Guest Opinion: Freedom from discrimination for all

Dr. Kathy Lee | Guest Columnist

Five years ago on March 18, 2015, the Associated Students of Whitworth University (ASWU) passed a resolution requesting the administration “to add ‘sexual orientation’ to the list of protected classes in the non-discrimination hiring policy for faculty and staff. The resolution passed 13-1-1; three ASWU officers presented the resolution to the Board of Trustees, which took no action. Technically, Whitworth still reserves the right to not hire faculty and staff based on either sexual or gender identity.

Recent email conversations with two ASWU officers from that year reminded me what an extraordinary year 2014-2015 was for those of us in the LGBTQ community here. Prompted by a 2013-2014 administration survey on campus diversity that “revealed that three percent of surveyed faculty and staff identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual” (ASWU Resolution 2014-2015.01), ASWU surveyed students and found that “70.1 percent of the 468 students surveyed” would sign a petition adding “sexual orientation” to the hiring policy. In the following months, with encouragement and generous funding from the administration, ASWU brought two outside speakers to campus, Julie Rogers and Dr. David Gushee, who presented different theological views on same-sex marriage. ASWU sponsored a forum at which queer students spoke about what it would mean to them to have the hiring policy changed.

In addition, a student organization, Step 7, led a faculty development day on various topics related to student diversity. Two transgender students presented the unique needs of the trans community to a room packed with faculty, a fact that demonstrated both a desire for knowledge and a concern for our trans students.

After all these events, ASWU conducted another extensive student survey, wrote the resolution regarding the hiring policy and passed it. It was a special year.  

The following fall, The Whitworthian editorial board wrote in the October 18, 2015 issue: “We still believe that adding this policy would support the Whitworth mission and we implore trustees to take more active efforts to enact this change in an expeditious manner.”  

Five years have passed. Whitworth has an active Pride Club, a club that some other Christian institutions prohibit. Various courses include LGBTQ+ topics, and faculty and outside speakers address LGBTQ+ issues at special events. Whitworth’s statement on diversity, equity, and inclusion states: “Creation is intensely diverse, and God loves everything in it . . . . We seek justice because Christ is our justice and call his people to do justice.”  Yet the hiring policy language remains the same.

After five years, I remain grateful to those students who worked so hard to survey student opinion, talked with administrators, coordinated events, educated faculty, wrote the resolution, and presented that resolution to the board. Thank you. I hope that in the not-too-distant future, the hiring policy language will include everyone.

Kathryn A. Lee, Ph.D., J.D.
Professor of Political Science