"I ask that you welcome LGBTQ students as who they are: children of God, students of Samford, who deserve equal treatment"
Dear Dr. Westmoreland,
Samford taught me about silence. At Samford I was introduced to the reality that, even if a thought interested me, it didn’t necessarily need to fly off my tongue. While I’ve yet to fully internalize this lesson, Samford’s rigorous academics (thanks, Dr. Borden and Dr. Bass!) taught me to cull my verbosity, and Samford’s contemplative worship (thanks, Brennan Manning and Shiloh!) helped me slow down, listen, and appreciate silence’s value.
My mother often speaks of the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit. While we don’t always agree theologically, my mom and I do agree that much can be learned from listening for that Spirit’s guidance. Indeed, it was in contemplative silence on a University Ministries retreat that I first named the realization that I was queer.
Understanding queerness as a blessing was not immediate. At Samford, I entrusted my questions about sexuality with a University Ministries staff member, who recommended that I seek counseling to quell my “struggles with same-sex attraction.” On-campus mentors encouraged me to pray for heterosexuality and avoid sinning, even mentally, by considering life outside of heterosexual marriage. I found myself wound in confusion: on one hand, these people seemed to genuinely care about me and my well-being; on the other hand, these people seemed equally dedicated to telling me that an integral part of how I was created was morally repugnant.
Silence isn’t always a gift. After graduating, I came out, and a different sort of silence settled around me. This was the silent Facebook unfriending of a college roommate who, during undergrad, had promised to be a groomsman at my wedding. It was the phone calls to close friends that abruptly went unanswered, after news of my sexual orientation made its way through the grapevine. And it was the quiet realization that, after submitting a marriage announcement to Seasons, not only would my marriage not be included in the alumni magazine, I also wouldn’t be granted the dignity of a response. Despite receiving confirmation that my emails and phone messages had been received, no one, from alumni affairs to your President’s Office, deemed my requests for information worthy of an official reply. Instead, my wedding announcement was silently deleted, then ignored.
While this institutional and personal silence may feel expedient, it is insidious. Among the lessons Samford taught me was that silence, like any action wielded at a person against their will, can serve as a crucible. LGBTQ students at Samford have endured this oppressive silence for too long, and are rightly calling for official recognition of Samford Together—a group that simply wants to lead healthy conversations and give LGBTQ students a place where they can safely be known. Rather than continuing to devalue the humanity of LGBTQ students and deny them access to the same processes as other student groups, I ask that you instead welcome them as who they are: children of God, students of Samford, who deserve equal treatment in this small request. Don’t silence Samford Together.
Andrew An Westover, Class of 2009