Westmont Faculty Issue Open Letter of Solidarity with Gay Students, Alumni
Statement asks for forgiveness and supports more dialogue about LGBT orientation
Westmont College, a private interdenominational Christian liberal arts school in Montecito, has a Community Life Statement and expects its 1,200 students to honor its guidelines. The statement also applies to trustees, administrators, faculty and staff. (Brad Elliott photo / Westmont College)
Just days after Noozhawk reported on the struggles of gay students and alumni at Westmont College, the signatures of nearly 50 faculty have been posted online in solidarity.
The signatures of the faculty, while not representing Westmont, were listed to “acknowledge that we have heard your voices.”
“As you know, it’s not news to us that there are LGBT members of the Westmont community, or that being here can be painful,” the faculty statement reads.
More than 130 alumni of the private interdenominational Christian liberal arts school have signed on to the first open letter in support of LGBT students at Westmont, located at 955 La Paz Road in the Montecito foothills. The letter, which began circulating on Facebook in December, calls for dialogue between students and the administration in an effort to prevent “current students from feeling the same isolation that many (alumni) experienced as Westmont students.”
According to Westmont’s Community Life Statement, the school does not condone practices that the Bible forbids. “Such activities include occult practices, sexual relations outside of marriage, homosexual practice, drunkenness, theft, profanity and dishonesty,” according to the nearly 1,000-word statement.
The faculty group letter acknowledges the emotions that LGBT alumni may have felt while enrolled, and asks for their forgiveness.
“We share your hope for richer, more gracious dialogue on issues of human sexuality that trouble the church and that have too often been neglectful of the minority voices among us,” the statement reads.
While the post lists signatures from senior Westmont faculty members, other professors and nontenured faculty signed the statement in the post’s comment section.
Telford Work, a theology professor who has worked at Westmont since 1999, expressed his apologies on the page’s comment board toward Westmont alumni who felt unwelcome to speak about their sexuality until after graduating.
“I wish I could have had conversations with you while you were here,” he wrote. “Moreover, I wish you had availed yourselves of some of the many people I trust here. Personal experience has made me certain that they would have heard you and walked alongside you during your time here.”
Work offered a “heartfelt apology” to the alumni, and said he wants current students to feel comforted as well.
“I especially want current students and other alumni to realize that the closet is not the only ‘safe’ option here,” he said.
The Web site also states that “the signers of the attached letter write with humility to our former students who have been hurt, and whom we cherish as members of our community. We also write with confidence in a perfect love that casts out fear and that can redeem broken communities.”
The conversation might be a difficult one, the statement acknowledges, and is unlikely to satisfy all participants.
“In spite of these shortcomings, we affirm our commitment to rigorous, faithful, honest dialogue for the sake of our students, our alumni, our churches, our profession, and to the glory of a loving God,” it read.
Jennifer Lorden, a 2007 Westmont graduate and one of the three authors of the alumni letter, talked with Noozhawk on Thursday and offered her response.
“We were pleased to see we’d been heard,” she said. “We hope this is a signal to current LGBT students that they can begin to study and live openly within the Westmont community. As alumni, we’re already living openly in our own communities, so we hope the dialogue will now turn from us to the current Westmont students who don’t have that freedom.”
Click here to read the letter in its entirety.
on 02.11.11 @ 09:33 AM
I’m as impressed by the faculty as I was by the students in their letter. What a wonderful group of people and what a fine community to be a part of. Westmont’s reputation can only be enhanced by this dialogue.
on 02.11.11 @ 01:40 PM
The easiest thing to be at Westmont is white, male and republican everyone else is going to feel marginalized on some level. Sectarian education overall is inherently inferior – by choosing to segregate yourself into a closed Christian community you are not going to be exposed to true liberal arts. Westmont was better when they championed themselves as a Bible College. Adopting the words liberal arts immediately puts them at odds with open freethinking. I think Westmont should be much more up front about what they do and whom they do not welcome into their community. If you know a head of time that being gay, Black, Mexican, a feminists will put you at odds with 90% of the campus then you might just chose to go somewhere else – attend a College that is about inclusion. In addition, for over $45,000 a year heck go to Oberlin (dare I say Smith) Occidental, Princeton. These institutions are giving true liberal arts educations not a watered down “Christian version” of liberal arts.
