"you cannot compromise when it comes to the well-being of your brothers and sisters in Christ"
Dear Dr. Westmoreland,
Even before I chose to attend Samford, I knew you were a university president who cared deeply about the welfare of his students. On Scholars Day, I was bedridden with a 104 degree temperature and distraught that I couldn’t make my scholarship interview. That afternoon, Samford’s admissions office called to tell me they had all been praying for me. Two days later, I received a copy of Leading by Design that you had signed to me. That event set Samford apart from every other university I was considering. When I made my decision—which involved turning down a full scholarship and $20,000 stipend at another liberal arts college—I remember telling my parents, “You can learn at any university, but this is a place that cares.”
During my time at Samford, my peers and I referred to you as a “president of the people.” We felt that, even though the university experienced the typical friction between students and administration, you personally listened to and valued the opinions of your student body. From the day of the freshman ice cream social to the day you graciously allowed my social psych group to film you for an Inception parody to the day you handed me the President’s Cup at my graduation, I had the utmost respect for you. I still do respect you, and I know that I can only partly comprehend the tremendous amount of pressure you must feel on all sides regarding the issue of Samford Together.
I came to Samford as the daughter of a conservative, evangelical family. Then, as an honors student and Fellows Program TA, I read extensively and engaged with new ideas. As a Daniel House participant and independent scholar at the University of Cambridge, I traveled and transformed. During that period of transformation, I was lucky to run in open-minded circles. I pursued a degree in a field known for its liberal bent, and my close friends—in true GDI form—supported critical thinking and celebrated diversity. But over time, I became aware that, though I felt generally safe and accepted in my circles, there were plenty of my peers who did not. Since graduating, I’ve heard from even more fellow alumni about the isolating and sometimes antagonistic experiences they endured on Samford’s campus as LGBTQ+ individuals.
Dr. Westmoreland, I understand that many university alumni, trustees, and donors may not be supportive of LGBTQ+ rights. I understand that there are political and doctrinal issues at play here. But I hope and pray that you will make a decision in keeping with the Samford I knew when I matriculated—a Samford that cares. What are politics and tired rhetoric compared to young human lives? As someone who worked suicide hotlines during her time at Samford, I know the statistics: The rate of suicide attempts among LGBT youth is four times higher than among their straight peers. As a homeless youth shelter donor, I know the risks: 40% of homeless youth are LGBT, and many find themselves in this situation after having been disowned and thrown out by their families. And I have personally witnessed, again and again, the hateful words and actions carried out against my LGBTQ+ peers. These are the facts. This is the reality that members of your student body face. Some campus-wide issues require compromise, but you cannot compromise when it comes to the well-being of your brothers and sisters in Christ.
When you denied Samford Together a chance to fully form, you denied already marginalized members of your student body the chance to be heard, affirmed, and protected. You silenced the voices of your students. Through your words and actions, you told these students they were “less than” and “other.” You compounded the isolation that many of them already feel every day on campus. On that day—July 7th—you were not the “president of the people” my friends and I believed you to be. On July 7th, you let us down. On July 7th, I was no longer proud to tell others the name of my alma mater.
Please, Dr. Westmoreland, care for your LGBTQ+ students. Show them you care through action.
Kathryn Ormsbee, Valedictorian of the Class of 2011