Questions about Gordon's Working Group and Caring for All Students

Can you share some of the specifics from the outcomes of the Working Group and other discussions this past year regarding how Gordon cares for all its students?

The following improvements have been implemented since July and will now be part of our regular services through Student Life:

  • The Center for Student Development hosted a training for all 70 residential assistants, as well as student government leaders, in October. This training included hearing the story of a 21-year-old man who identifies as gay and had been bullied since elementary school. This training will be held annually with our Residential Life staff.
  • The Vice President for Student Life hosted a mandatory, four-hour training in October on improving the care of LGBTQ students for the following deans and directors: Dean of Student Life, Dean of Student Engagement, Dean of Christian Life, Director of Student Life, Director of Athletics, Director of Counseling, all Resident Directors, Campus Chaplain, Director of La Vida Outdoor Education, and Director of Multicultural Initiatives.
  • The Counseling Center continues to host an optional support group that now meets monthly for those with same-sex attraction and/or those who identify as LGBTQ. This program received strong commendation from the community and during the discernment process last year. In the days ahead, the College will explore extending the reach and services provided to our LGBTQ students. Perhaps the greatest accomplishment over the last nine months has been the decreased stigma on the Gordon campus associated with being LGBTQ, as expressed by several of our students who identify as gay. We are also committed to determining how to maintain this decreased stigma during future periods when this particular issue is not in the public forefront for the institution.
  • A student-initiated small group was started under the direction of the Chapel Office for same-sex attracted students wanting to discuss faith identity and growth. This group was piloted for the spring semester of 2015, and we expect it to continue (and possibly expand) next year.
  • A group of students now host weekly dinners on campus for students to engage on issues of human sexuality, with particular focus on aspects unique to LGBTQ persons.
  • The establishment of a “Life Together” task force consisting of students, staff and faculty who will work together to think through additional best practices and protocols on these issues in the context of our Christ-centered community. The name of the taskforce is inspired by Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s classic book of the same title, a book that calls Christian communities to unity, even across differences.

In addition, the College will undertake the following enhancements over the coming months for implementation in the 2015-2016 academic year (timing and scope dependent on budget and resources available):

  • Improved, campuswide protocols for handling when a student comes out as gay on campus, with particular attention given to responses by staff in Residential Life, Athletics, La Vida Center for Outdoor Education, Chapel Office, and the Center for Student Development.
  • Revamped guidelines for campus programming around human sexuality, including programs in the residence halls and through focus weeks organized around sexuality (which we typically have every other year or every two years), to incorporate concerns of LGBTQ students raised during the discernment process.
  • The addition of a dedicated, part-time staff member (located either in the Chapel office or the Center for Student Development) who will be focused on helping Gordon students grappling with sexuality issues, including those of LGBTQ students.
  • The development of website resources to give students access to resources regarding sexuality and Christian living.
  • Inclusion of more curricular offerings where LGBTQ matters are explored within the context of Gordon’s evangelical identity and pluralistic society.
  • An expanded anti-bullying policy with stronger disciplinary sanctions for bullying.
  • Expanded biennial training for all faculty and deans and directors around issues of diversity and sexuality.
  • The establishment of a biennial survey that checks on the well-being of all our students as it relates to sexuality and identity.

What was the purpose of the working group formed last fall?
Gordon established an ad-hoc working group to assist the College’s leadership in thinking through a variety of issues surrounding LGBT students at Gordon. Modeled on a working group of trustees and campus representatives from a decade ago, this group included four representatives from each of the following campus constituencies: students, faculty, staff, administrators and trustees. The individuals chosen also included several Gordon alumni and parents, and individuals who were interested in fully exploring Gordon’s options regarding community standards on sexuality. An outside facilitator led the group during regular meetings, which ran from September through February.

Over several months, the group met with different stakeholders (including alumni and supporters) and discussed various dimensions of Gordon’s current practices and protocols as they relate to homosexuality. The group, along with the full faculty, were invited to read a number of books and articles on various issues surrounding this topic and to consider the insights of outside experts as well. Those trustees and administrators who were part of the group reported back on their observations and experiences with the full Board of Trustees at its winter meeting in February. The primary goal of the group was mutual understanding so that the College’s leaders could think through this complex subject from various perspectives with clarity and integrity. The Working Group hosted several listening sessions with interested constituents, and that may have been some of their most important contribution to this overall process.

How did the Working Group submit its findings and recommendations to the Board of Trustees?
With the guidance of an outside facilitator, the Working Group invited significant input from panel groups of students, staff, and faculty. They also received confidential input from individual members of our campus community. In addition to the information that trustee representatives shared with the full Board of Trustees at their winter meeting, every member of the Working Group was invited to offer their written recommendations and input directly to the full Board. The Board of Trustees paid careful attention to the insights of the Working Group, and College’s leadership team has been grateful for the candor, care, and wisdom that community members provided.

It should be noted members of the Working Group held diverse convictions at the start of the process, and at the end, diverse convictions remained. The Working Group reflected to a large degree the differing positions held by members of the campus community on the topic of homosexuality and Gordon’s policies regarding sexuality, and the larger debate within the broader church community. The Board was sensitive to those varying positions and clearly recognizes that the campus and Gordon’s constituents are not of one mind on this topic.

Did the Trustees discuss the College’s institutional positions regarding traditional Christian theology and teachings on human sexuality?
It is fair to say that Gordon College and its leadership have engaged the issues around sexuality and the College’s voluntary standards for community behavior with a degree of comprehensiveness, thoughtfulness, and intentionality that is unprecedented in our history. Part of the goal of this effort was to enable the Gordon community to more clearly define unity around the convictions we share even as we recognize that differences remain. Moreover, conversations that have taken place over the last nine months will continue as part of a larger educational process that continues to reflect both grace and truth.

The Board did discuss and unanimously reaffirmed the College’s historic, theological conviction regarding biblical teaching around human sexuality and behavior, and did not make a change to the College’s Life and Conduct Statement. At the same time, the Board believes that a fuller statement on the College’s understanding of sexuality should be articulated, particularly as it relates to our mission as a Christian educational institution, and they have begun work toward this objective. Many of the insights gleaned over the last nine months will be incorporated into this statement, but it will be broader and more inclusive of larger issues related to historic Christian teaching and contemporary views of sexuality.