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The Boston Globe’s Christmas gift to Gordon College was a slap in the face. The Globe listed Kim Driscoll, mayor of Salem, in its list of honorable mentions for Bostonian of the Year. In the article she was lauded for voiding a city contract with the college over its Conduct Statement, which does not permit homosexual practice.
In response to the summer news, the City of Salem severed its contract allowing Gordon to use the Old Town Hall, even though the contract was set to end within a few weeks, anyway. Upon receiving backlash from some, Driscoll decided to contribute $5 to the North Shore Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth for every “negative or nasty comment” that she received.
Certainly the mayor is free to do with her money what she likes. But by publicly announcing her intention to make these donations, Driscoll discouraged dissent. A mayor has the burden of listening to and considering the views of all her citizens. She manipulated disagreement, giving those who thought otherwise two options: silence or unwilling support.
Driscoll’s portrayal of the policy as harshly intolerant (the Globe compared it to the witch burnings once carried out in her municipality) is far from reality. In 2011, I interviewed then-Provost Mark Sargent about the college’s disciplinary procedures. He stressed the college’s belief in redemption:
Hierholzer: How does Gordon view its behavioral expectations and rules, especially when a student does not live up to or follow them?
Sargent: I think we’re understood to have a redemptive process. In other words, we see violations of disciplinary rules as opportunities for intervention to try to work with the student redemptively, but we draw a line at some point.
Hierholzer: So is there more of an emphasis on grace or enforcement, or just in between?
Sargent: Both. You don’t want a soft grace that looks away every time. We hold them [students] accountable for their actions, but as long as the student is working redemptively and willing to accept responsibility for mistakes we will often show grace. If you were to talk to a dean of students, he could flush it out in great more detail, but I know, for example, that he puts a great deal of value when students come forward and admit that they’ve violated something.
Although Sargent is no longer Gordon’s provost, I have seen how the college continues to work with students. This is a sensitive topic because peoples’ identities are at stake, and Gordon should be commended for its handling of the situation. But instead, Driscoll and the Globe are misrepresenting the facts.
Gordon does not check boxes of members’ behaviors and expel anyone with a mark in the wrong box. The college takes situations that breach the Life and Conduct Statement case by case, whether it is homosexuality, drinking alcohol on campus, or heterosexual sex outside of marriage. I know of specific cases for each of these situations within the past couple of years at Gordon. In each, the discipline code was sensitively applied.
Even before this all began, most people on campus, especially LGBT advocates, requested more space for dialogue on campus about homosexuality. In response, Gordon has provided more resources for discussion of the topic, including a book club studying Christian perspectives on human sexuality, and multiple guest speakers with ranging stances on and experiences of LGBT life.
To systematically address the issue, Gordon assembled a working group consisting of four members of the board of trustees, administration, faculty, staff, and student body. This group, with ranging opinions, meets regularly to discuss the ins and outs of the matter, hear from other members of the Gordon community, then frequently reports out to the rest of the college.
Yet criticism persists and student protests ensue.
In her interview with the Boston Globe, Driscoll painted Gordon College as darkly discriminatory: “These kids who feel so disenfranchised at times saw that there’s like all this love and hope and admiration and acceptance. That was a really good feeling.” But the most important part of the Globe’s piece about Gordon is this brief line toward the bottom: “Gordon officials say they bear Salem no ill will.”
Mary Hierholzer is an undergraduate student studying history at Gordon College, and editor-in-chief of Gordon’s newspaper, The Tartan.