ZU Magazine is a publication of ZU Media. Below is an article from Issue 3: Freedom.
Staff Writer | Katrina Williams
ZU Magazine Editor-in-Chief | Cynthia Arroyo
Diversity is a buzzword here at Azusa Pacific. This month, some students are again arguing that there is a side of diversity that the community has overlooked: diversity in sexual preference and orientation.
According to the APU Student Standards of Conduct, “students may not engage in a romanticized same-sex relationship.” Additionally, students, faculty and staff are not allowed to harass each other due to their sexual identity or orientation.
The issue here is a concern about seemingly opposing freedoms. Proponents of APU’s Standards of Conduct say that private universities have a right to create guidelines that align with their beliefs. Those who are advocating on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community argue that the same-sex relationship clause in the student handbook is discriminatory.
Haven, the non-APU-affiliated LGBTQ+ student organization on campus, recently organized protests and vigils in the first weeks of November for former APU employee Mahesh Pradhan. The hashtag #justiceformahesh emerged after alleged harassment and assaults on Pradhan on APU’s campus resulted in a legal battle between him and the university.
The San Gabriel Valley Tribune covered the student protest that took place on Monday, Nov. 6. During the vigil, students delivered a letter to administrators asking for the following:
- A full investigation and disciplinary actions for those who allegedly harassed Pradhan
- Recognition of the LGBTQ+ student group Haven as an official Azusa Pacific University student club
- The removal of clauses in the student handbook that discriminate against the LGBTQ+ students
- The establishment of campus-wide LGBTQ+ training for faculty, staff and incoming students
In the Tribune’s report, APU Associate Director of Public Relations Rachel White said, “APU adheres to a traditional definition of marriage. We are transparent about our belief.”
She went on to say, “Each student must look at the university’s values and decide if APU is the right place for them. It’s an individual choice.”
Diversity administrators on campus have declined to comment.
Pradhan’s accusations have reopened the conversation about LGBTQ+ rights at APU.
“I think it is very clear to the LGBTQ+ community that there are no great resources at APU… where they can decompress or unload about any given situation concerning their sexuality,” Erin Green, a senior biblical studies major, said. “APU’s lack of resources is something they definitely need to fix.”
According to Green, APU’s LGBTQ+ clause seems to contradict itself. She explained that many members of the community are fearful to “come out” on campus and that she too dealt with this fear before fully identifying herself as a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
“I was torn,” Green said. “I felt as though I needed to sit in the model that the church had taught me in order to be honorable to God.”
In response to this, White told ZU Magazine, “With Christ as our example, we seek to create space for dialogue and engagement that allows all students to feel safe and respected. Should concerns arise, the university’s student affairs teams come alongside students to offer resources to assist them.”
White mentioned the University’s “Bias Reporting System” which she says, “empowers students and community members to make reports and seek recourse.”
This conflict of sexual orientation and identity in the church is one that has become increasingly relevant to the millennial generation. According to a study conducted by the Public Religion Research Institution, one-third of millennials have left the church entirely due to what they perceive as its rejection of the gay community.
For Green, the fear of condemnation transferred itself from the church to the Christian university system. To her surprise, however, APU did not have an openly negative sentiment towards the LGBTQ+ community that she was expecting. Instead, Green found that APU was silent on the topic.
According to APU alumnus Evan Black, silence is a way of suppressing the freedom that individuals discover when they embrace their sexuality. As somebody who attended APU all four years and graduated last spring, Black also vouched for the lack of resources on and around campus.
When Black arrived at APU as a freshman, he was unsure about his sexual preference. Even though he experienced attraction to men, he feared the isolation that would lead to his coming out. Ignoring his sexual identity for a time, Black sought out a different way to fit in at APU: student leadership.
Black joined the Alpha and AC programs and it was through his positive leadership experiences that he became even more concerned about LGBTQ+ students. For Black, Haven was a place that students turned to when they did not find a visibly safe place on campus for LGBTQ+ students to go.
“When I was a freshman, I didn’t feel like there were older people I could go to, or would even care … we can talk to each other on campus as brothers and sisters in Christ, but there is always backlash,” Black said.
Black emphasized the bravery that it takes to be an LGBTQ+ person on APU’s campus.
“These students wake up every day and go to a university that does not actively recognize a major part of who they are,” Black said.
He went on to advise anyone who may be experiencing a fear of coming out.
“If you think you are LGBTQ, do not be afraid … because that stops you from being in a space to figure things out for yourself,” Black said. “You owe it to yourself to be comfortable with who you are.”
The question of whether LGBTQ+ rights can coexist with the values of religious institutions will remain open for debate not only at APU, but in churches, on college campuses, in the workplace and wherever else cultural norms are changing. In the meantime, APU, a “community of disciples and scholars preparing to impact the world for Christ,” will have to wrestle with how best to honor that claim in light of these challenges.