Soulforce equality ride visits Trevecca

By Katie Schimmelpfennig

Trevecca was one of three Nashville universities to be visited this week by a non-profit group that advocates for the rights of gay, bisexual, transgender and queer students on college campuses.

More than 200 Trevecca community members, including administration, faculty and students, gathered in the Boone Convocation Center to participate in discussions with 17 “equality riders” from Soulforce, a non-profit advocacy organization that supports LGBTQ people from religious and political oppression, according to the group’s website.

After months of making plans with the group and negotiating agreements about media involvement, Trevecca administrators said the event was a success.

“This is not a time of us versus them,” said Steve Harris, dean of student development. “There is courage as they visit, and courage as a [Christian] university to host them.”

Souforce makes visits to several universities each year.  They request meetings with administrators, faculty and students.  If universities do not cooperate with the requests the group alerts local media and other organizations.

Soulforce asked to visit Trevecca as part of its 2012 equality ride to campuses across America.

Trevecca was the third Nazarene university to be visited by Soulforce. The group visited MidAmerica Nazarene University and Northwest Nazarene University, President Dan Boone said in an email sent to supporters of Trevecca.

Students were notified the day of the event by emails from Boone and Trevecca Chaplain Tim Green outlining the schedule.  Both asked that members of the Trevecca community be respectful of the guests.

The event was closed to media and members of the public. Students were invited, but not required to attend.

Trevecca marked the 83rd school the Soulforce equality ride visited in the past five years, said Zachary Pullin, an equality rider.

According to Soulforce’s website, the equality ride’s mission is “to visit the hundreds of schools in the United States that openly discriminate against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer individuals and their Allies (LGBTQA) through their policies and practices.”

Trevecca officials had three desired outcomes from the visit: to have a genuine dialog with Soulforce; to have the opportunity for education; and to model how to handle differing perspectives, Harris said.

In an opening remark two members of Soulforce, Andy Cofino and Zachary Pullin, said they were humble and grateful to visit Trevecca.

Eric Karabetsos, an equality rider and stop coordinator for Trevecca, said Soulforce was visiting Trevecca because the university has a discriminatory policy.

“We came here to say this policy is harmful,” Karabetsos said.

Trevecca officials said the university does not discriminate.

“Trevecca does not discriminate—period,” stated a written statement prepared by university officials. “Trevecca asks all students—heterosexual and homosexual—to refrain from premarital and extramarital sexual relations.”

The  student handbook states: “Recognizing that true maturity involves a deep respect for the moral integrity of the individual, men and women attending this University are expected to refrain from engaging in acts of sexual immorality, such as premarital and extramarital relations, heterosexual and homosexual advances, and sexual perversion of any form.”

Members from the Soulforce team said “homosexual” is an outdated term and that Trevecca’s sexual harassment policy was not clear enough.  Trevecca is forcing the LGBTQA community to remain silent due to a lack of protection in the student handbook, Pullin said.

No Trevecca student, in at least the past 26 years, has ever been dismissed because of the student’ssexual orientation, Boone said.

Trevecca’s sexual harassment policy states:“Trevecca Nazarene University is committed to providing and maintaining a healthy learning and working environment for all students, staff, faculty and other members of the University’s community, free of discrimination and all forms of sexual and gender harassment, which diminish the dignity or impede the academic freedom of any member of the University community.”

A panel of three Trevecca members and three Soulforce members answered questions prepared on note cards by students and faculty at the event.

Language and terminology continued to be a hot topic and Soulforce members provided Trevecca officials with terms and examples of inclusive language.

For instance, Cole Parke is an equality rider whom prefers to be labeled as “they or them” as opposed to “he or him” or “she or her.”

Parke identifies as a queer person to try to eliminate gender assumptions, Parke said.

Soulforce also visited Lipscomb University and Belmont University this week.

Boone prepared a written response to the visit for Trevecca community members and supporters of the university.  To read the president’s response, click here.

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