WAXAHACHIE — Southwestern Assemblies of God University has found itself atop a list, but not necessarily one it, nor the 101 other universities across the country, meant to round out.
On Monday, Aug. 29, Campus Pride published its first-ever "Shame List" to identify "dangerous" campuses. These campuses have either received Title IX exemptions that allow the administration to openly discriminate or have demonstrated past history and track record against LGBTQ students in policies, programs and practices.
“Most people are shocked when they learn that there are college campuses still today that openly discriminate against LGBTQ youth. It is an unspoken secret in higher education, how they use religion as a tool for cowardice and discrimination,” said Shane Windmeyer, Executive Director of Campus Pride. “This list uncovers the religion-based bigotry that is harmful and perpetrated against LGBTQ youth on these campuses.
“Ultimately these campuses are dangerous for vulnerable LGBTQ youth and others," he added. "All families and youth deserve to know this information – and so do corporations who do business with these campuses – from those who hire and recruit, vendors who contract food service, sell books, make donations and in any other way provides goods or services to a college or university,”
The list includes several other universities surrounding Ellis County, such as Arlington Baptist, Criswell, East Texas Baptist, Hardin-Simmons, Howard Payne U, Southwestern Assemblies of God, University of Dallas (Irving), University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and Wayland Baptist.
According to the organization, SAGU was added to the list because it "holds an exemption to Title IX, allowing the university to discriminate against its students on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, pregnancy or receipt of abortion while still receiving federal funds."
A letter signed by Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education, indicates SAGU President Kermit S. Bridges requested a Title IX exemption on Jan. 8.
The letter states that Bridges cited the University's "religious convictions, informed by its relations with the Assemblies of God, conflict with" Title IX as it applies to discrimination based on "sexual orientation, gender identity, or more generally on the basis of the Assemblies of God's teachings about marriage and biblical standards for sexual conduct."
Bridges also wrote that the Assemblies of God believe "human beings bear the image of God and receive their essential identity and dignity before we are born," that "abortion is the killing of innocent life," and marriage is the "union of one man and one woman, intrinsically ordered to sexual acts outside of marriage are sinful." He also stated "God created humankind ... male and female," and "all attempts to physically change, alter, or disagree with [one's] predominant biological sex" should be discouraged.
Bridges concluded his exemption request by stating any "individual who violates campus standards for a biblical living is subject to discipline, including expulsion."
Lhamon approved for SAGU's request to be exempt from:
— Governing admission
— Governing different rules of behavior or sanctions
— Governing housing, governing comparable facilities such as restrooms and locker rooms
— Governing different rules based on marital or parental status of students
— Governing athletics
— Governing employment
— Governing the consideration of marital or parental status in employment decisions.
"The University is exempt from these provisions to the extent that they prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, pregnancy, parental status, sex outside of marriage, and abortion compliance would conflict with the controlling organization's religious tenets," Lhamon said in her approval letter.
Before speaking with students, SAGU officials were contacted for comment. However, the university did not submit a comment and declined comment in an open setting.
Three current SAGU students did, however, comment on the matter but all three asked to remain anonymous.
“I think as Christians we’re not supposed to discriminate against people. I think some people here might. But, it’s not about the people, it about the institution,” said an SAGU junior. “The institution believes in the Bible, and the Bible doesn’t support that lifestyle. So the institution, by its core beliefs, is not supportive of it, but that doesn’t mean to look down upon it.”
An SAGU senior noted a form signed by all students upon enrolling in the university.
“I believe that SAGU could be perceived that way for many reasons. It is a Christian university that is private, reserving the right to refuse education to any student," the senior said. "When students enrolled at the university, they signed a document stating that they are Christian. To be upfront, SAGU does refuse education to those who are not Christian. We are a Christian university designed to develop ministers in the vocational ministry fields and secular workplace."
A third student stated that the LGBTQ students would not likely receive support from the university because it is against what Christians believe.
“I do not believe we are obligated to change our core values," the student stated. "It’s freedom of religion. We preach love towards their community. I have never seen any discrimination regarding sex, race or marital status."
*Additional reporting by Travis M. Smith/WDL
Kelsey Poynor, @KPoynor_WDL