One year after Samford University made headlines for its exclusion of LGBTQ-affirming campus ministries, a group of about 100 students, alumni and community supporters held another silent protest outside a campuswide assembly.
The Sept. 19 protest outside Wright Center during the weekly student chapel service mirrored a similar protest held last year on Sept. 20. Last year’s protest was sparked when the administration excluded from an annual ministry fair churches and campus ministries deemed to violate university standards against same-sex relationships and marriage.
Faced with alumni, student and community criticism, the administration doubled down on its position and ignored all media requests for explanation.
Student organizers of this year’s event sent a letter to President Beck Taylor explaining their actions in advance.
“We are offended by (the administration’s) decision in 2022 to exclude two local Episcopal and Presbyterian churches based on their beliefs in same-sex marriage,” the letter states. “We have been deeply hurt by the direction our beloved university has continued to take on its views of its LGBTQ student body.”
And although Taylor had pledged in a video sent to the entire student body to keep “open lines of communication” on the controversy, student organizers charge he has not done that.
Specifically, they point to a request last spring by LGBTQ students to speak with Taylor and trustees. That request was “ignored,” the letter says.
“We are yearning for the ability to be proud that our alma mater took the strides to become a school that welcomes all students’ diversities and embraces them. Because of our love for our university, we will continue to take action regarding these concerns,” the letter adds.
Organizers said their silent demonstration “is a representation of LGBTQ students being ignored by Samford’s administration” and struggling “to feel safe within their learning environment.”
The silent protesters wore masks to signify the silent treatment they believe they have received from the administration.
The silent protesters wore masks to signify the silent treatment they believe they have received from the administration, and each mask carried the name of an alumnus who has contacted the administration and been ignored.
The Baptist-affiliated university lacks anti-discrimination policies that could prevent LGBTQ students from experiencing bigotry or prejudice, the letter says. “Studies have shown that a sense of belonging contributes to long-term learning.”
The students called for four changes:
- That LGBTQ affirming churches be allowed at any campus ministry fair if they wish to attend.
- That official LGBTQ student organizations be approved by the administration.
- That the administration “formally approve anti-discrimination policies to protect the LGBTQ population who attend Samford.”
- “That LGBTQ students and allies be permitted to meet with the board of trustees to address their concerns.”
Third-year law student Angela Whitlock is one of the organizers of the protest. Students in the Cumberland School of Law have been particularly vocal about the drive toward LGBTQ inclusion because equality is a requirement of national accrediting standards for law schools.
While it may be legal for Samford to discriminate against LGBTQ students, it is not morally right, Whitlock said in an interview with BNG. She cited the same thing that recently landed another Baptist university — Baylor in Texas — in headlines: Title IX exemptions from the U.S. Department of Education.
Baylor’s administration faced criticism for applying for — and receiving — a new exemption to allow discrimination while receiving federal funds for student loans and research grants. The DOE offers exemptions to schools based on religious convictions and governance.
Neither Baylor nor Samford is governed by a church body anymore. Both have separated from the Baptist state conventions that once elected all their trustees.
“We are strongly against the U.S. Department of Education’s policy of allowing these religious schools (who receive federal funds) to use religious exemptions to disregard Title IX and thus discriminate against LGBTQ students on their campuses,” Whitlock said.
“Our mission as LGBTQ identity-based student organizations is to create a safe space for LGBTQ students and allies because queer students already have been admitted and enrolled on campus,” she added. “However, at times we experience microaggressions and other forms of harm by others on campus and feel like outsiders.”
A potentially significant change happened on the university’s board of trustees Sept. 15. U.S. District Judge Karon O. Bowdre was elected chair of the board. She succeeds William “Bill” J. Stevens of Birmingham, who had served a combined total of 16 years as trustee chair.
Some allies of LGBTQ inclusion believe Bowdre, who is a former faculty member at Samford’s Cumberland School of Law, will be more sympathetic to their cause. She has served as a trustee since 2008 and previously served as vice chair of the board.
Meanwhile, the controversy has not hampered student enrollment. Samford recently reported its largest total enrollment in the school’s 182-year history. Fall enrollment is 5,791 students, including the largest class of first-year students and the largest number of undergraduate students. First-year student enrollment is up about 100, from 972 last year to 1,080 this year.
I’m now banned from ministering at a place I love | Opinion by Rich Havard
We are hurt by Samford’s exclusion | Opinion by Erica Cooper
Samford, how long will you remain silent? | Opinion by Mark Wingfield