SEATTLE — An edited video from Seattle Pacific University's graduation ceremony went viral online for all the right reasons for students, but not necessarily for the college. It calls out the private school's employment policy, which follows biblical teachings.
Students at SPU say they want the faculty and staff to reflect who they are: lesbian, gay, bisexual or queer. They asked the board of trustees to change the employment policy, but the trustees voted to maintain it, so the students are now acting, both on campus and during that graduation ceremony.
When the announcer called “Hannah Grace Waterman” for her to march across the stage and collect her degree, she handed interim president Pete Menjares a Pride rainbow flag instead of shaking his hand.
“Yeah, when I was handing the flag, he seemed a little confused and he said, 'Is this for me?' And I said, 'Yes, of course it’s for you,'” Waterman explained.
She says she was the first of about 75 to 100 graduates to place a Pride flag in the president's hand instead of shaking it. Someone then edited together a series of those exchanges and put it on social media. Both the video and their message, that the faculty and staff at SPU should reflect the student body, went viral.
“There’s no reason that we shouldn’t be able to have queer staff and faculty at the school," said Leah Duff, a 2022 graduate of SPU. "As a queer student, if you’ll take my money, then I deserve to be provided with the best education, which includes queer outlooks from professors."
But the school, affiliated with the Free Methodist Church USA, expects its employees to refrain from extramarital affairs, cohabitation and same-sex activity.
“I disagree with the idea that homosexuality or queers in general is not God-given in some way because I’m a Christian and I’m queer and I don’t think that ought to be opposing ideas,” Duff said.
This spring the board of trustees agreed to review the policy and then voted to uphold it. KOMO News asked for an interview with a board member, but the school declined, issuing a statement that says, in part, “... the board made a decision that it believed was most in line with the university’s mission and Statement of Faith...”
Waterman said they don't debate the fact the school has the right to maintain its policy, but they say it doesn't reflect the student body.
"I think I wanna double down on the fact that people like to say if you don’t like it leave or the school has a right to do this, and that’s true, the school has a right," Waterman said.
Students are now in a weeks-long sit-in outside the president's office, still demanding the board rethink its employment policy. They plan to continue that sit-in until July 1, the deadline students are now giving trustees to either resign or reverse the employment policy.
Interim president Manjares says those students who gave him Pride flags showed him how they feel about the issue and he respects their view.
The students are now collecting a legal fund for potential litigation if the policy is not changed. Duff and Waterman tell me that if the money’s not used for legal action, it will be donated to the university.