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.” 
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.”  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.” 
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. 
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.  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.” 
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.” 
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.’” 
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.” 
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. 
Helpful Terms 
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.
- Walla Walla University. student handbook and code of conduct. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/3o1CQs4.
- Email interview with Doug Tilstra, 1/22/2021.
- Email interview with Mackensie Davidson, 1/20/2021.
- Email interview with Doug Taylor, Haven Coordinator, 1/21/2021.
- Anonymous email interview with a Haven member, 1/21/2021.
- Anonymous email interview with a second Haven member, 1/21/2021.
- Email interview with Jeremy Mendenhall, WWU Pride organizer, 1/24/2021.
- Gold, M. (2018, June 21). The ABCs of L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://nyti.ms/2NDj9KL.