The Baptist university has denied a charter to Gamma Alpha Upsilon for eight years, members say.
Gay and lesbian students were hopeful a 2015 policy change could pave their way to more rights at Baylor University, one of the country’s most prominent Baptist colleges.
But four years later, LGBTQ students at the Waco school say they’re still waiting for that recognition to arrive.
Although Baylor eliminated language from its conduct code that characterized “homosexual acts” as “misuses of God’s gift,” LGBTQ students say they remain marginalized — unable to form student groups and barred from accessing student activity funds or reserving campus space for meetings. Baylor has denied a charter to one LGBTQ organization — now called Gamma Alpha Upsilon, or GAY in Greek letters — for eight years, according to the group’s members.
The rejections have prompted an outcry at Baylor, highlighting the tension between the university’s heritage as a traditional Baptist school and its ambitions to be a major player in the world of college research and athletics. It has also pitted openly gay students and their allies against those who believe revisiting the issue could upend the university’s religious convictions and redefine its identity.
A recent petition, signed by about 110 people, argued the LGBTQ student group should not be chartered because it could threaten Baylor’s religious affiliation and donor relationships. An opposing letter, carrying more than 3,200 signatures, says it’s an issue of “fundamental fairness and equity” and that Baylor has, on other issues, remained “overly rigid in the face of basic social change.”
A Baylor spokeswoman, Lori Fogleman, said the 3,200 signatures represent about 2% of the school’s students, faculty, staff and living alumni.
Tensions could flare next month when the university’s governing board is scheduled to meet. Students in the LGBTQ group have asked the regents, up to a quarter of whom are selected by the Baptist General Convention of Texas, to revise the school’s policies, arguing that Baylor’s “exclusionary” stance sets it apart from leading academic institutions.
Of the country’s elite athletic and research institutions, including Christian universities like Notre Dame and Boston College, Baylor is alone in withholding recognition from LGBTQ groups, according to the letter sent to regents.
Greta Hays, a spokeswoman for the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, said all private higher education institutions “have the right and ability to ensure that officially recognized student groups are consistent with” their missions.
“For religious colleges and universities, this includes the institution’s religious convictions and beliefs,” she said.
Similar debates have played out on Christian campuses across the country.
Baylor issued a written statement saying, “There is robust discussion about this topic, which is what universities are about, and we acknowledge and appreciate the feedback.”
“We are focused on how we love and care for all our students so they have a healthy, safe and nurturing learning environment in which to be successful at Baylor,” the statement said. “We believe this can be done both inside and outside of officially recognized student organizations. We will continue to work with students as we make decisions consistent with our mission and existing policies.”
To apply for a charter, students must meet with staff in the Department of Student Activities and provide administrators with a packet of materials, including a constitution laying out their mission. There are multiple opportunities to charter an organization each year, but Fogleman said there is no specific timeframe in which officials render a decision.