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Tilstra’s Take

Tilstra’s Take

Administration Comments On Inclusivity In The Handbook 

By Eli Haynal 

ASWWU has passed the resolution “Protection for LGBTQIA+ Persons at WWU,” calling for the removal of a passage in the Walla Walla University Handbook that defines marriage as “a lifelong union between a man and a woman,” but the changes must be approved by administration before they take effect. 

As an ASWWU Senate resolution “Protection for LGBTQIA+ Persons at WWU” acts as a formal recommendation that WWU administration carry out the proposed changes. However, ASWWU Senate does not have the authority to change the handbook, so the resolution is placed into the hands of university administrators. 

“We technically don’t have the power to change any of the university or administration’s handbook, but by saying that we the students of WWU believe that it should be this way, we have a little more sway than one or two senators,” says Wils Haffner, ASWWU executive vice president. [1] 

Haffner was clear that, although the resolution cannot directly enforce its changes, it has the potential to create change by communicating the will of the WWU student body. [2] 

Doug Tilstra, vice president for student life, explained the next steps for the resolution in more detail: “This is a recommendation that typically will start a higher level conversation between ASWWU representatives and cabinet members.” [3] 

Doug Tilstra has been Vice President for Student Life at WWU since 2017. Photo by Doug Tilstra.

Tilstra went on to outline the resolution’s likely course through student life, because it affects the handbook, and on to the university cabinet, because it deals with a fundamental piece of policy. However, because the policy in question relates to fundamental church beliefs, the board of directors may become involved before a final decision is made. [4] 

Tilstra emphasized that WWU is a Seventh-day Adventist university, and therefore university policy is connected to the fundamental beliefs of the church. However, he describes several ways in which other Christian universities have dealt with similar issues, although he emphasized that these options would be highly unlikely for WWU.  

First, he said that there may be some individuals in support of a break from the church, maintaining a friendly association without the responsibility to uphold church policy. Second, he explained the possibility to enter active disagreement with the church and say “we understand what the Adventist Church says, but we conscientiously can’t do that.” [5] 

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But, there is a third option: coordination with officials from the church and other Adventist universities to move policy forward in a meaningful way. Tilstra detailed some of the ways he is currently working with officials from other universities to update policy. 

“In October, over a year ago, I was a member of a task force for the North American Division and we met in Washington DC to meet with North American Division attorneys to discuss . . . policies on Adventist campuses around sexual behavior,” said Tilstra. He described a series of meetings with the heads of student life from other Adventist universities that culminated in a proposed meeting of representatives from all the Adventist schools in North America last March. That meeting was canceled by the travel restrictions of the pandemic and is still awaiting reschedule. [6] 

However, this was the same time that COVID-19 hit, and the heads of student life became heavily occupied with safety. As a result, the proceedings have been shelved for almost a year— but there is light at the end of the tunnel. Tilstra has a meeting with his associates from the other North American universities in a few weeks during which he will attempt to set a hard date to restart discussion of sexual standards policy. [7] 

He concluded with an open question: “Christians have made much about their convictions about sexuality,” says Tilstra, “but what does it mean to love our neighbors as ourselves? That’s a conviction too.” [8] 


  1. Interview with Wils Haffner, ASWWU EVP and junior business major, 1/28/2021. 
  1. Ibid
  1. Interview with Doug Tilstra, WWU Vice President for Student Life, 1/28/2021. 
  1. Ibid
  1. Interview with Doug Tilstra, WWU Vice President for Student Life, 1/28/2021. 
  1. Ibid
  1. Ibid
  1. Ibid
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