Supporting LGBTQ Students at Christian Colleges

My title should not suggest that I know how to do this. In fact, one of the things I’ve struggled with this year is how difficult I’ve found it, as a faculty member, to be a vocal ally of various groups and individuals who are marginalized in the Christian college world. Back when I was an undergrad at a Christian college, I was outspoken in my support for left-wing economic policies, feminism, equity for homosexuals both politically and in the church, etc. Arguing about this stuff in a Christian college environment was kind of my thing, and part of the reason I decided to take this job was to try to support students doing the same thing here.

But it’s trickier as a faculty member. On one hand, there’s the whole threat of being fired for appearing to be too far out of step with the statement of faith of the college (as interpreted by the people in charge, which is frustrating; at my particular institution, the ethos is much more conservative than what’s actually on the books, which suggests, at least, that a faculty member could be called into question for views and actions that aren’t explicitly prohibited, though I haven’t tested this out [yet?]). Now that I’m increasingly confident that this will not be a long-term job for me, I may decide to risk this more, but I’m in a position where I can afford to be risky. Someone at a different point in their career, when it would be more difficult to change jobs, or someone whose family is very rooted in a college community where there are limited alternate employment options would, I imagine, find it much more difficult to speak out against evangelical norms, even if they or their students are being encumbered by them.

The other difficulty, though, is the majority of students who do believe homosexuality is a sin, and wives should submit to their husbands, and the world was created in a literal week about 6000 years ago. I may disagree with them vehemently, and I may seek to challenge their thinking on all those (and other) points, but they’re still my students, and I have a responsibility to respect and not to alienate them. Is it possible to be a voice of support for the minority without waging war on the majority?

I don’t have answers to these questions, unfortunately. But I do know there are students at Christian colleges–and I focus on LGBTQ students, both in light of recent events and because I think they tend to be particularly oppressed in evangelical settings at present, but there are also other students who struggle with various aspects of their identity and beliefs that run strongly counter to the identity and beliefs of their educational institutions–whose voices are being silenced for fear of expulsion (among other things). And I suspect it would make a difference to those students to have faculty support. I’m not sure how to do that, but next year I want to be more intentional about trying.

Incidentally, the Biola Queer Underground came to my attention this week, and I figured it’s worth the signal-boost. Biola, as you may or may not know, is among the more conservative of Christian colleges (for reference, my own employer is restrictive enough; I really could not work for Biola), and it would be a really difficult place to be gay. But, of course, there are gay, bi, and transgender students at Biola. And some of them are making their presence known. Good for them!!! Hopefully the same thing will start to happen at other Christian colleges.

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One response to “Supporting LGBTQ Students at Christian Colleges

  1. Jet

    This is an interesting territory, and one with which I wish you luck. My academic area of study has been in cultural studies (UK) and it is, you could say, the lecturer’s job to challenge inequalities in all areas and encourage students to do so as well. But what I have found, and other (past) colleagues as well, is that there seems to be an increasing number of students taking up media/cultural studies who, surprisingly, in my eyes, remain quite conservative in their views, often accepting common-sense assumptions in culture. This is so much the case, that there have been complaints about staff who supposedly ‘don’t want to listen to any other point of view’. It’s a real challenge to find the right balance, as you suggest, towards ‘respecting’ and not alienating the student, but also fulfilling your obligation to educate them. It is a greater challenge for you, working in an institution, whose core values are conservative and in tension with your wider aims.

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