I have lived in Santa Barbara for over 40 years and I have never heard anything but painful stories from people of color and women who have attended Westmont or worked there. Personally, I am tired of the attention they get as some place that is superior in education. My true issue is that places like this receive federal financial aid while openly practicing discrimination. Let them do it all they want but stop using federal and state aid for your students!
on 02.12.11 @ 07:45 AM
SB Community Member—this is really tangential to this article but ..besides the state and federal financial aid grants Westmont pays no property taxes or ‘in lieu’ fees. Nothing for roads, public schools, fire, police. They are a huge user of community services. Their employee housing is designated as affording housing and therefore they too pay very little in community services.
UCSB has been required to pay large amounts in community cost including roads, and have their own fire and police. UCSB has also voluntarily paid huge amounts in community services including money to the public grade schools
The community is subsidizing an institution that outrightly discriminates.
I am not sure I agree that the students should not be entitled to state and fed aid but I certainly believe Westmont themselves should be pay a lot more for local community services..
on 02.12.11 @ 09:52 AM
Westmont College has been very, very generous to Cold Spring School over the years. Or does that largesse not count because it wasn’t government-mandated?
on 02.12.11 @ 10:44 AM
It’s “dialogue” for now. Soon it will devolve into threats and demands.
Westmont might as well save the time and trouble and just go ahead and surrender. Sounds like most of their faculty already has.
on 02.12.11 @ 03:16 PM
SB community member and citizenSB - you have a very limited understanding of the school and the experience of being a student at Westmont. I suspect it is because you have chosen that there is some aspect of the institution that you disagree with and have never take the time to explore anything that differs with that. So I pose this question - If Westmont is such a hateful, discriminating place where only “white, male, conservatives” are welcome, then why should LGBT alumni even take the time to write this letter? They obviously see enough value in the place to try to effect responsible dialogue rather than simple attacks.
Also, I challenge you to take some time and look into what the school actually gives back to the community because there are plenty of things to see…If you choose to. You can start with me. I am a local alumnus (liberal, by the way). I have lived and worked for 3 different non-profit organizations in SB all supporting people with disabilities since I graduated. But I guess that doesn’t count as giving back either since it isn’t a road or a tax.
on 02.16.11 @ 09:45 AM
Just for the record, Westmont has never advertised itself as a Bible college, which is very clear from its history, nor has it ever been one. The ignorance some evidence about Westmont is profound, prejudiced, and willfully blind to its significant contributions to the community.
on 02.17.11 @ 04:52 PM
As another alum from Westmont, and a recent one, I really am impressed with the maturity my school has shown in dealing with this issue. That this is coming from the students only to have faculty respond in a gesture of understanding with a firm desire to help and discuss this volatile issue only reaffirms my belief in Westmont both as a community and as a college.
I must also reaffirm that those people that have been commenting on Westmont having never been there themselves ought to do their research. Westmont is actually rather notorious for having more women than men attending the college, the ratio is roughly 6:4. Furthermore, the college has never expelled anyone for being gay, and though it has definitely failed its LGBT community on numerous occasions that is exactly why this letter by other alumni and now this response by the faculty is happening. There is a real and fervent desire to talk this issue out and to have a meeting of the minds.
Finally, Westmont actually does numerous charitable acts many put on by the students themselves. This includes Spring Break in the City, which has students go out into the Santa Barbara Community and spend Spring Break helping the homeless in Santa Barbara. Many students also participate in Potter’s Clay which takes students down to Mexico to build school’s, churches and provide other services to locals in the region.
If those I am referring to are offended by this post I do apologize. It is not my intention to attack you personally, but only to edify. Having said that I believe in my school and am offended at the flagrant tone that was utilized in your descriptions of it. Westmont is a wonderful school and deserves the respect of the Santa Barbara Community.
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