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Pepperdine LGBTQ+ Community Calls for More Support and Resources on Campus

By Crystal Chianani

Students, faculty and staff at Pepperdine University have expressed concerns about the lack of support and resources available on campus for LGBTQ+ students, citing the university's traditional Christian views on marriage and sex as a factor.

Despite the existence of student-run organizations like Crossroads Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA) and the recent implementation of an LGBTQ+ support group called "JUST BE" in Pepperdine's Counseling Center, members of the LGBTQ+ community on campus said they feel that more resources are needed.

“I know the Counseling Center started a queer support group recently and we obviously have Crossroads, but there aren’t many resources past that,” senior Psychology major and co-president of Crossroads GSA, Dani Christy said.

Students, Faculty, and Staff Experience at Pepperdine

Hope Lockwood, a senior English major and Life & Arts assistant for PGM who identifies as bisexual, said the LGBTQ+ community at Pepperdine University experiences a culture of silence due to the absence of adequate support and resources for queer individuals.

“Pepperdine always says students are at the heart of this institution,” Lockwood said. “But if students are always at the heart of this institution, why aren't they listening to us and why aren’t they acknowledging us.”

Lockwood explains that even though there are faculty and staff members who do support queer students, the prevailing culture of silence, where there is an environment where discussions or expressions related to LGBTQ+ topics are discouraged or avoided, leads many individuals to feel apprehensive about openly showing their support.

“There are a lot of people here who are very, very supportive of Crossroads and of queer students, but they sometimes feel like they are putting their job in jeopardy if they vocally support us,” Lockwood said.

Steve Rouse, a doctorate in Personality Research, is a Seaver College Psychology professor, and an adviser for Crossroads Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA, said he did not feel he was able to come out as bizexual at th university until he earned tenure.

“I don’t know whether or not a person who is LGBTQ+ would be hired for a faculty position here at Pepperdine if their identity was open at the time that they were hired,” Rouse said.

“For me specifically, that was an area that was challenging for me to figure out how I still live my life as a person who wants to maintain my faith as a Christian while also recognizing that the way the churches approach the LGBTQ+ population isn’t loving or healthy or reflective of what I believe the way God wants us to treat people,” Rouse said.

Queer people on campus say the Student Code of Conduct itself is an example of Pepperdine’s lack of support toward the LGBTQ+ community which states, “Pepperdine University affirms that sexual relationships are designed by God to be expressed solely within a marriage between husband and wife.”

Jeff Williams, a licensed therapist and a co-facilitator for the “JUST BE” Support Group at Pepperdine’s Counseling Center said he believes that Pepperdine needs to do more to create a safe and inclusive environment for LGBTQ+ students.

“Pepperdine can be a very white space, a very Christian space, and sometimes a very cisgender and heterosexual type of space,” Jeff Williams said. “We need to respond, and support, and help, because there are really very few things more important than to be acknowledged and seen.”

Comprehensive LGBTQ+ Support and Resources at LMU: Fostering Inclusivity and Equality

Pepperdine University and LMU are two private, faith-based universities located in Southern California. While both universities have religious affiliations, they differ in their approach to LGBTQ+ inclusivity.

The Campus Pride Index, a non-profit research institute and advocacy organization working to create safer, more Queer-friendly learning environments at colleges and universities, has a “best list,” where they named LMU as one of the most LGBTQ+ accepting Christian universities in the nation in 2021. However, in the past, Pepperdine has been ranked on the “worst list” on the Campus Pride Index,

LMU has an LGBT Student Services (LGBTSS) that provides the university with various LGBTQIA+ resources— such as an all-gender restrooms map, LGBTQIA+ calendar for events, all-gender housing, student programs, student services, group counseling, campus/ resident ministry, and off-campus groups and organizations.

Spencer Miller, a senior International Relations major, and board member of both LGBTQ+ Clubs, Somewhere Under the Rainbow and Transcendence, at LMU, said that as a first-year he was apprehensive about going to a religious university due to being a trans man, but changed his mind once he saw the abundance of LGBTQ+ resources and support at the university.

“I spoke with the previous director of LGBT Student Services there to kind of get a feel for what the University was like,” Miller said. “They showed me a lot of resources that we had on campus that made me feel like it was definitely more accepting.”

