"there is and will continue to be a huge population of LGBTQ students at Samford looking for a place to belong"
Dear Dr. Westmoreland,
Let me begin by saying that I have spent a great deal of time imagining all of this from your perspective. What a difficult place you are in. You must feel a great deal of pressure from every direction, and it can't be easy. I respect the time and thought you have put into wrestling with this issue, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart. I was a student at Samford when you first arrived and, although we had limited interaction, I remember observing your words and actions and feeling proud to have such a wise and thoughtful leader like yourself at the helm of our great university. Samford is incredibly blessed to have your stewardship and vision guiding them each day.
I would like to ask for a brief moment of your time to let me share my story so that you too may have a chance to let another perspective bring you the opportunity to exercise empathy and compassion. Please know that it is difficult for me to recount some of this, but I believe it is important and I trust that you will receive it with an open heart and an open mind.
I loved my time at Samford. From day one I felt like I was home. I joined University Ministries Choir, attended Shiloh each week, befriended the entire women's soccer team living on my hall in Vail and went to every game- home and away. Over the next three years I continued to find even deeper community by becoming a Connections leader, being appointed to University Ministries Council as Worship Coordinator, planning Shiloh each week, directing Step Sing (go Independent Ladies!) and the list goes on. I found safe places and developed important and lasting friendships with students and staff. I wouldn't change a second. But, if I'm honest, something was missing.
I often felt different and even a little lonely despite my active campus life. I had a vague feeling that it was related to my sexuality, but I didn't feel comfortable talking about it with anyone around me. Words like "gay" and "lesbian" were rarely spoken in our community and when they were it was either a joke or a shameful whisper. No one would actually broach the subject from an intellectual, emotional or even theological place. I felt my only option was to keep my feelings to myself and hope they would pass. Spoiler alert: they didn't pass.
I have a distinct memory of sitting quietly in my beloved Hodges Chapel one night after leading worship at Shiloh. Despite an evening of wonderful worship and community, I felt so alone and afraid, and I had no idea how to navigate or even name my feelings. I sat in that pew weeping and crying out to the God that created me and loved me and asking him for help. Was I not fearfully and wonderfully made? Did these feelings make me any less deserving of love and acceptance? Would Jesus not sit beside me and hold me and tell me I am enough? Was I the only one dealing with these questions? Sadly, I would not find those answers until my departure from Samford. My university had no space for this part of me. At least not a space I could find.
I can't help but wonder how different my experience might have been if Samford Together or a similar group had existed on campus when I was there. I might have discovered the large number of my friends that were dealing with the same feelings. I might not have the complicated and strained relationship I now have with the Church because of the rejection and suppression I felt. I might have found ways to encourage and mentor others struggling with much darker and more destructive feelings than my own. I might not have spent a single day of my four years at Samford feeling less than. I’ll never know.
What I do know is that you have the ability to make this experience a reality for all of your students going forward. You have the rare opportunity to effect lasting change on a monumental scale for countless young people. You have the ability to save lives. And make no mistake, there is and will continue to be a huge population of LGBTQ students at Samford looking for a place to belong. This issue is not going away and it will only grow louder and more vital as time goes on. I beg of you to use the power and influence you have to make Samford University a place that welcomes ALL of God's children and provides them with an institution that says, “No matter what, you are fearfully and wonderfully made and you belong."
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this. I know you still have a long journey ahead of you, and I remain hopeful that you will make the right decision for the good of all of your students. I would love the opportunity to discuss this further, but in the meantime, I hope my story can be one of the many that resonates in your heart as you consider the future of love and acceptance at Samford.
Class of ’08
University Ministries Council Member