At a time when religiously affiliated colleges and universities are in the news for requesting exemptions to Title IX, one school has grabbed headlines for giving one up.
Pepperdine University, affiliated with the Churches of Christ and located in Malibu, California, had been allowed to take disciplinary action against students involved in sexual relations outside of wedlock or homosexual relationships, in spite of national policies preventing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The school's exemption was granted in 1985 and also enabled Pepperdine to limit female students' involvement in campus ministries.
University President Andrew K. Benton wrote the Department of Education in January, explaining that the exemption was no longer necessary.
"Early this year, the university withdrew from the previously granted exemption because it does not fully reflect Pepperdine's values today. We believe that Pepperdine's mission and the goals of Title IX are aligned, and we are committed to complying with Title IX in its entirety," school officials said in a recent statement, according to Inside Higher Ed.
Title IX, passed by Congress in 1972, seeks to ensure that all students have equal access to admissions, housing, athletics, facilities, financial assistance, employment and counseling.
Pepperdine's new approach to Title IX came to light in a collection of documents released by the DOE in April, as Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride, noted this week in a post for The Huffington Post.
Government officials had hoped to make the exemption process more transparent, after being pressured by the Human Rights Campaign to list schools with exemptions, as the Deseret News reported at the time. Nearly 60 religiously affiliated colleges and universities have received exemptions to Title IX since 2013, when the DOE announced that the policy does protect transgender students, the article noted.
Exemptions to Title IX became available soon after the policy was passed, because lawmakers felt they were necessary to ensure that religiously affiliated institutions could live out their religious ideals. "The waivers were intended to let the colleges continue to receive federal funding without having to adopt policies in conflict with their core beliefs," The Chronicle of Higher Education reported.
However, in recent years, LGBT rights organizations such as the HRC have equated exemptions with discrimination, inspiring students at schools like Pepperdine to protest, as Sojourners reported in February.
"Title IX exemptions make the environment of fear and rejection more tangible. Students shouldn't be afraid of being kicked out of a university that they're paying to attend due to their gender identity," said Coley Baker, a 2014 graduate of Biola University in La Mirada, California, to Sojourners.
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