Trends on Christian College and University Campuses

In preparation for a pre-conference workshop at the Association for Christians in Student Development annual conference, I have been thinking a lot about the trends on Christian colleges and universities in relation to sexual minority and transgender students. That’s actually the title of the workshop. I will be discussing the three lenses I introduce in the book Understanding Gender Dysphoria.

The three lenses represent contrasting frameworks people use to “see” various topics (and people who represent those topics) differently. Briefly, they are the integrity lens, the disability lens, and the diversity lens. The integrity lens emphasizes the integrity or sacredness of male female differences from creation, as well as the unitive and procreative purposes of sex and sexual differences.

The disability lens places more emphasis on same-sex sexuality and gender dysphoria as distinct reflections of the fallen world in which people live. In keeping with that, they are nonmoral realities such that the person is not morally culpable for the experiences of same-sex sexuality or gender dysphoria. There may be moral considerations in what is done in light of same-sex sexuality or to manage dysphoria, but the experiences themselves are morally neutral in terms of culpability.

The diversity lens celebrates differences related to same-sex sexuality and gender as praiseworthy, as reflections of a diverse world in which we live. There are different variations on the diversity lens, but the main point is that this lens helps answer fundamental questions people have about identity and community.

I argue for what I refer to as an integrated framework that recognizes the strengths and weaknesses of each of these lenses and attempts to draw on the strengths of each.

So I will be discuss these lenses, as they provide a way of seeing what is happening at Christian colleges and universities around the country. Different stakeholders draw on different frameworks and frequently speak past one another. We will be discussing the many ways in which this happens and affects student development and broader campus policies and practices, as well as residence life, class discussions, relationships among faculty and staff, discussions with board members, parents, and alumni. It will be interesting.

These frameworks also help Christians in student development understand the ways in which the LGBT+ community has become a culture and how multicultural competence is now a reference point for training and services in a way that it had not been previously.

Of course, there are many other trends. I will be sharing some preliminary data from a study that I have been conducting with Stephen Stratton, Janet Dean, and Michael Lastoria. We launched a longitudinal study this past year and invited sexual minorities at Christian colleges and universities to complete a survey and participate in an interview to collect information on their experiences on Christian college campuses. I’ll be discussing milestone events in sexual identity development, public and private identity, experiences of campus climate, and more.

I am deeply grateful to these colleagues and to the student development staff who made this research possible. I think it is important for Christians in the field of psychology to ask the questions that are relevant to our own communities. In LGBT+ studies, this includes asking questions about the experiences of sexual minorities on Christian college campuses, and to use that information to improve our campuses, our ability to care for and love one another in meaningful ways, and our broader cultural witness.

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