by Alyssa Crowley
The campus welcomed guest speaker Dr. Mark Yarhouse on Thursday, Feb. 7th. Yarhouse is Professor of Psychology at Regent University and the executive director of the university’s Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity. This event was initiated by the university’s Generative Questions Task Force, as its members continue to bring LGBTQI+-related awareness and discussion to the campus for the benefit of students, faculty and staff.
Those who attended the event, which was an SFO credit, witnessed a presentation of Yarhouse’s research into the experience of sexual minority—self-identified not straight or not-cis-gender—students on Christian college campuses. The research was conducted through an anonymous survey of about 150 students in attendance at Christian colleges, including students of Malone.
“He’s interested in how people navigate [their sexual identity] and when they start [that navigation],” said Dr. Steve Jensen, Co-Chair of the Generative Questions Task Force, about Yarhouse’s research, “and how long it takes them and what role college plays.”
The survey included questions about students’ perceptions of their campuses, namely of campus postures toward same-sex attraction and sexual minorities. Yarhouse presented survey results showing the levels of acceptance and support felt on campus by these students, along with some of their anonymous quotes. Perceived acceptance was, on average, within a mid-to-low range on a scale of five.
There were some professors in attendance at the event, including Dr. Jeff Goff, professor of chemistry. Goff described the university’s recent efforts of “trying to take advantage of these [types of speaker events] as learning opportunities.” As there is continued encouragement to address Christianity alongside LGBTQI+ orientations and identities, the university is bringing speakers like Yarhouse and providing space, Goff said, to consider: “Are there Christians that think differently than I do about this subject that could give me some insight that I haven’t had before?”
There is perceived value in directly acknowledging, through speakers and research, the intersection of Christian and queer populations. Goff acknowledges its difficulty, though, in light of the diversity of belief within Christian circles.
“The church doesn’t talk much about it except the sound bites that are easy,” Goff said, referring to common and controversial phrases such as “love the sinner, hate the sin.”
“Christians are in a tension,” Goff continued, describing discussion surrounding the topic Yarhouse and the Task Force are trying to address. “I don’t think any single Christian looks at this issue or any other issues and arrives at the exact same point when you have this conflict [of approaches to sexual minorities].”
Dr. Kathryn Huisinga, associate professor of biochemistry, also attended the Yarhouse event, and she shared some of her response to the presentation.
“I think that some people like to say that you can’t be gay and a Christian, but clearly there’s examples of that across the board,” said Huisinga, referring to the results of Yarhouse’s research.
The presentation included a reported scale of “religiosity”—pull toward and practice of religion—experienced and expressed by the students taking the survey. Yarhouse said that religiosity levels of these students appeared rather high.
“I think it’s interesting to hear it from a person that’s data-driven,” Huisinga said.
What struck Huisinga as the most valuable, she said, was the encouragement of “the combination of building relationships with all of our students,” she began, and “building relationships with students that identify as gay [or as members of a sexual minority].” Huisinga then talked about how she could see herself enacting this as a professor.
“Part of that is our one-on-one interactions with them,” said Huisinga, “but also part of that is establishing a classroom atmosphere where certain things are…not okay to say in the classroom.”
In addition to professor attendance at the presentation, there were several students present who were interested in the topic and in Yarhouse’s research. Among these students was Nick Straits, sophomore psychology major.
“I think it’s impacted the students by creating more conversation,” Straits said about Yarhouse’s talk and similar campus events. “I would hope that [the information brought by Yarhouse’s research] might affect [others on campus] by making them more open to the idea of students not being of the [sexual or gender] norm.”
And that is the goal, according to Jensen. “The second phase, is working on the student experience,” which he said includes who students are, where they come from and the role of the university in the students’ current chapter of life. “I think if you understand those things, you can make way better decisions as an institution about how to help people.”
The Generative Questions Task Force will continue to meet and bring speakers to the campus in the interest of further addressing this topic. Anyone who would like to know more about the research presented in this talk can look for Mark Yarhouse’s book, Listening to Sexual Minorities: A Study of Faith and Sexual Identity on Christian College Campuses, which was published in 2018 and describes the survey and its results.