Follow-up on the LGBTQ+ Care and Community pilot program at APU
Azusa Pacific had a complicated relationship with LGBTQ+ students throughout the years, with many ups and downs along the way. Recently, the APU student handbook was revamped to be more inclusive of its LGBTQ+ students. This decision came as a result of several discussions between the Board of Trustees and the group formerly named Haven.
This article serves as a follow-up to an article written in fall 2018 regarding APU’s then-recent policy change. It also serves as a follow-up on Haven in general, the policies that surround it and the steps APU and the group are planning to take moving forward.
The History of Haven
As a conservative Christian institution, APU had a policy against same-sex relationships for many years. This policy was located in the student code of conduct under section nine. It read, “Students may not engage in a romanticized same-sex relationship.”
Under section 11, a broader rule was made to encompass all relationships, whether heterosexual or otherwise. It read, “Students may not engage in unmarried sexual behavior. The university only recognizes the marriage between a man and woman.”
These two rules worked in tandem to prohibit same-sex relationships on campus. This created an environment where LGBTQ+ students did not feel welcomed, despite the institution calling teachers to “actively [protect] students and colleagues from the impact of discrimination based on race, gender, disability/exceptionality, sexual orientation, and language” in the student handbook of 2018-19.
However, these rules did not deter some LGBTQ+ students from enrolling at APU. Despite having to agree to the rules of enrollment, these students said they either didn’t know their sexual orientation prior to enrolling or wanted to go to a school that worshiped God regardless of the policy.
“We love all our students,” said APU Executive Vice President David Bixby. “APU is an open enrollment institution … We open the door to all students whether they’ve crossed the line of faith or not.”
Although Haven was not affiliated with APU at that point, they were often called “APU’s unofficial Gay-Straight Alliance club” and were active in showing support for a transgender professor in 2013. Later in 2017, Haven came forward again to support another APU employee who claimed he was targeted with anti-gay epithets and sexually assaulted on campus.
These events prompted Haven student leaders Nolan Croce and Courtney Fredericks to seek a more permanent presence on campus where they would be represented among APU’s clubs and organizations.
Haven members began to have conversations with APU administrators and the Board of Trustees who agreed to implement an LGBTQ+ pilot program on campus. The pilot program was set to last from fall 2018 to spring 2019. After this trial period, the program would be evaluated to determine their permanence as a school-sponsored group at APU.
First Policy Removal
According to Bixby, APU administrators involved in the decision went beyond the agreement made with the Board of Trustees and Haven in the beginning of the 2018-19 school year. While the agreement allowed the pilot program to move forward, it said nothing about removing the policy on same-sex relationships, though that is what the administration did.
The Board of Trustees claimed it had not been notified of the change. They demanded the policy be reinstated after several news outlets and blogs claimed APU was losing its evangelical values.
Two members of the Board of Trustees later resigned from their positions in regard to the policy change, citing a difference in theology.
The Board of Trustees sent an email to the APU community on Sept. 28, 2018, stating plans to reinstate the section nine policy.
“We pledge to boldly uphold biblical values and not waiver in our Christ-centered mission,” said Board of Trustees Chairman David Poole. “We will examine how we live up to these high ideals and enact measures that prevent us from swaying from that sure footing.”
The program was forced to abandon the name “Haven,” which leaders of the group said was a possible attempt to avoid the controversy surrounding the name. The group was instead called the “LGBTQ+ Care and Community Organization.”
Student leaders from the Student Government Association (SGA) and campus ethnic organizations showed their support for Haven, expressing outrage at the way the situation was handled. This was especially prevalent during APU’s Diversity Value Series, where student leaders were called to talk about the ways APU was succeeding and failing in its attempts to be more diverse and welcoming to students from all backgrounds.
Many of these student leaders expressed their frustrations that neither APU nor the Board of Trustees were being transparent with them regarding the LGBTQ+ pilot program, with many claiming they were left in the dark. This culminated into an SGA resolution that called the Board of Trustees to remove the policy on same-sex relationships or provide clarity on the matter.
Alexis Diaz, SGA speaker of the house, was among the most active supporters of the pilot program throughout the year. Diaz organized a prayer event outside Felix Event Center where many LGBTQ+ students and allies stood hand-in-hand and prayed.
“We do want to [thank] the work of the students who wrote the SGA resolution and who fought to push that forward,” Fredericks said.
Leaders from the LGBTQ+ organization said they had been in near-constant contact with the Board of Trustees and administration throughout the year, answering as many questions as they could to reach common ground.
Second Policy Removal
On March 14, Provost Mark Stanton sent an email to the APU community explaining the institution’s goal of supporting students and upholding the school’s God-honoring traditions. Although the section nine policy was never directly mentioned in the email, the message coincided with a change in the student handbook, which was rewritten without prior notice to the general student body.
“We cherish our multifaceted and dynamic community that draws people from myriad places and backgrounds who enrich our university,” Stanton wrote. “The Faith and Living Community undergraduate handbook is a positive step toward affirming the identity we share as a Christ-centered institution that values and supports all our students.”
Along with the edits to the handbook, the section nine policy was removed for the second time, although APU still affirms its belief that sexual unity belongs within the confines of marriage.
“[The Board of Trustees] reaffirmed their stance on marriage, and we were never asking them to change that, so we’re very happy with how this turned out,” Fredericks said. “There’s [been] a lot of confusion and fear this year … that the Board doesn’t listen to their students or they don’t know what their students are thinking or care, but they really showed that they were this time around.”
This policy removal is different from the first. This time, it was approved by the Board of Trustees and APU’s administration, giving it an air of permanence. Leaders of the LGBTQ+ Care and Community Organization expressed relief and joy at the news. APU administrators say they will continue to support their students and their rights.
“We’re willing to deal with tough issues –– and this is a tough issue,” Bixby said. “We’re going to walk hand-in-hand with LGBTQ+ students, and we’re going to disagree on certain areas, [but] those students are our students, and we care for them.”
Moving forward, the organization will be evaluated at the end of the 2018-19 school year to determine whether it will become an official school-sponsored group on campus. Bill Fiala, associate dean of students, will present a report to the Board of Trustees that will help determine the outcome of the Board’s decision.
However, it is unlikely the program will be allowed to use its old name. As such, the group is currently collecting name ideas, in hopes that the organization will be approved for another year on campus. Fredericks said once the group has a name, advertising will be easier.
Croce and Fredericks expressed gratitude for the Board of Trustees and to APU for holding true to its values while embracing students. The two say they hope to continue to give LGBTQ+ students a sense of belonging at APU through future events.
“I want to start establishing traditions, like these are events [we] do every year,” Fredericks said.
Fredericks said among the traditional events, she would like to see the program take on the annual sexuality and gender identity forum that SGA typically hosts.
“[Our] long-term goal is for every freshman who sets their foot on Azusa Pacific University will know we’re here,” Croce said. “We’re here to support them and to love them and to accept them just as they are in our space, and to welcome them into the community that is APU … Hopefully every student will be aware that this group exists if they need it.”