A group of gay and lesbian Westmont College alumni submitted a letter to the school’s newspaper earlier this month expressing the isolation they felt during their time at the Christian college.
The 30 graduates claimed that the private school’s views on same sex relationships alienated them from the rest of the campus community. An additional 100 alumni signed their name to the letter in solidarity with the alumni and over half of the Westmont faculty later wrote a response letter in which they articulated their remorse for contributing to any feelings of alienation.
According to Jane Higa, vice president of Student Life at Westmont College, the administration asks that its students comply with Christian teachings.
“Part of what we try to do is have a good sense of balance here at Westmont,” Higa said. “But we are a Christian college, and the positions we hold are commonly held in Christian organizations across the country.”
Westmont is a nondenominational Christian school and requires incoming students to sign a campus code before enrolling in classes. In addition to banning homosexual practices, the code prohibits sexual relations outside of marriage, drunkenness and profanity.
Despite the school’s religious regulations, Executive Director of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry at the Pacific School of Religion Bernard Schlager said the campus’ policies could change over time.
“First and foremost, it is important to keep in mind that Westmont is a religious school founded on the teachings of Christianity,” Schlager said. “But if you look back, it is clear to see that the Catholic Church has shifted their stance on many things in its long existence.”
Many Catholic universities — including the University of San Diego, University of San Francisco and Saint Mary’s College — provide gay and lesbian support groups. According to Schlager, a growing number of Christian schools are also welcoming the LGBT community.
“If you look across the country, there are certainly a strong number of examples that have been set by Christian colleges who are reaching out to their gay students,” Schlager said. “It seems that many schools have at least begun to open up the conversation on this topic.”
Fourth-year UCSB environmental studies major Ben Harris said he thinks universities should keep an open-minded stance on various student lifestyles.
“I feel that we, as developing young people, cannot be expected to know what changes we will experience in our near future,” Harris said. “It just seems to me that the college was not overly accepting of the changes that these students went through, and I feel like that probably would not have happened at UCSB.”
According to Higa, the Westmont administration is now looking to encourage discourse between faculty and LGBTQ students.
“Before all else, I must say that I absolutely believe that Westmont College is a safe place for students,” Higa said. “But what we have been trying to focus on now is creating better communication for students with differing sexual orientations.”