The University also has an LGBTQ Faculty and Staff Network, an employee affinity group under their Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Services. Many faculty and staff members of this group are also on their website OUT List, which features LGBTQ+ identified faculty and staff members with fun facts about them.

LMU’s LGBTQ+ Faculty Network Instagram page posting about their OUT LIST release in October of 2021.

“They have a whole OUT List of people who identify as LGBTQ+ either on the staff or faculty,” Rouse said. “Yeah, we got a long way to go before a lot of people could be comfortable on that kind of list.”

Hillary Henderson, who is the Ethnic and Intercultural Services Initiatives and Program Coordinator at LMU, is part of the universities LGBTQ Faculty and Staff Network and is on their OUT List.

“I never felt uncomfortable coming out at LMU,” Henderson said. “You’ll pass certain faculty members’ doors and they have different things that represent who they are and what they care about. It’s an environment where that is OK. No one is telling you, ‘Oh take that rainbow off your door,’ kind of thing. We have a place to be ourselves, to talk to one another, and to vent and express what we need to express.”

The University consistently pushes its employees to make an inclusive environment for all groups of people.

“Faculty and staff are encouraged to use email signatures that will have their pronouns,” Henderson said. “We are always motivated to do small things here and there that make it an appointment to make this environment more inclusive for everyone.”

Students at LMU said the University also makes it a point to fund LGBTQ+ events adequately to show their support.

Miller said there are various events held for the LGBTQ+ community, which are not only limited to their club but are school-wide. The events include drag show performances, STD testing, information tables, peer support groups for transgender people, queer relationships, and help with coming out.

“My favorite event personally is our Transcendence Dance,” Miller said. “Get it? Transcend-dance.”

During this dance, individuals are encouraged to dress as they please, providing a safe and supportive environment for those who may have previously felt unable to express themselves.

Miller also says that these events are supported by the Church at the university.

During the university's Trans Day Of Remembrance event, a memorial is held where a pastor on campus will come to speak to bless the lives that were lost the past year due to the results of transphobia.

“Everyone's been super eager to participate whenever we do a Trans Day of Remembrance event,” Miller said. “We always have someone from the Church on campus to speak. It's not a difficult time getting anyone to speak and come to these events.”

Overall, LMU's religious affiliation has not hindered its acceptance of LGBTQ+ individuals. In fact, the university's ministry opens its doors to its queer community with open arms.

“All of the people on campus, especially religious figures, have been super accepting,” Miller said. “There wasn't ever any time that I felt that anyone like in a religious setting on campus ever you know made me feel uncomfortable for who I am or what we talked about.”

Pepperdine’s Journey Towards LGBTQ+ Inclusivity

Students said they believe Pepperdine should learn from universities like LMU how to make their University more LGBTQ+ friendly.

“I was doing a project and I decided to look into LMU to kind of compare it to Pepperdine and I was just so shocked at how welcoming, affirming, and supportive they are,” said Christy, who identifies as a lesbian. I really want Pepperdine to make queer-friendly resources as they do. Their LGBTSS website is what I would love for Pepperdine to be modeled after because they really do so many things correctly.”

Stuart Moskovitz, director of the LGBTSS at LMU said Crossroads GSA should take the initiative to gather LGBTQ+ students, staff, and faculty members at Pepperdine University and approach the administration to demand increased funding for resources related to LGBTQ+ support.

Moskovitz said he believes that when there is a collective need expressed by multiple individuals, the university is more likely to take notice and initiate changes. By coming together as a unified group and advocating for additional resources, Crossroads GSA and other LGBTQ+ stakeholders can potentially drive positive change and make progress toward addressing the concerns of LGBTQ+ students at Pepperdine University.

Rouse believes that Pepperdine can take steps toward creating a more inclusive environment for the LGBTQ+ community if they let go of the more traditional ways of the Church and start following a more open and accepting way of the Church like LMU.

“I think if the administration were just to say that employees who are queer at the time of hiring could still be hired like they are at LMU, I think that would go a long way,” Rouse said.

“They’ve made it very clear that the inclusion of LGBTQ+ employees and students is consistent with being a Christian Institution,” Rouse said. “I feel as though Pepperdine could also still be consistent with its mission as well as being fully and very visibly inclusive of all the students and faculty and staff. But we’re not there yet.”

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