By: Madeline Crocenzi, Editor-in-Chief and Ashlyn Miller, Sports & Rec Editor
Today Student Body President, Jonathan Fuller, and Student Government Association (SGA) Vice President of Diversity Affairs, Jocelyn Chavous led a presentation and discussion on SGA’s Spring 2015 sexuality survey.
The survey was conducted last spring between March 23 and April 2. There was a total of 838 participants, 66% of which identified as female and 34% identified as male. Out of the 838 participants, 24% were student leaders.
Overall the survey provided information on student demographics, student beliefs, perceptions on Messiah’s institutional beliefs, and campus climate. Fuller and Chavous presented the information in three segments: the percentage of Messiah students’ self-identified orientations compared to national averages, the common misconceptions of Messiah’s policies regarding sexuality and sexual orientation, and the level of discomfort among LGBTQ students at Messiah.
Vice President of Organizations, Jacob Pelkey, says last year’s SGA Cabinet had a specific goal in mind while implementing the survey. “Last year’s cabinet hoped to identify who might feel underrepresented and how they might receive better resources.”
Fuller adds, “This was a key project for many members of our team last year. We are honored to continue their work and bring it to a close as we share it was the student body.”
The first point dealt with the orientation of the participants. 89% of respondents identified as straight/heterosexual. The remaining 11% identified as other orientations such as asexual, bisexual, gay, lesbian, pansexual, and more.
Compared to the national average, the number of individuals who identified as straight/heterosexual at Messiah is consistent. However, the 11% of participants who identified as an orientation other than straight/heterosexual did not directly align with national averages.
“With identity more in flux between 18 and 22, the results from Messiah are consistent with other college campuses,” says Fuller.
The second point surrounded the common misconceptions regarding Messiah’s policy on sexual orientation.
Although most of the students surveyed were able to correctly identify Messiah’s stance on same-sex sexual expression, views regarding the College’s stance on sexual orientation were ambiguous.
Just over 50% of students marked it is morally wrong to have a same-sex orientation. However, about 85% of participants said Messiah holds same-sex orientation to be morally wrong.
The College’s official stance on sexuality reads, “Messiah College’s community behavioral standards are related to sexual expression, not sexual orientation. The College does not hold that it is morally unacceptable to have a same-sex orientation.”
Finally, the third point addressed LGBTQ students’ level of comfort at Messiah. Students who marked something other than straight/heterosexual on the survey were asked to select their level of comfort talking about their sexual orientation with others on campus on a scale from 1 to 5.
About 40% of those students felt some level of comfort discussing their sexual orientation on campus. When asked if they felt discriminated against or bullied while on campus, 48% of respondents said yes, and only 35% answered no.
Vice Provost and Dean of Students, Kris Hansen-Kieffer stresses the importance of reporting incidents of discrimination or abuse. “It’s very important for the student or someone with knowledge of the situation to report if they feel assaulted or abused. Otherwise, it limits the College’s knowledge and what they can do.”
Additionally 47% of LGBTQ students used phrases such as “intentionally or unintentionally ostracized” or “stigmatized” to describe their experience discussing their orientation with the Messiah community.
Hansen-Kieffer says the numbers are representative of the Messiah student population. “Usually if the return rate is over 30 percent, you can have valid observations about the population. This data returned around 36 percent.”
It’s for this reason that the LGBT Advisory Team is looking to positively impact campus climate as one of its four goals. The other three areas of improvement include theological education, student care and support, and cultural education and engagement.
This fall there were several events designed to support those areas. The opportunities included discussions with student leaders and LGBTQ students about the College’s position on sexuality, the Graceful Sides event with Christopher Yuan and Justin Lee, and the “LGBTQ: Responding to Their Stories” event. Many of these events were co-hosted by Messiah College Ministries, 6th Day Sexuality, and SGA, in order to bring different organizations together.
“This survey hasn’t been sitting back locked away, it has had impact on decisions made in programming,” says Jonathan Fuller.
In the future, the survey results will be used to further impact the College’s statement on sexuality, which is almost complete. The results will also be used for additional programming and theological discussions in the form of guest lectures and chapels.
Many students are open to continuing discussions on the topic of sexuality and sexual orientation. “I think it’s a strong Christian calling to be able to interact and be in community with those who are same-sex attracted. We don’t have to be afraid of people who we believe have sinned, or people who we believe are ‘different,’” says senior Jake Sargent.
For those wishing to discuss the sexuality survey results further, there will be another presentation tomorrow night at 8:00 p.m. in Boyer 336. The full report is also available in SGA’s office located on the second floor of the Union and can be accessed via contact with SGA and read during their office hours.