It is not really that surprising to read an article in the New York Times about tensions on Christian college campuses in relating and responding to their lgbt students. The article highlights a few American schools, most of whom I’m unfamiliar with. But given my relationship with a number of colleges, I well know the challenges of caring for students, dealing with institutional boundaries, managing communication and the inevitable perceptions of the broader constituency, and navigating the concerns of faculty which may range from issues of academic freedom on one hand through to the other extreme of asserting control to limit the conversation. To increase the complexity even more is the reality that none of these areas can be dealt with in a vacuum. That would be challenging enough. But in a college community all of these questions inevitably impact the larger conversation and how each individual question is addressed. Given this reality, I have high degrees of empathy for school provosts and deans of students, for they have a very challenging road to forge.
Perhaps I’ve been lucky – or perhaps I’m only approached by schools who at least have some desire to engage the conversation well – but I have encountered administrators with good hearts and good intentions as they seek my input. They are well aware of the complexities. They are well aware that the lives of real students, and staff and faculty too for that matter, will be affected by the leadership they give in this conversation. I’ve encountered, at least behind closed doors, courage and empathy and generosity and a readiness to acknowledge that they have more to learn in this area.
I suppose, given New Direction’s posturing in a place of generous spaciousness, that the schools who engage with me already know that I will raise with them the reality of diverse perspectives and advance the conversation to address how to experience space and room for authenticity. This means living in the tension. On the one hand, there is a school or larger denominational position that must be honoured. On the other hand, there is a recognition that our college communities are diverse and that learning invites exploration and difference and risking to rethink, deconstruct, and challenge. On one hand, there are codes of conduct and moral expectations on the members of a community. On the other hand, there the needs of individual students to navigate their journey of discovery in a safe, honest and hospitable environment where individual autonomy is respected. And here’s the rub. This is where I think some colleges are missing some critic