The Princeton Review recently ranked Wheaton College as 11th on their 2017 list of the most LGBTQ-unfriendly schools. Wheaton placed first on the list in 2016, 2012 and 2010; third in 2014; and fourth in 2015. The Princeton Review receives information to compile these lists from 80-question student surveys sent to current students in colleges across the U.S.
However, does Wheaton College actually deserve these rankings? Senior Emily Paddon believes, “Honestly, no. I think we’re better than that. There’s definitely a lot that I’m upset about and fighting for, but overall, I think we have it pretty good.”
Rebecca Meyer, ministry associate for care and counseling, helps provide many resources to help support LGBTQ+ students. She explained that there are a number of resources that Wheaton provides to sexual minority students on campus, including Refuge, Refuge DSG, In Terra Pax, S + S, one-on-one counseling sessions (available to all students on campus), annual Know Your Neighbor events and the Close to Home Bible study. Refuge is a “Christ-centered, confidential discussion group for students who are same-sex attracted or questioning their gender identity, as well as welcoming many different identifiers,” while the Close to Home Bible study is open to all students interested.
Meyer feels that while Wheaton has in no way “arrived,” the drop in rankings “shows Christians can hold an unwavering commitment to the biblical sexual ethic while being wholly committed to respectfully welcoming LGBTQ+ students to campus.” She believes “Christian institutions at their best should be places where students, regardless of their sexual orientation, thrive in the light and love of Christ.” To do so, Meyer encourages the student body to realize the weight of the commitment that the Wheaton community requires of LGBTQ+ students, and therefore be a community of support for their brothers and sisters in Christ.
In addition, Strongholds, a system of small groups on campus that is also part of the chaplain’s office and aimed toward students struggling with any issue related to sexuality, has taken steps to provide more support for LGBTQ+ students within its groups. AJ DeGraff, the advocacy and support advisor for Strongholds, works to “provide leaders with resources … to help students who are struggling with shame from trauma or same-sex attraction” and “ leaders to use language that is more inclusive of sexual minorities.” She wants to make Strongholds a safe place to openly discuss any kind of issue relating to sexuality.
The Nashville Statement, a theological stance on sexuality and gender roles signed in August by many Christian evangelicals, has brought the church’s position on these kinds of issues to the forefront of the news. The statement has 14 articles of affirmations and denials regarding ideas including marriage and transgenderism. Many students involved in Refuge here at Wheaton felt that the statement was hurtful and unnecessary, especially in regards to the language used.
Paddon felt the statement was making the claim,“‘You are not one us, you can’t be a real Christian if you even think it’s okay to be LGBTQ’ … We are still Christians, even if you tell us we aren’t.” In spite of the hurt she feels from many in the Christian world with statements like this one, Paddon also feels that “there are lots of people who do a great job of loving and welcoming us … not treating us like we have a disease” at Wheaton, including Meyer.
DeGraff reminds leaders and students to remember that “people who are living out their faith are doing so through experiences that are very different than what one would consider to be the experience of a typical Wheaton student.” She explained that many students have an “us and them” mentality towards issues relating to sexuality. Instead, she encourages students to talk about these kinds of issues “as though somebody who is affected by that issue is in the room” to help combat the hurt created by language used in, for example, the Nashville Statement.
Although Wheaton has many resources for students, life as a sexual minority at Wheaton can still be difficult, especially with the recent feelings regarding the Nashville Statement.
Junior Jozua van Bakel opened up about the hardest place to be a sexual minority on campus — the dorms. He described the “culture of heteronormativity” present in Traber dorm that allows for unintentional sexual harassment and even assault of many students identifying as a sexual minority. One example would be traditions like “initiation” ceremonies for freshmen that may require them to do things that make them uncomfortable, while not participating can mean being socially ostracized by the rest of the floor.
“I wish Res Life would be a little more proactive in educating their RAs on how to be more aware of the culture of heteronormativity and learning to be more inclusive of those beliefs and values that may come with being sexually ‘other,’” especially in regards to discussions of sexual harassment/assault, van Bakel explained.
Senior Michal Glizeweski sums up the entire conversation and current state of Wheaton with this one thought: “Your LGBTQ+ siblings are trying to live faithfully and are just as much a part of this community … I know I’m allowed to be here, but do you want me here … and do you find value in me being here? And not in spite of my identity, but because of it?”