While Baylor University regents and administrators continue to walk a tightrope over LGBTQ inclusion, rank-and-file donors made their voices heard on the university’s annual Baylor Giving Day March 16.
The event’s leaderboard shows the new Paul Eddie Dwyer Endowed Scholarship to assist students who “demonstrate a commitment to a priority of care and to advancing justice for persons of diverse sexual orientation or gender identity” was the most popular donor choice on Giving Day, which focuses on giving by alumni, students, parents and friends. The Dwyer Scholarship drew 229 donors, outpacing even the general student scholarship fund.
The school’s website reports a total of $44,510 given by individual donors qualified for matching funds available through the university’s Give Light Campaign.
The fund was created by an initial gift from Aubin and Mark Petersen of Arlington, Texas, who are Baylor alumni and members of Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth. Mark Petersen currently serves as a Baylor regent. They are allies of the LGBTQ community, motivated in part by previous experiences at another Texas church that promotes the discredited practice of “conversion therapy” for gay and lesbian persons.
In an email to other allies explaining the origin of the scholarship fund, Aubin Petersen wrote: “Most of you are aware that often when young people come out to their family, their means of support is terminated. When this happens during a college degree program, all of their prior class work may be jeopardized if they are unable to complete their degree.”
When the Petersens became aware of a situation like this at Baylor a couple of years ago, they determined to do something about it. The result is this scholarship fund intended for undergraduate or graduate students enrolled in Baylor’s Diana Garland School of Social Work.
Baylor social work faculty report it is not uncommon for them to encounter students preparing for a life of service who themselves have experienced the pain of being vulnerable and marginalized.
Three Baylor alumni who have been prominent in the fight for equality — Skye Perryman, Tracy Teaff and Jackie Baugh Moore — told BNG they are heartened by the Giving Day results.
“The overwhelming response by donors, including recent graduates, is not surprising in light of the fact that thousands of alumni and Baylor community members have become increasingly vocal in their calls for Baylor to adopt policies that treat LGBTQ people with equality and respect,” the alumna said in a statement.
“There is a broad and diverse Baylor alumni, student and faculty community who believe all are created equally in the image of God and support the university adopting policies that match that belief. We are grateful to see active alumni like the Petersens provide resources to encourage greater inclusion and we continue to urge the university’s leadership to revise its policies regarding LGBTQ people.”
Baylor University’s record on serving LGBTQ students is checkered and controversial. As a Baptist-affiliated university, it comes from a tradition that has not been inclusive of gay and lesbian students even though a sizable number of gay and lesbian students find their way to Baylor.
Beginning with a letter in 2019 drafted by Perryman, Moore and Teaff, thousands of alumni began making their voices heard, calling on the university to change its practices. That group included prominent donors, former regents, current and former faculty members, more than 100 ministers, former department chairs and deans.
Perryman, Moore and Teaff are active in a group called BUBears for All, started after the 2019 letter. Subsequently, the Baylor Student Senate and the Faculty Senate passed bills expressing support for greater inclusion at the university.
The university’s board of regents remains divided on how to address LGBTQ inclusion, feeling pressure both from conservative Baptist pastors and donors and from inclusive-minded donors, alumni and students.
As a small token of change, in May 2021 Baylor regents “charged the president and university administration to determine the appropriate pathways to provide additional care, connections and community for Baylor’s LGBTQ students, including the possibility of establishing a new, chartered student group that is consistent with Baylor’s core commitments and the university’s policies and statements.” That drew intense criticism from the more conservative elements of the school’s internal and external audiences, including a public rebuke from Al Mohler, president of a Southern Baptist Convention seminary that has no ties to Baylor.
The university’s board of regents remains divided on how to address LGBTQ inclusion, feeling pressure both from conservative Baptist pastors and donors and from inclusive-minded donors, alumni and students. The school maintains a Statement on Human Sexuality that prohibits “heterosexual sex outside of marriage and homosexual behavior” as well as “advocacy groups which promote understandings of sexuality that are contrary to biblical teaching.”
Baylor also is among 25 faith-based schools named in a class-action lawsuit filed March 29, 2021, against the U.S. Department of Education, with claims of unlawful discrimination against LGBTQ students.
The statement by the three alumna added: “Wherever people or communities are excluded, especially in a faith context, from fairness, justice and equitable policies, history always requires a reckoning. Baylor is currently reckoning with its long history of discrimination against Black students and faculty. Our faith tells us that all people are made in the image of God and that marginalizing any person or group is unjust. Students and faculty at Baylor continue to face barriers based on their sexual orientation and gender identity, and we and thousands of others in the Baylor community continue to support calls for change.”
The scholarship fund is named for Paul Dwyer, son of former Baylor New Testament Professor Eddie Dwyer and his wife, Velma. Eddie Dwyer served at Baylor from 1945 to 1982. In retirement, he wrote a paper, “The Bible and Homosexuality: Life Beyond Tradition,” that told his family’s story and his biblical studies on same-sex attraction. The Dwyers’ son, now namesake of the scholarship fund, is gay.
Teaff, who is a daughter of legendary Baylor football coach Grant Teaff, said the “Cinderella” story behind this new scholarship fund ought to show the university “the Christian way to go about helping our students.”
“A like-minded group of people managed to overcome and become the Cinderella story of giving day, if you will. Perhaps our own March Madness.”
“Fraught with obstacles and barriers to spreading the word about the scholarship, a like-minded group of people managed to overcome and become the Cinderella story of giving day, if you will. Perhaps our own March Madness.”
As a longtime supporter of Baylor, Teaff said she has redirected gifts that used to go to athletics to instead support this new fund. “Now students will know there are people who support them and there are resources. Students should be able to use all resources on campus, particularly chaplain and counseling services, yet this is not so.
“The Giving Day voice ironically now says you are loved, you are supported, God loves you, and we are here to help support you and train you in the way God would see fit.”