Hopefully, by now, you have read Kim See’s article detailing the messy conflict among our current ASSP Core members and the circumstances under which Spencer O’Hara resigned from the vice president of finance position.
If not, please read her piece before continuing.
When O’Hara and a few other Core members first approached me on March 5, my initial reaction to what he had endured was disbelief. It was not that I did not believe O’Hara, it was that I could not believe what Mary Liu, our ASSP president, and the Office of Student Involvement & Leadership (OSIL) advisors had done, or more so, what they had neglected to do.
I had originally expressed my frustrations through numerous email threads with Whitney Broetje, the director of OSIL; Jacob Arzaga, the assistant director of OSIL; and Chuck Strawn, the dean of students for community life.
I was upset, confused and deeply hurt by the situation and it seemed to me that their actions were neglectful.
My anger was a result of what I viewed as a systemic dismissal of clear-cut workplace discrimination and harassment against a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, a community that I, myself, am a part of. I did not understand why Student Life and OSIL advisors were continuously pushing for mediation meetings instead of taking direct and intentional action against Liu.
And I was hurt because Liu is my friend, someone who never once showed any prejudice towards me, knowing full well my sexual orientation and gender identity.
Initially — once I received a trove of text and email screenshots from the conversations between O’Hara, ASSP Core, and their advisors — I was dead-set on publicly condemning her remarks by calling for her resignation on the front page of the Falcon, something I’ve been asked to do by numerous fellow student leaders, including members of my own staff.
However, after much consideration and reflection, I cannot and will not.
As student leaders, it is our duty to lead with as much dignity, integrity, empathy, accountability and honesty as possible. Sometimes we fail. I know I have. I’ve been a student leader at Seattle Pacific for three years now, and I have made many mistakes while doing so. But that doesn’t mean I’m not fit to lead or am unable to learn how to lead appropriately.
Was Liu in the wrong? Absolutely. Did Broetje and Arzaga fail their advisees? It seems as much. Did Executive Vice President Danielle Meier, Vice President of Campus Activities Garrett Berkey, Vice President of Intercultural Affairs Melissa DEL RIO, and ASSP Communications Manager Tori Hoffman, who signed the proposal for Liu to resign, do everything in their power to support O’Hara and the LGBTQIA+ community? No, no they did not.
Even though I may disagree with Liu’s beliefs and the way she communicated her internal struggle, I have to respect her honesty and openness. Without honesty, one cannot maintain their integrity and without integrity, well, one cannot remain dignified. She publicly took responsibility for the pain she caused O’Hara and her fellow Core members, albeit a tad late and after much, much encouragement. Nevertheless, she was accountable.
Yet, I know her reasoning may not be sufficient to justify her actions. After all, she is the ASSP president.
So what can we do to remedy this injustice? I have a possible solution, but first let me provide you with some context:
I had an interview with Broetje, Strawn, and Jeff Jordan, the Vice President for Student Life, on April 11. I wanted to hear what they thought about all that had happened over the last six weeks and ask some pointed questions regarding their own beliefs, both personal and professional, regarding the affirmation of LGBTQIA+ students here on campus.
Both Strawn and Jordan didn’t know too much about the particulars of the situation. They both expressed sadness for what had transpired and were sympathetic towards O’Hara’s situation. Strawn had sat in and facilitated one of Core’s mediation meetings, but wasn’t invited into the conversation until March 15. Broetje, on the other hand, has been involved in the situation since the beginning.
As I was listening to their answers to my various questions about O’Hara’s experience, LGBTQIA+ affirmation and institutional support, it dawned on me that they have very little influence, if any, on the anti-LGBTQIA+ policy positions the university upholds. They may have good intentions and try their best within the confines of their jobs here on campus, just as us student leaders do, but that doesn’t translate into having any real power that can lead to intentional change.
In that moment, while I was sitting across the table from them, I realized that we are equals in this situation. Yes, they have Masters and PHDs of education and religion and I am just a lowly soon-to-be creative writing graduate. However, they too are just as restricted by the will and agency of four extremely powerful forces in regard to university policy decisions: an apathetic student body, the board of trustees, the university’s top donors, and the Free Methodist Church.
Seattle Pacific University is not a LGBTQIA+ affirming institution, nor is the Free Methodist denomination of Christianity, the board of trustees, and seemingly the majority of the student population.
This is evident by these group’s lack of intentional efforts to support the fact that LGBTQIA+ identity is not open to opinion and debate, that O’Hara and all those in the LGBTQIA+ community, myself included, are every bit as human and worthy of just protections and policies.
More so, there seems to be a lot of individuals who claim to believe in an all-loving God, yet who in actuality, do not hold the belief that God is all-loving. They defend the notion that the Kingdom of God is not welcoming of all his children. There are those in these groups who claim to follow and live with Christ, yet are deaf to his gospel of love.
I also realized that most leaders and faculty here at SPU are complicit, including every member of the current ASSP Core.
We all failed O’Hara and all those who have had to endure the same by continuing to work in our positions silently. It’s always business as usual here at SPU, as seen by the inaction outlined in See’s article.
Systemic change cannot and will not happen without collective intentional action. But maybe SPU isn’t ready to change. Maybe before we can engage and change the world, we need to engage and change our own little one right here in lower Queen Anne.
But what about justice? For O’Hara? For LGBTQIA+ students? For every other minority here on campus that has had to endure some form of systemic oppression, discrimination or harassment?
To put it bluntly, there’s not going to be any justice unless you, as first-years, second-years, prospective high school seniors or future student leaders want there to be. I’m talking to you, future Core members.
SPU enrollment has steadily declined in the last three years; the university has not hit their enrollment goals, the retention rate is decreasing, and student involvement and pride are at an all-time low.
So here’s my solution: If you want justice, then act. Put immense pressure on the university and all those who possess true power, i.e. the board, the church, and your friends. Or if you really want to make a lasting impact, don’t spend your or your parent’s money by attending this university.
If you’re a young Christian, do you really want to attend an institution that is filled, managed and directed by people who do not see the humanity of God’s own children? People who would rather go on with their day without speaking up in objection like O’Hara did? People who do not possess the grace to affirm and love their brothers and sisters in Christ?
If you’re not a Christian and are contemplating attending SPU, think long and hard about what you’re willing to endure and tolerate for those deceptively large grants and scholarships.
Seattle University, just right up in Capitol Hill, actually has official policies and protections in support of LGBTQIA+ students and faculty. They even have three student led groups and clubs for LGBTQIA+ students, alumni and faculty. Additionally, they provide support in their career services department to directly connect students with job opportunities that are LGBTQIA+ friendly.
So what I’m saying is that there are options. I have faith that one day SPU will be affirming, whether it’s a result of force or out of the love and reconciliation we preach. It just might take a little longer than we anticipate and people will get hurt and feel things they should never have to feel, but most importantly, we will all learn, grow and come out of our journey a little stronger.
And that’s why we’re here in the first place.
Much love and peace,