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Let’s face it: We’re tired of hearing the phrase “homosexuality policy.” Not because we aren’t interested, but rather because this issue has been a “hot topic” on campus for over a year, and yet the trustees and the administration seem to be getting nowhere in regards to a decision.
It’s obvious that students are interested in this issue and have made an effort to voice their opinions. Last spring, a Change.org petition was circulated around and a week-long sit-in occurred in the School of Government. In April, several students gave an hour-long presentation to the trustees advocating for the policy to be changed. Their presentation was extensive, including Bible quotes, Christian Science references, and references to Illinois and national anti-discrimination laws.
At the same time, the trustees met with another group in opposition of changing the policy. Members of that group were never revealed.
Last semester, new impetus was gained with the creation of the Gay Straight Alliance, which has not been recognized as an official Principia club. GSA members implemented an equality awareness week, and are working with alumni to gain additional support in changing the policy.
Now let’s take an important step back. It must be made clear that the “homosexuality policy” isn’t actually a policy. Nowhere in Education at The Principia does Mary Kimball Morgan directly state that homosexuals are not allowed at Principia. For that reason, most people aren’t even sure what the real “policy” on homosexuality at Principia is. Let us establish here what is documented on the topic.
Page seven of the Employee Handbook states, “In accordance with the community moral and ethical standards described in the MOA (Memorandum of Agreement a.k.a. Employee contract) , Principia does not knowingly hire or retain staff members who engage in sexual relations prior to or outside of marriage, or in homosexual relationships.”
So employees who are open about their homosexuality, to the degree that it is known to Principia, are not permitted. But what if they are quiet about it? Or like John Near stated in his open letter, “decide to make it the non-issue it should be”?
What is the “policy” for students?
From the Principia Community Commitment (“Blue Pages”), page 6, “Behaviors not in line with demonstrating spiritual dominion are: acts of hatred or bullying, sexual activity (including pre-marital or extra-marital sex, whether heterosexual or homosexual).” The Blue Pages further define homosexuality in the “Need to Know” section, stating, “Homosexual activity includes dating, public displays of affection, and sexual relations.”
So now we’ve established the fact that public homosexual behavior is not allowed. But what exactly is the policy regarding admission of gay students? Is being gay prohibited? Or is it just acting gay that is prohibited? Is it really possible to spell out such a policy and if it isn’t spelled it, is it fair?
In the fall of 2012, Student Government with the help of College President Jonathan Palmer hosted open discussions on the homosexuality policy. While the Deans were always present, any interested students, faculty and staff were invited to attend and voice their opinions. However, this “openness” didn’t seem to apply to everyone. Students felt, and do feel, generally comfortable with voicing their opinions, but for faculty and staff the situation has been a muddle.
The administration likes to say it allows free speech, but in practice doesn’t fully. Homosexuality as a topic has never been an issue or even discussed until recent years. Many faculty members who have been at Principia for years recall the topic never being brought up at all; there was almost a sort of silent agreement that such a taboo topic wasn’t to be brought up.
Some faculty members have finally had enough. Most of us know that Near, a respected faculty member for many years, recently resigned because he “could no longer tolerate what [he knew was] wrong, and sit idly by when many, including [himself], have suffered and been deeply affected by hurtful discrimination and homophobia.” Other faculty members have decided to take a stand as well. However, this does not come without consequence.
Recently, a faculty member was called in by the director of HR after openly sharing views on homosexuality policy and encouraging others to speak out at a Faculty Senate meeting. According to the faculty member, a second faculty member was also present in the same meeting. In the meeting with HR, the faculty member was asked to discontinue the conversation regarding the topic and to be alerted that such comments “may offend somebody.”
Free speech? The faculty member described the encounter as being “silenced.” It only takes one such encounter to intimidate others from expressing themselves.
This semester Faculty Senate is finally bringing the issue to the table. However, it’s clear that faculty and staff really don’t have the right to free speech. In fact, it is deemed inappropriate for faculty and staff to speak out against Principia policies. As written in page 23 of the Employee Handbook, “Staff members must be thoroughly familiar with the ideals of The Principia as stated in the Purpose and Policies of The Principia. Full support of these policies and of other policies issued from time to time is a prime obligation. It is understood and agreed that each faculty and staff member will uphold and support the established Principia community moral and ethical standards through his or her personal example.”
Many faculty and staff, fearful of losing their jobs, refuse to speak out and therefore are silently agreeing to something they don’t believe is morally right.
How can we allow ourselves to accept such inexcusable conditions? Everyone should have the right to voice their opinions, but beyond that our opinions should matter. Policy nine in Education at the Principia states:
In all departments of its work, both curricular and extracurricular, The Principia shall place emphasis upon devotion to the democratic way of life and upon dedication of the individual to its service. Emphasis shall be laid upon the priceless privileges of the democratic way of life expressed in freedom of thought, freedom of speech, freedom of religious worship, freedom of press.
What’s the point of sharing your opinion if it’s not going to be heard? And being heard doesn’t necessarily mean getting your way, but it does mean seeing some kind of action or decision within a reasonable period of time. Without that, it seems like we are just being waited out rather than truly listened to.
Principia alumnus Tom Taffel, whose letter to the editors appears on the following page poses the following question: “Where does Principia stand and where does it intend to lead? Has the time for thinkers come to Principia?”
What more should we do if the only response thus far from those who make the decisions comes across as a strategy for delay? We all have our individual opinions of what the correct policy should be, but we can all agree that the trustees and the administration need to finally be definitive.
In the February issue of the Christian Science Journal, the Board of Directors quoted The Church Manual which requires that a Mother Church membership applicant “be a believer in the doctrines of Christian Science” (p. 34). This statement disregards sexuality. As Christian Scientists we “aren’t expecting others to tell [us] how to think or act, but are turning daily to the Bible and the writings of Mary Baker Eddy to discern the unchanging moral and spiritual ideals that enable [us] to move forward amidst the ever-changing sexual norms and practices of today’s societies.”
Shouldn’t Principia implement the same policy? As the only college for Christian Scientists, shouldn’t we open our doors to all “believer[s] in the doctrines of Christian Science” regardless of sexual orientation?
There will be consequences either way; there will not be a decision that suits everyone, but that’s just how decisions work. Decisions can’t be avoided out of fear or in hopes the issue will go away. So please, Principia, make a decision. And preferably allow the acceptance of openly gay students and faculty. They too deserve to be here.
Please submit a letter to the editors if you’d like to share your own opinion. Your voice matters.