The Fresno Pacific University Board of Trustees has recommended to President Joseph Jones that he deny a request to form a LGBTQ+ Pride Club on the university campus. The board considered the request at its Oct. 23, 2021, meeting, and Jones announced his decision to deny the request in a letter dated Oct. 26, 2021.
In his letter, Jones says, “On October 23, 2021, the FPU Board of Trustees, as part of its regular meetings, reviewed existing university policy in light of a request by a group of students to establish an LGBTQ+ Pride Club. After careful consideration, the board provided discernment to the university president that establishing a LGBTQ+ Pride Club was not consistent with the Confession of Faith of the university or the USMB. The president therefore denies the request for establishing the club.”
The idea of forming a Pride Club surfaced as part of a Christian Leadership course group project that asked students to identify an area of need within the community and to identify possible solutions. The FPU student government approved the request to form a Pride Club. The request was considered by the FPU Board of Trustees in June 2021, and action was deferred until the fall.
News of the request came to the attention of the local Fresno, California, news media when the FPU student newspaper, The Syrinx, said that its efforts to report on the proposed Pride Club were discouraged by the university. The editor also questioned whether the university was fully disclosing its Title IX exemptions.
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX) prohibits sex-based discrimination in any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. Title IX requires schools to adopt and publish grievance procedures for students to file complaints of sex discrimination, including complaints of sexual harassment or sexual violence.
The U.S. Department of Education website records requests for Title IX exemptions from more than 120 religious schools between 2013 and May 2021. Fresno Pacific was granted a Title IX religious exemption in 2015, as was Tabor College, the Mennonite Brethren owned college in Hillsboro, Kansas.
FPU released a statement to ABC30 Action News in early October clarifying the process it was following in considering the request for the Pride Club.
“Because of the nature of the potential club, the decision on whether or not to approve it as an official student organization is with the FPU Board of Trustees,” the university said. The full statement is printed below.
The Fresno Bee reports that 1,000 individuals signed a change.org petition advocating for the club to be recognized at the campus and that “many students, alumni and faculty also voiced their support on the petition.”
The petition states, “On October 23rd, the Fresno Pacific University Board of Trustees will be meeting to decide if it will approve the creation of a student-led LGBTQ+ Pride Club. For the first time in at least a decade, the Board has intervened in the creation of a student club. Our club’s mission is to create a safe, inclusive and discriminatory free environment for LGBTQ+ and allied individuals on and off-campus through monthly meetings, community service and educational symposiums.”
The FPU website lists 17 clubs for the 2020-21 academic year, ranging from academic-oriented to personal interests.
FPU statement provided Oct. 8, 2021, to ABC30 Action News:
A group of Fresno Pacific University would like to organize an LGBTQ Pride Club and hope to make it a university-sponsored organization. The Syrinx, FPU’s student newspaper, is working on an article about the proposed club.
A reporter for The Syrinx approached the President’s Office about interviewing Dr. Joseph Jones for the article. Dr. Jones said he would be happy to be interviewed after the FPU Board of Trustees meeting October 23.
No one in the administration told the reporter not to write about the subject or ordered the story to be held. The president and others simply feel that not enough is known before the board discussion for comments to be appropriate.
Because of the nature of the potential club, the decision on whether or not to approve it as an official student organization is with the FPU Board of Trustees. The board discussed the proposed club at its last meeting in June and is expected to again at this meeting.
FPU is affiliated with the Pacific District Conference of the United States Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches. This is our sponsoring organization.
The USMB Confession of Faith defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman.
FPU invites and welcomes all students but expects students to abide by the values and behavioral standards in the student handbook and the theological witness statement, both of which are made available to students and on the FPU website.
Statement published Oct. 26, 2021, announcing decision to deny request:
The mission of Fresno Pacific University is to develop students for leadership and service through excellence in Christian higher education. Our vision is to be a vibrant, Christ-centered university that transforms California’s Central Valley and global communities through exemplary service to students of all ethnicities, cultures and faith backgrounds. In this work we are guided by the Fresno Pacific Idea, which defines FPU as a community of learners committed to a distinctive vision of Christian higher education.
The mission, vision and policies of the university are all framed through the lens of the university’s Confession of Faith, a theological position grounded in the Confession of Faith of the U.S. Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches (USMB), a part of which, the Pacific District Conference, governs the university through the FPU Board of Trustees.
Fresno Pacific’s success in serving all students, especially the many who come with economic challenges and are the first in their families to attend a university, is evidenced by FPU having the highest graduation rate in the Central Valley. Most graduates remain in the Central Valley, contributing to the economic advancement of the region. The university continues to be ranked at the top among regional universities in the West for upward mobility. These results are based on the instruction and support graciously provided to all students through our faculty and staff who are guided by our Confession of Faith. Faculty and staff will continue to strive to help our students be successful and look at ways to welcome students whose experiences and views differ from ours.
On October 23, 2021, the FPU Board of Trustees, as part of its regular meetings, reviewed existing university policy in light of a request by a group of students to establish an LGBTQ+ Pride Club. After careful consideration, the board provided discernment to the university president that establishing a LGBTQ+ Pride Club was not consistent with the Confession of Faith of the university or the USMB. The president therefore denies the request for establishing the club.
In doing so, the board affirms its policy on Marriage, Singleness and Family in the USMB Confession of Faith. That policy also determined the university name a “safe space person” to whom students can speak confidentially, to seek support and understanding regarding various matters pertaining to sexuality. The Campus Life team has served in this capacity and efforts will be made to more intentionally communicate the designated person(s).
Fresno Pacific University will continue to welcome all eligible students who desire a Christian education among students, faculty and staff from multiple denominations. While the university remains clear in its view of biblical standards for sexuality and marriage, also clear is the tension between this deep conviction and the desire to show compassion and care toward students that identify as LGBTQ+ or experience same-sex attraction.
In all we do at FPU, we continue to honor the dignity and worth of everyone, as people created by God, as we strive to fulfill our Christian commitment of a caring and diverse community.
By Connie Faber with files from Fresno Bee and ABC30 Action News.