Religious requirements for student leadership limits applicant pool

by Max Carter

There is a certain standard that Whitworth University expects from its students, especially from students in leadership positions. As a Christian university, the descriptions of the requirements and duties for a student leader calls the student to demonstrate “responsible behavior personally, academically, and socially both on campus and in the community,” according to the Resident Assistant Selection Process Packet. Fair enough.

Most would agree that this is a reasonable request. But when this code is breached, and a small group coordinator or a resident assistant is fired because of their actions, an interesting question arises. Is there a division between students on leadership at Whitworth University and students that are not?

Members of the Whitworth community know how much effort our university puts into creating diversity across campus, from ethnicity to religion. There is no required faith statement in order to be admitted to Whitworth, and I have many close friends here that are not Christians. While dissecting this question about leadership and student body at Whitworth, I noticed a particularly juicy part of the resident assistant application.

Item “A” of Section II in the resident assistant application reads as follows: “(Serve as a positive role model by) affirming the mission, goals and Christian heritage of Whitworth University.” I have some problems with that.

Do not misunderstand. I am a follower of Christ and I am very grateful for the experiences that I have had at Whitworth in my faith. However, I am also proud of the diversity of thought and belief systems that is – supposedly – fostered at our university. Only, when important campus leaders like resident assistants are required to “affirm the Christian heritage of Whitworth,” some problems are created.

By including this requirement (or any similar requirement) there is a fairly significant population at Whitworth that is ostracized from applying or participating in leadership. Student leadership is supposed to accurately and effectively represent our student body and make informed decisions on the student body’s behalf. This makes me wonder how many students at Whitworth have thought about applying for a leadership position, but decided against it because their religious beliefs or lifestyles don’t fit Whitworth’s requirements. What does that say about the student body at Whitworth?

It says that there are voices at Whitworth that are potentially being quieted. What happens if a Muslim student wants to be a resident assistant? Do they have to help “affirm the Christian heritage of Whitworth”? What about a student that likes to party on the weekends but has a vision for positive change at our university? How do those voices get heard?

I agree that resident assistants in particular should be responsible, well-behaved role models. RAs need to set a positive example for their younger residents. But do they need to be Christians in order to do that? Based on the resident assistant application, it seems that way.

I want you to think about this: Are there groups at Whitworth that have no platform to let their voices be heard? Is it, or is it not appropriate for Whitworth University, a Christian institution, to require their student leaders to adhere to a Christian-based code of ethics? I don’t have the answers, but together as a student body, we do.

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