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Homophobia and the Handbook

Homophobia and the Handbook

An ASWWU Senate Bill Proposes the Removal of Controversial Sections From the Handbook 

By Eli Haynal 

ASWWU Senate has introduced a bill calling for the removal of sections in the Walla Walla University handbook related to homosexuality. Here we explain that bill’s contents and explore the experience of the LGBTQIA+ community on campus. 

On January 18, 2021, an ASWWU Senate bill was introduced that proposes removing sections of the Walla Walla University handbook that restrict the University’s definition of marriage to “a lifelong union between a man and a woman.” 

WWU’s Student Handbook and Code of Conduct reads, “Sexual relationships are to be protected and celebrated in the context of a committed marriage between a man and a woman . . . Only couples united in a legal marriage between a man and a woman will be acknowledged as married in the policies of the university.” [1] 

The Human Rights Policy section of the handbook states that “human rights may not be taken away, except in specific situations and according to due process. For example, the right to liberty may be restricted if a student is found to have violated the University’s policies.” [2] According to the line of reasoning in the ASWWU Senate bill, these two sections link a student’s human rights to a certain sexual orientation, as the human rights section allows students to be punished for a violation of the sexual standards section. 

Doug Tilstra (he/him), vice president for student life, emphasized that WWU is a Seventh-day Adventist university, and therefore university policy is connected to the fundamental beliefs of the church. “To merely excise language that acknowledges that connection will not be helpful,” says Tilstra. “Instead we need to find language and practices that draw on the best of who we are and what we believe. This will be helpful as we seek to express the harmonizing of compassion and conviction.” [3] 

Caught between all sides of a contentious debate, LGBTQIA+ students try to find a place on campus by Belicia Jiao

The bill, titled “Protection for LGBTQIA+ Persons at WWU,” will formally request that administration remove this language from the handbook—but members of the LGBTQIA+ community on campus emphasize that we still have a ways to go. For instance, microaggressions are not uncommon, and the university’s policy is rooted in that of a church whose history with the LGBTQIA+ community has often been problematic. 

“Faculty can spew microaggressions from the front of the classroom, and students can post hurtful or ignorant comments on social media, which happens when ASWWU posts about LGBTQIA+ issues on their Instagram account. We delete those comments when we see them,” says Mackensie Davidson (they/them), ASWWU Diversity head. [4] 

They go on to emphasize that the grounding of university policy in that of the SDA Church opens the door to prejudiced treatment of LGBTQIA+ individuals. [5] Expanding upon discriminatory church policy, Davidson states, “They have a page dedicated to how they view transgender people, like me. It is filled with inaccurate information that is passed as fact as well as hurtful, outdated language.” [6] 

In such an adversarial environment, LGBTQIA+ students can benefit from support services on campus. Haven is a WWU organization that provides some of these services. 

Doug Taylor (he/him), Haven coordinator, described the organization in an interview: “Haven exists to provide a safe space for WWU’s LGBTQIA+ students. Haven meets regularly in an undisclosed location, giving WWU students a chance to share their stories, concerns, joys, and challenges in a safe environment.” [7] 

In keeping with Haven’s confidentiality policy, Taylor also relayed anonymous responses from several members. In addition to seconding Davidson’s reports of discrimination and microaggressions from church and staff, one Haven member highlighted prejudice from another student: “I have also had students harass me for pride memorabilia visible at my workstation – including movement of such items to more prominent locations ‘so everyone can know.’” [8] 

Another member takes a similar position, describing a campus fraught with prejudice: “This school actively discriminates against LGBTQIA+ students. This is not a place where I feel safe to always share my pronouns, or where I feel safe openly signing my comments for a Collegian article.” [9] 

WWU’s policy has made LGBTQIA+ students feel unsafe and unwelcome on campus, and the ASWWU Senate bill “Protection for LGBTQIA+ Persons at WWU” takes a step towards resolving the situation. It has been met with excitement from the LGBTQIA+ community at WWU. [10] 

Helpful Terms [11] 

See Also

Microaggressions are comments or actions, intentional or unintentional, that communicate a negative opinion towards a stigmatized group. They can be especially harmful because they often take the form of compliments or jokes that contain hidden insults and therefore go unnoticed by third parties. 

