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Anderson U. clarifies stance after teacher loses job; LGBTQ activists demand change

·5 min read
Former Anderson University professor Miranda Barnett, second from right, stands with protesters on Sunday morning after her contracts weren't renewed for the fall semester.
Former Anderson University professor Miranda Barnett, second from right, stands with protesters on Sunday morning after her contracts weren't renewed for the fall semester.

A group of Anderson University alumni and students and more than 100 others who have signed a letter to Anderson University have threatened to pull their financial support from the university if it does not meet their demands in the wake of the school's decision to not renew the teaching contract of Miranda Barnett.

The letter is a response to a letter from the University clarifying its statement of faith two weeks after the school made its decision regarding Barnett's contract. Barnett says the decision was made because of her sexual orientation, and about 20 current and former Anderson University students gathered at the school Sunday morning, June 26 to show support for the LGBTQ+ community and former theater professor.

Two days later on June 28, the university sent a letter to students and staff  titled "Commentary on Sexual Identity and Civility." It was followed by a response from a group of five alumni and one current student, Anderson University LGBTQ+ activists.

The letter from the university was posted on its website and sent to staff and students and the Anderson University LGBTQ+ activists sent a copy of their response to the Independent Mail.

Anderson University sends statement to students, staff

Anderson's response clarifies the school's statement of faith and was issued after the protest on campus.

"Recent events have brought to our attention several misunderstandings regarding our policies and convictions," the letter said. "It is important to make clear that there are different expectations and policies relating to our students, to our faculty, and to our staff."

Faculty members are expected to teach through a traditional Christian perspective and agree with the University’s Statement of Faith.

More details: Read the full statement from the university here

When a faculty member is unable to abide by the University’s religious tenets, they have to stop teaching, the statement says. Anderson University is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

People in support of former professor Miranda Barnett wave signs near passing traffic in front of the arches of Anderson University on Boulevard in Anderson Sunday, June 26, 2022.
People in support of former professor Miranda Barnett wave signs near passing traffic in front of the arches of Anderson University on Boulevard in Anderson Sunday, June 26, 2022.

Students, while still expected to adhere to the University’s behavioral policies on sexuality, are not held to the same standard because they are not serving in a teaching or ministry role, according to the statement.

"When one chooses to be a student at Anderson University, by that action that person also agrees to respect and abide by the University’s policies, even if the individual personally disagrees with some policies and the rationale behind them," the letter said.

All individuals are protected from harassment based on their sexual identity through Title IX and the University’s anti-harassment policies, the letter said.

We have also had the opportunity to meet with a group of students seeking clarity on Anderson University’s position on these issues and its conduct policies as they relate to sexual identity and campus diversity. We discussed the fact that as an intentionally Christian institution in the South Carolina Baptist tradition, Anderson’s view of human sexuality is rooted in and consistent with a traditional interpretation of Scripture. We also talked about the fact that there are members of our campus community who identify as LGBTQ+ and discussed how we should reconcile these two realities in a genuinely Christian manner that expresses our love for one another and for all the members of our family.

The group of students referenced in the letter met with school leaders last spring, the university said.

The letter emphasized two main points. First, Anderson’s position on human sexuality and marriage is based on the Bible and orthodox biblical teaching.

"Kindly and respectfully, it is non-negotiable," the letter said.

Second, Anderson is a family of biblical truth, faith, and love that has a genuine desire to accept others as human beings, the letter said.

"Anderson seeks to be a kind, graceful, and civil academic community in which all are valued and treated respectfully and professionally," the letter said. "Harassment, bullying, and other inappropriate behaviors based on an individual’s sexuality do not have a place on our campus or in our community."

We love all members of our campus community and we want everyone to feel welcome and an integral part of our campus family. It should, however, not come as a surprise that we ask and expect our students and employees to understand and respect the University’s charter to have a religious purpose that is set apart from secular interests and viewpoints.

The letter said the university continuously abides by laws pertaining to the institution.

Anderson strives to express love and grace to our LGBTQ+ students in accordance with the teachings of Christ. Anderson has provided LGBTQ+ students with millions of dollars in scarce institutional financial aid and offers all students a competitive education. This will not change. Anderson has also supported and encouraged employees and students who openly love and care for LGBTQ+ individuals. This will not change. Anderson will not allow any student or employee to be harassed. This also will not change.

A group walks with signs toward the front arch of Anderson University in support of former professor Miranda Barnett in Anderson Sunday, June 26, 2022.
A group walks with signs toward the front arch of Anderson University in support of former professor Miranda Barnett in Anderson Sunday, June 26, 2022.

Anderson University LGBTQ+ Activists respond asking for safe environment

The Anderson University LGBTQ+ Activists' goal is to advocate for equality, protection, and representation for faculty, students, and staff who identify as a part of the LGBTQ+ community within Anderson’s community.

The group consists of six people: Cary Doyle, Christina Boothe, Emily Fincher, Erin Speed, Savvy Thompson and Tyler Prescott.

Doyle is a current student and the rest of the group are alumni.

"I don't feel like you can show love to the LGBTQ+ community without providing a space for them to exist," Doyle told the Independent Mail.

Doyle has been a student at AU for four years but when he heard Barnett could no longer teach, his prior frustrations turned into a need for action.

He has been frustrated through the years at things he had heard, such as heavily muting queer characters in theatre shows, stopping students from starting a LGBTQ+ student organization and sermons saying same-sex attraction is wrong, he said.

"There was a lot of frustration prior, but Miranda's termination was the match that set the fire," Doyle said.

So he organized Sunday's protest and along with other alumni wrote a letter Wednesday in response to the university's statement saying their aim was not to change the religious beliefs of AU but to secure a safe environment for LGBTQ+ students and staff.

"Though we have inquired through multiple emails and social media posts, as well as engaged in a peaceful protest, we have not received a direct answer from the University regarding this issue," the activists said in the letter.

In their letter they added a list of demands for the University:

  • Commit to not terminating or otherwise disciplining faculty, staff, and/or students on the basis of sexuality and/or gender identity

  • Hold mandatory cultural competency training for all department heads and administration

  • Establish an LGBTQ+ employee resource group

  • Establish an LGBTQ+ Anderson Alumni Council

"We are proud to represent our university, but only if Anderson University is proud to represent us and our queerness, as well as pledge to keep us safe," the group said in the letter.

Another part of their letter read:

By refusing to acknowledge and provide protection for the queer community on campus, Anderson University is closing off opportunities for them to receive money, talents, and time from the LGBTQ+ community. While we understand that Anderson University is a Christian university that upholds the Southern Baptist Convention’s statement of faith, this does not mean that LGBTQ+ people should be pushed out of the conversation. Oftentimes, queer people come to discover their sexuality and gender while at college, and Anderson University is no exception to this.

The letter finished with a list of 139 under-signers who the group said pledged to stop financially contributing to the university until the demands are met.

The full letter can be viewed below.

LGBTQ+ Activists Letter to Anderson University by Sarah Nelson on Scribd

Sarah Sheridan is the community reporter in Anderson. She'd appreciate your help telling important stories; reach her at ssheridan@gannett.com or on Twitter @saralinasher.

This article originally appeared on Anderson Independent Mail: Anderson Univ. sends letter to students, staff to address LGBTQ issue