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Gender identity policy in student handbook causes controversy

Several PLNU alumni and students have spoken out against a policy in PLNU’s current student handbook regarding gender identity. The policy, instituted two years ago denounces transgender identification and prohibits students from wearing clothing contrary to their “assigned sex at birth.”

“I don’t think Jesus would write this policy,” said Kendra Peterson, a senior and social work major and women’s studies minor.

In October, Peterson found this policy while doing some research about the school.

“I was really surprised about what I found under the section about gen- der identity,” Peterson said.

The policy reads:

“We affirm that maleness and femaleness are divinely created for each individual and are not matters to be determined by personal preference.

“We affirm that God loves those who struggle with gender identity. We believe that all people should be treated with dignity, grace, and holy love.

“A student’s choice of clothing should be consistent with his or her assigned sex at birth.

“Residential Life housing assignments and intercollegiate athletic team assignments are made based on one’s assigned sex at birth.

“We recognize that there are exceptions to the typical pattern of human development which may result in rare instances of sexually ambiguous birth. A student (or potential student) who faces such a challenge is invited to discuss these concerns with the Director of Residential Life, who will provide appropriate university re- sources and assistance.”

Title IX coordinator Caye Smith, who has oversight on gender-based discrimination, wrote the policy and it was approved by the administration cabinet. She said the policy first showed up in the 2013-2014 student handbook.

Smith said there needed to be a clear statement regarding gender identity and parameters on campus. These parameters would show students what to expect when it comes to restrooms, locker rooms and housing assignments.

Smith referenced an article called “A Wesleyan View of Gender Identity and Expression” which relates to confusion about gender diversity and expression. The article also lists Bible verses and how they are to be applied to gender identity.

Peterson said that she told many students about this policy and they were unaware that this was in the handbook. She posted the policy on Facebook along with her thoughts about it on Nov. 7.

“A few students and I are meeting with administration to talk about the transphobic statements and language in our student handbook,” Peterson wrote. “If you would like to be involved in this conversation or share your ideas on how we can make our handbook and the school more inclusive and affirming, please message me!”

Peterson said she talked to Director of Community Life Jake Gilbert- son and voiced her concerns about the policy regarding gender identity.

She added that this policy might be a direct violation of Title IX. The Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 says any university that receives federal financial aid has to appoint at least one employee to coordinate and carry out its requirements of prohibiting sex discrimination in education programs and activities.

However, Peterson said this pol- icy might be seen as discriminating against transgender students. Gilbert- son believed that there could be Title IX exemptions for religious universities.

The rules set forth by the Title IX amendments clarify that institutions controlled by a religious organization can apply for exemption on sexual dis- crimination policies contrary to their religious tenets.

Peterson and few other students weren’t the only ones that voiced their concerns.

After a screenshot of this policy was sent to PLNU Alumnus Dane Cardiel (’10) by his former colleague, MacLean Andrews, he soon messaged several alumni, club presidents, ASB members, and professors. He added that Gilbertson responded to him, but didn’t “really address his questions.”

Gilbertson said he has had conversations with about five students about the policy. He added that the PLNU administration has always been willing to listen and has “never been fearful to have conversations with people.”

“These conversations will help us better understand each other,” said Gilbertson. “It will allow us to revisit our policy so [administration] can understand students better and students can understand administration better.” A similar instance occurred at George Fox University, where, according to an article on, the school refused to allow a trans- gender student to live on campus in housing that is “appropriate for his gender.”

In this case, The U.S. Education Department agreed that George Fox University could discriminate against transgender students and could even expel them because it is a violation of their religious beliefs.

The website added that the university is making a policy that restricts housing to being based “exclusively on the biological sex that was assigned to their students at birth.”

PLNU Alumna (’10) Caitlyn Bu- ford, who found out about this policy because of Cardiel, said the ‘language’ in the PLNU student handbook adds to the violence transgender people face because there is no type of clothing linked to gender.

“For the Transgender community, violence is a national crisis,” said Bu- ford. “And the language used in the PLNU Student Handbook is very clearly a part of the systemic problem.”

Gilbertson said he is continuing to have conversations with students and alumni and that the conversation about this policy is still ongoing. He added that he hopes that there will be a policy that reflects PLNU’s traditions and allows students to live comfortably.

Peterson said she’s meeting with Smith soon to discuss the policy.






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Jake Henry

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