Sexual Orientation is the part of a person’s identity that relates to the genders to which they are attracted. Gender is tricky to define. Male and female are genders that come with certain social characteristics, but other sets of social characteristics are possible beyond these two cases. An individual’s gender identity is the set of social characteristics they express and fulfill. 

Sex is the category an individual is placed in based on their reproductive anatomy. This is not limited to “male” or “female” and it can change over a person’s lifetime. 

Homosexuality is attraction to those who share one’s sex or gender. 

Transgender refers to an individual who does not identify with the gender traditionally associated with their birth sex. 

Cisgender refers to an individual who does identify with the gender traditionally associated with their birth sex. 


  1. Walla Walla University. student handbook and code of conduct. Retrieved from 
  1. Ibid. 
  1. Email interview with Doug Tilstra, 1/22/2021. 
  1. Email interview with Mackensie Davidson, 1/20/2021. 
  1. Ibid. 
  1. Ibid. 
  1. Email interview with Doug Taylor, Haven Coordinator, 1/21/2021. 
  1. Anonymous email interview with a Haven member, 1/21/2021. 
  1. Anonymous email interview with a second Haven member, 1/21/2021. 
  1.  Email interview with Jeremy Mendenhall, WWU Pride organizer, 1/24/2021. 
  1. Gold, M. (2018, June 21). The ABCs of L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+. The New York Times. Retrieved from
View Comments (4)
  • n my 11 year experiences working with students and WWU Administration with holding the unofficial LGBTQ support group for many years, being on the council to start up the official support group, panel discussions, invitations from professors to speak to their classes, and lots of individual connections that become future Adventist church leaders, one common pattern I see is that Admin does NOT initiate change, they REACT to students, faculty, community pushing for change. Admin respond to threats of federal funding being pulled away if they don’t have LGBTQ needs addressed. They slow change down and keep the school in the dark ages. They aren’t like their sister colleges like La Sierra University or Andrews University who are leaders of change in Adventist education on these matters. WWU admin reacts by fear and drag change to a halt waiting for a time, that never comes.
    So if you want the school to be relevant to your child in a multi cultural academic society…. keep pushing like this, keep educating, use non-violent public awareness, and talk money until they cave. Never wait! Because convenience is their problem, not yours.

  • My last comment has to do with Tilstra’s comment of a Seventh-day Adventist institution tied to the fundamental beliefs of the SDA church. Seventh-day Adventists have been reluctant to form creeds and even reluctant to form Fundamental Beliefs, that is until 1980. Fundamental Beliefs were designed to “summarize” the prevailing views of Seventh-day Adventists around the world. They were not to be used for higher education policies or other policies. That has changed. If Seventh-day Adventism is tied to these “summaries” and higher education makes policies from them, then higher education becomes an unsafe place for theological discussion. But if the university acknowledges many viewpoints within Seventh-day Adventism and honors ALL viewpoints within their community of faith, then they would not have a problem with the ASWWU Senate Recommendation.

  • When one was making a decision to come and study at WWU, was he reading the Handbook? If a visitor to my house tells me that the rules of my family are keeping us in dark ages, it is a microaggression. If a visitor comes to my house and tells me that my rules are homophobic and tries to change them, it is an aggression. An aggressor may want to keep telling me that he is a victim but the common sense says otherwise. If one does not like my house/language/rules he always has an option to build his own house/school and write a Handbook with a language he prefers. If he cannot, I should agree with him and tell him that nobody should stay in the school where he does not feel comfortable. If you want to visit N Korea would you not read about the country and how they treat Americans first? If he joined the WWU without reading the Handbook its not a fault of WWU. He joined the WWU with this Handbook in place and its not nice now try to change them. Marriage is one of the core values for the SDA people and any attempt to change it is an aggression. If you come to my house I will probably let you to move plates and silverware on my table. But if you want to start moving the table or/and other furniture let alone rebuilding the walls then don’t tell me you are a victim. As the saying goes: When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Don’t like it? Find what you do.

  • This is an SDA University, founded on the beliefs of the SDA church. By attempting to change the point mentioned in the article, you are making an attack towards one of the foundations of the SDA beliefs, marriage. If you go on the SDA website to the section on marriage, it says, “Marriage was divinely established in Eden and affirmed by Jesus Christ to be both monogamous and heterosexual, a lifelong union of loving companionship between a man and woman” (

    If you want to challenge a fundamental belief of the church, you should go the General Conference, not go after a university handbook that simply states the beliefs of the church.

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