Dirty Laundry and Seattle Pacific University

Seattle Pacific University has found itself as the center of controversy when Jeff Jordan, Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs/Dean of Student Life  (and adjunct faculty for the SDA program at Seattle U. He co-teaches the Law class) announced that Haven, an LBGTQ group on campus, would no longer be able to reserve room space from the university.

This may not seem a big deal, however Haven has existed for four years, but has never officially been recognized as a club by the student government, due to disagreements about wording of the group’s Statement of Purpose. The administration has worked with the group in the past, but has decided to end the partnership. Club leaders (including the faculty adviser) see this move as “defining the club out of existence.” Because the group deals with alternative sexualities at a religious institution, they relied on reserving room space to provide safe spaces for discussion, out of the way of prying eyes. They believe they have been denied a safe space on campus for LGBTQ members.

The school newspaper wrote an article about the affair, which in turn got picked up by The Stranger, which is home to famed gay Sex Columnist Dan Savage, who has pioneered the fabulous It Gets Better project. It’s safe to say that The Stranger is extremely pro-gay, and they haven’t taken kindly to this statement. Eli Sanders, long time news writer and also gay, has encouraged readers to send letters to Jordan in attempt to change his mind, after saying that he did not have any comments for The Stranger. Some of the letters have been quite moving, some less so.

This is a bizarre intersection for me, because I disagree with the university’s action, and I am taking a class from the man who ostensibly is representing the University’s role in this fight. The article outlines some of the reasons the club lost its rights: uncommunicative with Jordan about revising their Statement of Purpose, not being an official club, so they are not entirely innocent of wrong doing. However, I’m a firm believer in LGBTQ rights, and I think that they should be supported where ever they choose to go to college, even if it is a religious institution. Their religion and their sexuality should not be incompatible.

But from a student development standpoint, at what point do you cave at public, but non-university pressure? If members of the surrounding community disagree with your decision and are writing you constantly, should you change it?

I have no idea. Do you?


About Brandon

Blogging about my steady diet of culture.

4 thoughts on “Dirty Laundry and Seattle Pacific University

  1. I think the students involved in the Haven, the LGBTQ discussion group are smart – really smart.

    In the media attention this story has been receiving most of the comments for the group’s purpose have been framed in more of a free speech way less of a LGBTQ specific sense. From what I gather in my readings, Haven is “a Seattle Pacific University group dedicated to discussing gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer issues.”

    It’s tough to say what student affairs professionals should do in this situation. We have an obligation to the student and the institution. I think this brings up a great question; what is the role of the student affairs professional in student activism?

  2. Student activism… wasn’t that something from the 1970’s?

    No, but I agree. There is a fine line, one that is hard to balance when it comes to activism. As professionals we are called to support students, but also uphold the values of the institution. In this case, I guess I hold hard to the fact that you need to be at an institution where you feel you can defend the values.

    However, when things arise it is important to direct students to a healthy means of activism. Part of that is simply listening. Another part is giving examples of good activism and discussing these issues in a healthy manner.

    I think in response to Brandon’s question I would commend Jeff Jordan for holding to the values and not lashing out. He is in a difficult position due to the community whiplash, but I think it is important that you remain calm in the interactions.

    You don’t need to cave, but now is the time where a discussion needs to occur and growth happen, whatever that looks like.

    Thanks for the discussion!

  3. I do believe that as student affairs professionals we should be working to give a voice to every student.
    What is extremely frustrating to me in this case is that SPU is a private and religiously affiliated institution. By attending this institution, these students agree to uphold all religious values of the institution, as well as adhere to SPU’s statement on human sexuality. Because of this, I think it is evident that SPU does not owe a duty to the Haven club. These students have actually and willingly given up their voice as a member of the LGBTQ community in any context related to Seattle Pacific University. It appears that Jeff Jordan was doing this group quite a justice by recognizing the group and giving them the opportunity to form community regardless of religiously binding policies.

    It seems clear to me that any discrepancies the club is having with the institution are because the group was not meeting the standards to which ALL campus clubs and groups are held to. To me, this is a behavioral issue of the club officers and NOT about their sexuality. I think it was wrong for the student newspaper to place blame otherwise, and extremely irresponsible of the Stranger Newspaper to run such a story villainizing Jeff Jordan. This situation is not about the orientation of the group. It is about the club’s functioning, and following proper protocol, policies, and procedures. It is my opinion that it is because of the nature of the club that this has become a red flag issue. It really demonstrates how important good public relations are. Having a background in PR, image is something that is always on my radar. Crisis public relations professionals would be able to in this case, advise the professionals at SPU on how to maintain their public image through intentional and positive publicity. I think we can all learn from this how important having a good crisis management plan is with respect to maintaining the image of our institutions.

    As new professionals in this field, we should be giving our support to our colleague and mentor Jeff Jordan. It’s unfortunate that the realm of control on this issue has gotten so out of hand. I personally feel more incline to analyze the public relations tactics utilized/not utilized here, rather than critique the institution, the professionals, and their values respectably. If anything, I think it demonstrates how critical a crisis public relations is at an institution of higher education.

  4. Pingback: Update: Dirty Laundry and SPU « Student Development at Seattle U

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