Mark Stanton and David Bixby speak on the changes the university made to the document regarding university values and policies
On Thursday, Azusa Pacific Provost Mark Stanton emailed the APU community that the undergraduate student handbook had undergone a complete revision. This came after the school first lifted, then reinstated the code on same-sex relationships last fall. This update reflected months of feedback from students, faculty, staff, administration and board members.
University Executive Vice President David Bixby was charged by the Board of Trustees to assemble a team and begin changing the handbook. The team included members from Student Life, Campus Pastors, Diversity, University Relations, Faculty Senate and Staff Council.
“The whole thing needed to be changed. What prompted that was the issue back in September, but it was long overdue for an overhaul and a complete change,” Bixby said. “I knew we were going to deconstruct the entire document and start from scratch.”
Entitled “Undergraduate Student Handbook: A Faith and Living Community,” the new handbook is divided into three sections: undergraduate community living values, standards and policies and resources. Each section has several subsections and is completely different than its predecessor.
The changes to the handbook were made by a team of more than 20 people, led by Bixby, examining what areas of the handbook needed to updated. One of the biggest areas regarded LGBTQ+ students and romanticized same-sex relationships on campus.
In September 2018, APU removed the code on same-sex relationships on campus, then reinstated the code later in the same month. In the new handbook, the code has once more been lifted. In its place, the handbook has a section entitled “Sexual Stewardship.”
This section reads, “We affirm a biblical foundation for sexual relationships in full accord with the APU’s Human Sexuality statement. We believe God designed the covenant of marriage and that individuals remain celibate outside of that marriage covenant.”
While the language of the code has been removed, the university still holds the same core values.
“We hold that the full behavioral expression of sexuality is to take place within the context of a marriage covenant between a man and a woman and that individuals, both gay and heterosexual, remain celibate outside of the bond of marriage,” Bixby said. “For us, the challenge is how do we come alongside our LGBTQ+ students … and love them with the love Christ talks about –– love God, love people.”
Bixby said both heterosexual and LGBTQ+ students would face the same punitive action if caught engaged in sexual activity on campus. This idea of equal treatment was central to the entire handbook update, according to Stanton.
“We want to make sure we apply our standards in a uniform fashion to all students, so there’s a sense of it being applied in a non-discriminatory manner. It doesn’t apply to one group and not others. It applies to all students in that way,” Stanton said. “That is fundamental to what we’ve tried to do.”
Both Stanton and Bixby met with the Student Government Association (SGA) several times during the past six months. They wanted to hear feedback from students regarding the events of the fall. Three board members even sat in on an SGA meeting in the fall to listen to students’ opinions, according to SGA president Tabitha Parker.
Parker said she was glad to get the email announcing the revisions after unclear communication in the fall. She said students want clarity above all else on the situation.
“Some people were surprised that it happened this year, some were expecting it to be even more delayed,” Parker said.
However, the handbook touched on much more than just sexual stewardship. Also outlined in the community values section are discipleship, service, corporate worship, diversity, community care and integrity. Bixby focused on a few of these areas.
“This is who we are. To lead with discipleship is part of the framework of Azusa Pacific, our intentional desire to disciple and to point students to Christ,” Bixby said. “And anyone who lives at APU knows service is a huge part of who we are … These are critical components of how we do life at APU with students.”
Another component of the handbook talks about corporate worship, also known as chapel. Bixby said he is proud of the way APU handles chapel, saying that although he has not been to every Christian school, he doesn’t think any other university has a chapel with quite as “electric of an atmosphere.”
Perhaps one of the more overlooked parts of the handbook focuses on diversity. This section reads, “We support a diverse university across lines of race, ethnicity, culture, gender, socioeconomic status, class, age, and ability. In submitting to the Lordship of Christ, we seek to eliminate attitudes of superiority and to fulfill Christ’s charge to reach all peoples.”
Stanton said this change to the handbook represented APU’s student body.
“Christian schools in California are different than in many other parts of the country, especially in terms of diversity. The majority of our students are students of color,” Stanton said. “That’s simply not the case in many institutions nationally.”
While revising the handbook, Bixby and Stanton examined other Christian schools’ handbooks, especially universities in California. According to Bixby, many Christian universities share similar language in their handbooks; however, they may have different goals. Stanton reaffirmed that APU has one primary goal that has not changed, despite the other changes in the handbook.
“Our motto is ‘God First’ … That faith commitment was central to what we’re trying to do. I say that because it’s important for everyone to know that it remains central to who we are,” Stanton said.
Despite the events of the fall, Stanton said he hopes students will see what the university is trying to do with the new handbook.
“If you talk about what’s coming from my heart, it’s that students will understand that we’re genuinely trying to relate and interact well with every student on our campus,” Stanton said. “We don’t want any student to feel marginalized or outcast.”