Azusa Pacific University (APU), a private Christian university in Southern California established in 1899, has recently reinstated a ban of same-sex couples on campus. APU’s Student Standards of Conduct states that, “Students may not engage in a romanticized same-sex relationship,” reassuring its Christian faculty, alumni, and students that they “affirm God’s perfect will and design for humankind with the biblical understanding of the marriage covenant as between one man and one woman.” Yet, APU’s website states “Our pursuit of diversity involves fulfilling Christ’s command to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 19:19; Mark 12:31, Luke 10:27).”
The same-sex relationship ban had previously been implemented on campus, and was temporarily lifted. A week later, on Sept. 28, APU’s Board of Trustees sent an email to students to alert them that the ban and Student Standards of Conduct would remain in opposition of same-sex couples. The quick overturn in the ban was blamed on miscommunication between APU and its Board of Trustees. “That action concerning romanticized relationships was never approved by the Board,” said David Poole in an email to APU students. “We pledge to boldly uphold Biblical values and not waiver in our Christ-centered mission. We will examine how we live up to these high ideals and enact measures that prevent us from swaying from that sure footing.”
While not mentioned in APU’s email to students as a reason for reinstituting the ban, APU has been emailing professors about being millions of dollars in debt. An APU professor who wished to remain anonymous due to job safety told The Los Angeles Times that the reinstatement of the ban is a fiscal decision resulting from fear of losing donors. “When you’re this far in debt, you don’t have a choice to be autonomous,” the professor said. An article published in The Los Angeles Times states: “In emails to faculty, [APU] President Jon Wallace said top university leaders were surprised by the school’s debt, which includes $17 million from the 2017 – 18 fiscal year, a projected $20 million loss for this fiscal year and an additional $61 million in unpaid bonds. In response to the newly projected $20-million loss, the university has put a freeze on hiring, eliminated retirement plan contributions, canceled a scheduled employee raise and reduced benefits, according to the emails.”
APU student Nolan Croce told APU’s student newspaper, the Zu, “This recent decision does not change the fact that the LGBTQIA+ community on campus is still present and needs to be loved and cared for. Along with many others, I am determined to continue to support and care for my rainbow brothers and sisters in Christ in any way possible. What that [support] will look [like] is yet to be decided.” A crowd of close to 200 APU students and professors linked arms on campus in a rally protesting the same-sex relationship ban on Sept. 28.
APU second-year Misa Rashid helped organize and attended the rally. “We just wanted to spread how we felt about the reinstatement of the banning of . . .
. . . same-sex relationships in a loving and positive way,” said Rashid. Protestors stayed at the walkout for an hour. Haven will remain on campus regardless of whether or not the ban is lifted. Rashis is a member of Haven, an LGBTQIA+ support group at APU. “All we want to do is spread love, positivity, and support through Christ’s name,” said Rashid.
Title IX, a federal civil rights law issued in 1972, was passed with the intention of protecting students from being discriminated against based on their sex. Since then, the law has been expanded to protect other groups, including LGBTQIA+ students. As of late February 2018, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals decided discrimination of students based on sexual orientation was in violation of the Title IX protections. “Sexual orientation is a function of sex, and sex is a protected characteristic under Title VII. It follows that sexual orientation is also protected,” wrote the court majority.
An article published in ABC News states, “The new parameters regarding gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation are included in the updated Title IX Resource Guide published by [Office for Civil Rights (OCR)], thus requiring colleges to provide equal access to LGBTQIA+ students.”
While the ban may not implicitly give LGBTQIA+ students a lesser academic experience, it does make it harder for them. Students who have been found violating this ban have been asked to step down from their positions in addition to forfeiting their scholarships.
Universities can request to be religiously exempt from Title IX if compliance would interfere with the school’s religious beliefs. If a university becomes exempt from Title IX, they no longer receive the federal funding that comes attached with passing the law. APU had previously requested to be religiously exempt from Title IX, but their school website’s Title IX section states, “Azusa Pacific University is committed to providing a learning, working, and living environment that promotes personal integrity, civility, and mutual respect in an environment free of discrimination on the basis of sex, which includes all forms of sexual misconduct.”
In addition, APU is not listed on the U.S. Department of Education’s website as an institution that is religiously exempt from Title IX. Taking into account APU’s considerable debt, it is unlikely they will move forward with a religious exemption because they would have to forfeit all federal funding, including Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
There are many similarities between Whittier College and APU. Both private universities have a relatively small student body of under 6,000 students, and started with religious values. Over time, Whittier College has resolved most of the religious practices of Quakerism, and instead replaced them with Quaker values: simplicity, peace, integrity, community, and equality. Whittier College has also prided itself on being a welcoming campus for all. As long as APU has been active, it has stuck to the same Christian values while enforcing religion, requiring students to attend chapel and take religious courses.
Whittier College Title IX Coordinator Joel Perez said, “[students] would have to file an official complaint with the OCR, and the OCR would determine if there’s enough there to pursue their own investigation and determine what kind of outcome there would be [...] It would be up to the OCR to determine if there’s any violation, and what the ramification or consequences of that violation is.”