by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
After weeks of pressure from the local LGBT community, change.org, and university alumni, Seattle Pacific University (SPU) officials announced they would now allow Haven to meet on campus.
Haven is a student-led club where SPU students discuss issues surrounding the intersection of sexuality and religion, with a particular focus on homosexuality.
On January 25, SPU administrators denied the group the right to meet on campus and refused to recognize them as an official club. The decision sparked a backlash from the Seattle LGBT community; in the weeks following the discriminatory decision, a letter-writing and petition campaign began where Haven supporters urged SPU officials to change their ways.
Now, nearly one month after Haven was told to hit the road, SPU officials have changed their tune.
On February 24, Dr. Les Steele, associate vice president for academic affairs, called a meeting between the Human Sexuality Advisory Group (HSAG) and Haven leadership. At the meeting, Dr. Steele presented Haven with an outline of how SPU would treat the group.
'Our goal is to respond to the need of our students to have 'safe space' for conversations regarding human sexuality, including sexual orientation,' Steele told Haven leaders. 'Haven has been one such space among others.'
According to SPU senior Caleb Richmond, co-leader of Haven, the group was given an outline titled 'Moving Forward with Haven and Conversations Regarding Human Sexuality.'
In the outline, Dr. Steele announced, 'Haven becomes a formal group with full rights to reserve space and advertise on campus.'
In addition, Steele stated, 'Student leaders do not need to personally agree to the Human Sexuality Statement, but must agree to respect the statement as the University's position.'
According to Dr. Steele, Haven will now fall under the auspice of HSAG. 'While HSAG is responsible to advise on the totality of human sexuality programming, we ask them to focus on assisting Haven to become a safe space for the discussion of sexual orientation,' Steele wrote in an outline to Haven leaders and HSAG. 'We also ask HSAG to help us keep alive other safe spaces for all aspects of human sexuality.'
'We spent a long time discussing how this would all play out in a practical situation, such as week-to-week meetings,' Richmond told SGN. 'HSAG indicated that they did not want to be an approval group, but rather a resource and advising group.'
Richmond says that HSAG 'does not exist just for Haven, but as a comprehensive umbrella for coordinating the campus discussion on sexuality, including sexual identity conversations and [conversations on] heterosexual practices and behaviors.'
'This is a very big move for the SPU administration,' he continued. 'Dr. Steele is basically handing over the reins completely to HSAG and washing his hands of this. He offered an apology of sorts for any confusion of motives and for causing people to feel silenced. He said he has been trying to work to please multiple constituencies, but he has heard the voice of Haven.'
Steele also said he wants to 'move forward with trust and respect with Haven.'
'In that light,' said Richmond, 'Haven wants to show the same trust and respect for SPU. HSAG really does seem to have the best interests of the student body in mind.'
This is the most progress Haven has ever made with the University.
'We are now a formally recognized group and we have not only the right to reserve rooms, but advertising rights on campus, which has been a major battle for the last four years,' Richmond points out. 'This is definitely the result of the enormous outcry from the student body, the support form the faculty and staff, and constant alumni efforts for the last month, and the community disapproval of last month's decision.'
What Haven does not have in the new agreement is club status. At SPU, a club is a formally organized student group that has approval and funding from the student government.
'We are not terribly concerned about the funding aspect, but there is a lot of symbolism involved in being approved by our peers and by going through the official steps that are supposed to happen,' said Richmond. 'Club status is still our long-term goal. However, there are other formal groups on campus that are not clubs, so this is not totally unprecedented.'
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