"every single student at Samford deserves equal respect and dignity"
Dear Dr. Westmoreland,
When I first chose Samford University to be my collegiate home, I was a fairly conservative Christian, raised in an evangelical denomination and a firm believer of most of the views that the university espouses with respects to sexual orientation and gender identity. I thought that I could be compassionate toward people while silently judging their identities. I thought I could be accepting of people while rejecting core parts of their selves. I thought that my interpretation of the Bible (which had been handed down to me by generations of tradition) was the only standard for “Christian” living. By the time I walked across the stage to receive my diploma, I was a radically different person, with radically different beliefs, and a radically different perspective. I am more proud of the person I am now than I ever was of the person I used to be, and I have my experience at Samford to thank for that.
I’m not going to elaborate on my own orientation and identity, because frankly it shouldn’t matter. What does matter is that every single student at Samford deserves equal respect and dignity. The fact that topics surrounding gender and sexuality make stakeholders uncomfortable is not a reason to deny students their right to engage in discussion and exploration of these issues. Also consider the fact that gender and sexuality are core parts of someone’s identity. Denying Samford Together’s formation is effectively stamping official disapproval not on a “political” hot-button issue, but on living, breathing human beings. Samford cannot claim to foster free thinking and acceptance while simultaneously telling a number of students that their identities, by their very nature, are too controversial or not traditional enough to be given the same credence as faith-based and political organizations on campus.
I understand that the university is entrenched in a very conservative Christian tradition, and I understand that it is on some level beholden to its stakeholders, but I urge you to consider the message you are sending to the faculty, staff, and students, as well as the outside world, when you remain neutral on this issue. Dignity and respect are not a zero sum game. Giving a platform to Samford Together does not rip the platform away from conservative Christianity. Samford is big enough for both.
I loved my time at Samford because I was surrounded by people of all backgrounds, beliefs, and sexual orientations. I loved feeling free to engage with unfamiliar ideas and examine my own beliefs and identity without fear of rejection or reprisal. Most of all, I loved feeling accepted by my peers and my professors no matter how our views differed. It breaks my heart to think of the students, both past and present, who do not feel the same safety and acceptance, and I will always stand with them. Though the university was founded on a certain set of principles, the heart of Samford is not its dogma nor its stakeholders, but the people who invest their lives in it. We are asking to be heard, and I beg you to listen.
Destiny Soria, Class of 2011