By Collin Hall ’21
Dr. Nicholas Rowe, the Dean of Student Engagement, met with Gordon College Student Association to continue the conversation regarding LGBTQ+ issues on campus, and to discuss Student Life’s response to the resolution passed unanimously in November ‘17.
The Forum, held on Feb. 5, was just a slice of the larger conversation happening regarding the role of LGBTQ+ students and LGBTQ+ affirming theology on Gordon’s campus. Tensions were high as GCSA members shared their deeply-rooted concerns with Rowe.
“You say this is a priority, but you haven’t even begun to think about how to address it. What is the truth?” Rebekah Rodrigues (‘19) asked Rowe.
The meeting centered largely around the accreditation of clubs which espouse affirmative theology, and around venues and spaces in which affirming theology can be supported. GCSA members made it clear that there needs to be more conversations between Gordon’s administration and students regarding the LGBTQ+ community.
Rowe reminded GCSA of the policy wherein “it’s okay to have a speaker of affirming theology as long as there is also somebody who also represents historical theology present.”
Sophomore Class Representative, Sam Toavs (‘20), said “the exclusion from the body of Christ continues” for LGBTQ+ students.
Toavs then explained that the LGBTQ+ community blends in and can voluntarily avoid confrontation in a way that other minorities can not. “The thing about being black is that you can’t deny that. You can deny being gay. People can’t see that you’re gay. You just can’t talk about it. When I talk about the administration suppressing speech, I mean the administration is not giving places for students […] to talk about this and to come to terms with their own sexuality… ”
“That’s what I want for a club. If we’re not providing a place for students to discuss their own sexuality, you aren’t letting them be part of the body of Christ,” Toavs said.
Rowe agreed that Gordon is not doing enough to foster a conversation about sexuality as a whole. He wants to refrain from “side A – side B” dialogues; these tend to take the shape of a debate, implying a “winning” side. To do so is harmful and is counter-beneficial to the campus as a whole.
Rodrigues, Representative at Large, pressed Rowe for a more specific outline regarding dialogues around sexuality.
She asked, “You said that the administration has taken the stance that both sides need to be presented, but you won’t have a side A – side B […] How will that look? Practically speaking, how do you see that ever happening if two sides that are conflicting are to be represented at the same event, but cannot be in conflict?”
Rowe made it clear time and time again that work is still being done. He is working tirelessly to take the concerns of GCSA and the student body into account as he schedules events and looks towards the future.
“You can allow me a little bit of grace […] In coming here, one of the things I have observed is that there seems to be very few ways in talking about sexuality full-stop. I wonder how much that happens in the churches where students come from. I wonder how much that happens in the families students come from. That is a huge part of life…” He stated.
Not all GCSA members think that the administration is slacking. The Tartan reached out to Jonny Markgraaff (‘20) for comment; he expressed optimism in regards to the administration’s response and attitude toward these issues.
He said: “What Dr. Rowe had to say may have not been everything that we as representatives wanted to hear, but his response to our questions and even expectations were consistently reflecting a hands on approach. This is good news for the student body […] There definitely seems to be a mutuality between the student body and the administration.”
Markgraaff continued, “He agreed with points four and five of the resolution that focused on creating an atmosphere of mutual love and respect for all members of the community[…] I am hopeful.”
Rowe made it clear that the institution should not only explore specific sexual orientations and their roles in the school, but that Gordon should largely focus on broadening the sexual conversation as a whole. He encouraged students to look forward to a discussion on sexuality later this spring.
“There is a bit of a responsibly for us to create a context where we understand not just particular viewpoints on sexuality but the historical view on sexuality[…] It seems as if we’re punching around in a bit of a vacuum, and that to me is problematic, and what I’m trying to do[…] is to create a context where we can actually understand both positions. I don’t think those of us who are non-affirming, to use your words, even understand the historical perspective at all.”
GCSA President Davis Metzger, in a separate interview with the Tartan, encourages representatives not to lose heart. “There was some give and take and we didn’t get everything we wanted.”
“It was unrealistic I think this spring to expect that they’re going to bring in an affirming speaker. They’re going to do it eventually but I don’t think it’s going to happen this spring.”
Metzger is convinced that in the long-term things will begin to change, but he also acknowledged the difficulties that are intrinsic to a clash between an ever-changing student government and a more static college administration.
“The student government passed an ambitious resolution last fall and we’re getting some of what we wanted and not all and to some that’s extremely disheartening – but I think that’s the wrong way to look at it. The right way to look at it is as a significant breakthrough, milestone whatever you want to call it in terms of interaction between the student government here and the administration.”