
As of now, funding for Cal Grant recipients is unaffected, but Walsh said she anticipates this issue will be revisited in the future because the decision to exclude it was rushed toward the end of the bill’s finalization.
APU alumna Margarita Ramirez gave her testimony about her experience as a student who received Cal Grant funding. Ramirez graduated with a political science degree in 2012, and said she was eager to speak about her time at the university, explaining that she would not have been able to attend if it were not for state funding. She said she chose to take part in the conversation because she saw it as critical, and she encourages others to do likewise.
“Things are happening around you, and you need to engage and you need to respond,” Ramirez said. “If this is going to work—if this is going to be a lasting agreement and a lasting solution that honors the dignity of all people involved, then it’s going to have to come from within the Church and within the Christian colleges and within the LGBT community.”
Ramirez said this is not an “us versus them” conversation, but one that requires grace and understanding from both sides. She said she believes Christians need to be comfortable having disagreements with people who challenge them and with people whose opinions are different from their own. Ramirez said she feels Christian colleges are in a good position to facilitate these conversations and be an example for the rest of the Church.
“At the end of the day, we have the same common goals: the well-being of the students and the dignity of each individual,” Ramirez said.
Board of trustees Chair Peggy Campbell said the board is committed to its tradition of thoughtful consideration and critical thinking in all regards, including that of their views of SB 1146.
“As APU plays an important role in the higher education landscape in California, particularly in our ability to serve underrepresented groups, there’s no doubt one of the results of SB 1146 will be an opportunity to grow relationships in Sacramento and beyond, giving forums to more broadly share the powerful stories of how we produce difference-makers for all sectors of our culture,” Campbell said.