"Confused and saddened, I responded, I just want to exist"
Dear Dr. Westmoreland,
You and I had the pleasure of first meeting in person when you graciously gave me $5 at the Senior Leadership Honoree Banquet in 2009. I had been asked by one of the trustees to speak publicly about the fortunate timeliness of my arrival to narrate the Advent Service earlier that evening and my subsequent need for new tights. You see, (as you may remember), traffic was not budging on Hwy 31, and rather than miss the event I had been nominated by faculty to narrate, I parked on the side of the highway, took off my high heels, and sprinted to the service in my dress. The bottoms of my tights were in shreds from the journey, but I made it. One of the trustees requested I share the story at the banquet, which resulted in your gracious and much-needed donation. You and I spoke again briefly following my speech at Samford's Baccalaureate my senior year, though no $5 tight donation followed this brief exchange.
Needless to say, I think highly of you and remain grateful for your leadership at Samford. I daresay few other universities of our size have presidents who handwrite cards of encouragement to each Samford student on their birthday as you do. You clearly care about the faculty and students under your leadership, and that matters to us more than you will ever know.
In knowing and trusting your leadership, I want to be brave in disclosing to you formative aspects of my time at Samford that did not involve banquets with the deans and trustees or speaking in front of my senior class.
I want to first communicate my appreciation and respect for all Samford faculty and administration. Overall, I consider my experience at Samford a thoroughly positive one. However, I find your decision to retract your initial commitment to allow Samford Together the same process of consideration as every other campus group disheartening, especially given the Samford Board of Trustee’s recent approval of YAF, an organization with campus chapters classified as hate groups.
It remains an understatement to say I could have benefited from a student-led group such as Samford Together during my time at Samford. In the interest of full self-disclosure, the first person I ever disclosed my efforts to reconcile my faith and orientation was a University Ministries faculty member. With sincerely good intent, this person referred me to a therapist who employed pseudo-reparative therapy approaches to assist me in "reducing" my unwanted attraction. (It remains my belief this faculty member did not realize this would occur.) Years later, when it became increasingly clear these efforts as well as others had failed, I considered suicide. Subsequently, in December 2012, I scheduled a meeting with a person in Samford administration to discuss the benefits afforded to all students through University Ministries facilitating conversations regarding theology and sexuality. While the conversation remained friendly and positive, I was informed by this administrator that such conversations did not appear to be of interest to many Samford students at that time and would not obtain further consideration.
According to various online sources, it remains students and faculty who led desegregation efforts in the 1960's despite the great resistance of Samford administration. Whether denying the entry of Miles College students invited by the Samford SGA to attend a Birmingham Symphony on-campus event or continuing to ban people of color from consideration for admission a full three years following the passage of the Civil Rights Act, it remains the advocacy of Samford students and faculty that finally made greater inclusion possible. I imagine, too, students and faculty promoting a "mixing of the races" was likely perceived by the administration as a 'polarizing and divisive issue' better served by resisters knowing their place, and like the white pastors instructing Martin Luther King Jr., learning to wait. Dr. Westmoreland, I ask that our administration currently respond to a unanimous faculty endorsement and ongoing student requests for Samford Together in a way that reflects the laudable, rather than regrettable, of Samford history and values.
Years after graduation, when I mentioned my orientation to a Samford Ministries faculty member who I continue to greatly respect, this person responded by asking with concern, "Does this mean you will be seeking homosexual rights advances like your other social justice causes?" Confused and saddened, I responded, "I just want to exist." May all current and prospective Samford students one day be given a student-led means to converse in ways that promote their development as people of courage and integrity, and yes, their ability to simply exist as they are at Samford without fear.
Jeanne, Class of 2009