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Chaplaincy considers student concerns regarding Tufts Christian Fellowship/InterVarsity relationship

Published: Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Updated: Thursday, December 8, 2011 04:12


University Chaplain David O'Leary is looking into the relationship between InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA (IVCF) and its affiliated chapter, Tufts Christian Fellowship (TCF), after students raised concerns that IVCF staff members wield undue influence over the student group and that both organizations conduct discriminatory practices.

O'Leary initiated a series of discussions with TCF and IVCF leaders after hearing student concerns about the groups' relationship and discriminatory practices last month. O'Leary said he is now determining whether the concerns are valid, and given his plans to leave Tufts at the end of the semester, will brief his successor on the issue if a conclusion is not reached by the semester's completion.

This process follows a Tufts Community Union (TCU) Judiciary complaint lodged by four students on Nov. 19, alleging that TCF's constitution contradicts university policy by requiring that members of the Vision and Planning Team (VPT), its student leadership, uphold specified religious tenets.

The students rescinded the complaint lodged with the Judiciary two days later, opting instead to await the results of O'Leary's inquiry and pursue their own discussions with TCF's leadership before considering further action with the Judiciary, according to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Community Representative Grainne Griffiths, one of the students who lodged the complaint with the Judiciary.

Such concerns are not entirely new; TCF gained national attention in 2000, when the Judiciary ruled that TCF and IVCF staff member Jody Chang had denied Julie Catalano (LA '01) a leadership position on the basis of her sexual orientation.

Following a series of hearings, the Judiciary placed TCF on probation.

The Judiciary determined that TCF discriminated against Catalano because it held her to different standards from a heterosexual student, but held that university policy allowed student organizations to mandate that leaders hold certain beliefs so long as all students are held to an equal standard.

The group subsequently adopted a new constitution that affirmed the university's non-discrimination policy, implemented a more democratic leadership selection process and lessened IVCF's influence on the group.

Concerns regarding discrimination in leadership selection

Article IV of TCF's constitution dictates that the group does not "discriminate on the grounds of race, color, religion, sex, national or ethnic origin, age, sexual orientation, disability or an individual's previous affiliations in criteria for membership, assignment of voting privileges or rank."

Article VI of TCF's constitution requires that VPT members "advocate and conform their lives" to the group's five-part Basis of Faith and also "abid[e] by and advocat[e] traditional evangelical Christian norms of personal behavior," including, among other things, "sexual chastity." TCF's Basis of Faith, is identical to IVCF's Doctrinal Basis, as IVCF's document existed prior to October 2000.

Griffiths, a sophomore, said the leadership requirements regarding religious beliefs and practices enable discrimination based on sexual orientation because sexual chastity norms are applied unequally to straight and LGBT students.

"Chastity is interpreted differently for straight people and queer people, being that if you're straight you can still be chaste and have a typical romantic relationship, holding hands and stuff, but if you're LGBTQ-identified, then no contact. You have to be celibate," Griffiths said. "That shouldn't be happening under a non-discrimination policy which protects sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression."

Junior Brandon Archambault, one of the four students who submitted the complaint to the Judiciary, believes that TCF's leadership requirements go beyond preventing LGBT individuals from acquiring positions on the VPT, but also discriminate based on other characteristics and behaviors.

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