Updated below: Pepperdine tries to further justify its position, saying an LGBT club would “not affirm the University's traditional sexual ethic.”
Originally posted January 23 at 3 p.m.
Thriving LGBT clubs are almost a given at California's public universities. (And even private, stick-up-its-arse USC has embraced a new age of sexual equality with open-minded institutionals like a new “Queer Worldmaking” exhibit at the school library.)
But hop aboard the Pleasantville time machine that is Malibu's hillside Pepperside University, and re-enter a dark age when, mandatorily, Adam smoked cigars with the boys while Eve baked them pie in the kitchen.
Latest outrage: Administrators have denied a student application to make gay-straight alliance “Reach OUT” an official university club, say Alexander Cooper and Lindsay Jakows, the seniors who run the alliance.
Dean of Students Mark Davis (who “speaks for the administration,” according to public-relations officer Jerry Derloshon) gives the student newspaper some reasons for rejecting Reach OUT:
From the administration's perspective, the issue remains how Reach OUT will align with the Pepperdine mission and tradition. While Davis acknowledged that the relationship with the Churches of Christ is important, more central is honoring the biblical conviction that sexual activity should be reserved for a husband-wife relationship.
“Pepperdine seeks to be faithful to this teaching because we believe it is God's will,” Davis said, “and therefore we cannot endorse another view or take a neutral position on sexual morality. Although Reach OUT stated in its application that it has no position on sexual activity, we do not believe it is possible for a LGBT student organization to maintain a neutral position.”
Furthermore, Davis feels students should be contented with “Building Bridges,” a committee formed by the administration to address LGBT issues.
But in a Change.org petition to make Reach OUT a real club — gaining major steam after being picked up by L.A.'s richly historied gay rag, The Advocate — students argue that Building Bridges fails to “provide LGBT students with a sense of community.”
The petition is nearing 4,000 signatures this afternoon.
Judging by comments on the (unofficial) org's teaming Facebook page, Bridges is the stodgy adult answer to a much more complex problem on campus. “Reach OUT, you are the reason I can breathe at this school,” writes one student. “Thank you.”
Here's a fascinating history of the gay-rights struggle at Pepperdine, courtesy of Cooper and Jakows. The terribly regressive stance that administrators have taken on homosexuality is best roasted by Robert Cargill, a former adjunct professor of religion, in the petition's comment section:
“I am saddened that the Pepperdine administration has chosen to take a fundamentalist Church of Christ position on this issue, one that is radically different from the position held by many of its faculty. Unfortunately, Pepperdine is moving in the wrong direction as an institution seeking to be considered among the nation's best universities, particularly on social issues. By suppressing voices of differing opinions, Pepperdine is seeking to become more like other, more conservative Church of Christ schools rather than leading the way as a national university. Because of this, Pepperdine will sadly continue to be associated with the far right wing of social and political issues, rather than being a place that welcomes and promotes real discussion of difficult social and religious issues.”
We've contacted Dean Davis for more on the university's rationale. Kind of hard to believe that a modern-day place of higher learning would still try to fight in the losing battle against civil rights for all. Then again, this is Malibu we're talking about.
Updated on page 2: Davis does more explaining, and the Weekly speaks with the Pepperdine seniors behind the non-club.
In response to our inquiry, Davis sent the following email to the Weekly. The first paragraph lays out the steps administrators have taken toward creating an LGBT-friendly campus, and the second lays out Pepperdine's moral/ethical reasons for denying Reach OUT an official spot on campus.
Pepperdine still allows Reach OUT to meet freely and is grateful that members are engaged in the Building Bridges Committee initiatives outlined in the letter. Building Bridges was never intended to be a replacement for Reach OUT's active group. Instead, we invited the leaders to join the University in working on common ground initiatives, including adding a set of FAQs to the University's sexual relationship statement (e.g., making it clear that students will not lose scholarships based on sexual orientation), strengthening our harassment policy to make it clearer that harassment of LGBT students will not be tolerated at Pepperdine, creating support/discussion groups where LGBT students and their peers can engage in open and safe dialogue, and providing additional educational forums for the University community to become better informed about LGBT issues and disarm destructive stereotypes.
Since Reach OUT has been forthright that it does not affirm the University's traditional sexual ethic, Pepperdine has decided that official University recognition would imply endorsement and funding of a position inconsistent with our Christian heritage. Since its founding, Pepperdine has consistently affirmed the traditional sexual ethic held by most Christian churches, including Churches of Christ. We are committed to maintaining our long-standing commitment to our heritage and traditional biblical view of sexuality. Pepperdine respects the right of individual members of our community to hold different viewpoints, and, consistent with our church heritage, we will continue to review our interpretation of Scripture regarding sexual morality. We also affirm that those with differing views should be treated with dignity and respect. We will continue to build on common ground with members of Reach OUT through the Building Bridges committee, promoting open and safe dialogue and better understanding of all perspectives.
Cooper, one of the students behind the petition, says Reach OUT is hoping that “with all community support, Pepperdine might reconsider” its rejection.
Indeed — this pristine campus is among the more PR-obsessed, and all this negative attention (from the likes of Perez Hilton!) might be the pressure it takes for administrators to reconsider their stance.
Then again, we've seen plenty of scandals like this blow over at California colleges as institutional memory and momentum fades. “The university plays with students for four years, and waits for them to graduate,” says Cooper.
According to the Reach OUT founder, who also sits on the closed Building Bridges committee, the most substantial step that school officials have taken toward creating a more welcoming Pepperdine is to change some wording in the student handbook.
Needless to say, there's plenty of space for a student-run gay-straight alliance on campus. A campus that might even need it more, considering the whole “traditional sexual ethic” stance.
Without club status, Cooper says Reach OUT is forced to meet in “library study rooms” instead of classrooms; is not allowed to hold on-campus events; and has no access to student activity fees. (Kind of infuriating, seeing as each student — gay or straight — pays “about $160” every year into the activity fund.)
One alternative option for Pepperdine: Cooper explains that what next-door Loyola Marymount “ended up doing is disassociating all clubs from the university.” So the university can host an LGBT club — and even an Atheist club — without officially endorsing any of them.