Updated: Aug 28, 2018
When I first read (what seems to be*) the newest addition to the student handbook, I was confused. Not shocked, sadly, but confused.
“Sexual harassment is generally understood to include a wide range of behaviors, from the actual coercing of sexual relations to the unwelcome or inappropriate emphasizing of sexual identity. This definition will be interpreted and applied consistent with Christian standards of behavior and conduct.”
This excerpt from the 2018-2019 student handbook is on page 45, under the section of Title IX and Sexual Harassment. Now, to give Harding credit, I could be reading this incorrectly. This could be meant to be a protection for LGBTQ+ students. But sadly, I feel like that is not the case, especially with how broadly it was worded and with the oh-so-warm response we received after the zine dropped in April.
“The unwelcome or inappropriate emphasizing of sexual identity…”
Not, “The unwelcome or inappropriate emphasizing of another student, faculty, or staff member’s sexual orientation or gender identity”.
Because if so, Harding would be breaking its own rule. On multiple counts.
I’m going to be honest, I’ve been sitting on this for a little over a week now, and it genuinely makes me slightly nauseous and tearful. When we released the zine, we were kind. We were honest. We were scared. I say this with the utmost sincerity: we were wanting peace. We were wanting to work with the administration, not against them. Not only did the administration not reach out to us or offer any comfort, solutions, or help, but they snuck this statement into the handbook underneath sexual harassment. Students on campus are now terrified that even stating our sexual identity could be classified as harassment (after all, who defines “unwelcome and inappropriate”? Or “Christian standards”?). Not only does this affect LGBTQ+ students, but it is also incredibly hurtful and belittling to real sexual assault and harassment survivors.
Some people may not realize why we are scared. It could be the fact that Harding has grounds to kick anyone out for any reason, and we’ve already put a huge target on our backs. It could be the fact that, within our time here at Harding, LGBTQ+ friends of ours have faced discrimination at the hands of the administration. Not for breaking rules or doing anything wrong, but for simply being openly in the LGBTQ+ community. It could be the fact that they know that we are scared and hurting, and yet they continue to do nothing.
There was a faculty meeting last Wednesday. Now, I am going to preface this with the fact that I was not present. All this is from other sources, so take it as you will. Bruce McLarty allegedly stood up at the meeting and addressed the “LGBT issue”. He apparently listed “levels” of what was okay and not okay at Harding. The first “level” was same-sex attraction with no action (celibacy), and it was also implied that they should be non-affirming. The second was people of the same sex who wanted to date. The third was people who wanted to hire LGBTQ+ professors and hold pride parades on campus (which, by the way, we explicitly said we weren’t asking for). President Bruce McLarty then allegedly said the first category was fine, ignored the second category, and then said if you were a part of the last category, then you needed to “go somewhere else”.
Let that soak in.
A Christian University, supposedly rooted in the love and grace of Christ, wants nothing to do with LGBTQ+ students and faculty, unless they believe the way they tell them to. I know plenty of LGBTQ+ students who do not believe that being in a same sex relationship is a sin, yet they stay in accordance of Harding’s guidelines. The vast majority of us are not breaking the rules. We just want the room to say that we are comfortable with how God made us, that we are queer, and to be able to express a differing theological viewpoint without terror of being kicked out or punished.
I hate to break it to you, Dr. McLarty, but if all the LGBTQ+ students in those last two categories left, your numbers would drop drastically. It’s no secret that the incoming freshman class numbers are low. And they’re going to keep getting lower if you don’t do the one thing we have been consistently asking for.
Protect your students. We aren’t some weirdos in the shadows, spending our lives behind keyboards. We’re in clubs. We’re in chapel. We’re in class. We serve you food. We say hi to you in the halls. We are normal students. Students with feelings.
Many people say, “Why don’t you just leave? Why go to Harding?” While I cannot speak for all LGBTQ+ students, I can say that some did not choose Harding. Some chose Harding without realizing the severity of the oppression here. Some chose to go here, then discovered their identity/orientation while attending. Some of us actually REALLY love Harding. If you really love something, and see its potential, why would we not try to make things better? If not for us, then for future students. Harding University claims everyone belongs here, but that’s not true. The President said so himself.
We aren’t going to go somewhere else, Dr. McLarty. Whether you realize it or not, there will always be LGBTQ+ students on campus. You can either protect LGBTQ+ students, make campus safer for them, and show them the true love of Christ, or you could sit in your ignorance, comfort, and “safe place” while students are hurting.
Do you want to be remembered as the President who was on the wrong side of history? Or do you want to help the hurting and scared students you’re responsible for? That is your choice. We always have that choice.
“For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” – Esther 4:14
*EDIT: We suspected this was a new rule, but it turns out in has been in the handbook a very long time. Regardless, the wording should most definitely be changed to reflect a statement that does not make LGBTQ+ students on campus feel more unsafe than they already do.
Find the University's response to this rule here: https://thelink.harding.edu/the-bison/2018/08/27/university-clarifies-sexual-harassment-language-regarding-sexual-identity/