Reach OUT on Nov. 9 applied to become an official student organization, but the Churches of Christ-affiliated university’s administrators denied the request in December. Senior Alexander Cooper launched a Change.org petition this week in an effort to make the Malibu campus a safer space for LGBT students and allies.
Change.org is an online advocacy platform that empowers anyone from anywhere to launch campaigns for social change.
"This is the fourth time that a gay-straight alliance has been denied or discouraged from applying," said Cooper in a message that accompanies his petition. It had received 5,448 signatures as of Friday morning, with a goal of 6,000.
"Pepperdine students often struggle to be honest about their sexual orientation because they fear rejection from their peers as well as the risk of losing their scholarships and leadership opportunities," reads the petition. "Moreover, professors do not feel comfortable speaking on the issue, worrying that they will be denied tenure or research grants. Until now, the university’s policies have created an atmosphere of silence and anxiety that alienates not only the LGBT student population but also anyone concerned for their well-being."
"Safety and inclusion should not be left on the backs of students," he said.
Pepperdine officials view the controversy differently. As a private religious institution, it is not required to adhere to non-discrimination policies to which public schools must adhere.
"Since Reach OUT has been forthright that it does not affirm the university’s traditional sexual ethic, Pepperdine has decided that official university recognition would imply endorsement and funding of a position inconsistent with our Christian heritage," said Pepperdine Senior Director of Public Affairs Jerry Derloshon. "We are committed to maintaining our long-standing commitment to our heritage and traditional biblical view of sexuality."
Derloshon stressed that Pepperdine respects the right of individual people to hold different viewpoints, and affirms that those who differ with the administration’s official policies should be treated with dignity and respect. He said a committee has been formed to promote open and safe dialogue and better understanding of all perspectives. The committee is also working to develop common ground initiatives that include the addition of a set of FAQs to the university’s sexual relationship statement (e.g., making it clear that students will not lose scholarships based on their sexual orientation.) Administrators have also strengthened Pepperdine’s harassment policy to make it more clear that harassment of LGBT students will not be tolerated on campus.
"There is no doubt that Pepperdine is failing its’ LGBT students," said Windmeyer. "Just because the campus has the right to deny the group, doesn’t mean it is right."