NEW ORLEANS — This year’s Senior Student Development Officers Conference saw an increased attendance as representatives from CCCU institutions gathered March 7-9 at the Marriott Renaissance New Orleans Arts Hotel to address the challenging topic of student sexuality and sexual identity and the implications for student development practices at Christian colleges and universities.
Mark Yarhouse, professor of psychology and the Hughes Endowed Chair at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va., was the featured speaker for three plenary sessions. His opening keynote address was titled “Stewardship and Gender Sexuality” and focused on what it means for a campus to aid students in the stewardship of their gender and sexuality. The address and the conference’s focus were timely, says Cedarville University Vice President for Student Life Carl Ruby.
“Attendance at this year's conference was twice what it has been some years,” said Ruby. “I believe this is a reflection of the fact that all of us are facing new challenges in the area of serving students who experience same sex attraction. Gay students are more open about their sexual orientation than ever before, and senior student development officers find themselves caught right in the middle of one of biggest cultural challenges facing the church. Most of us are committed to a very traditional and orthodox understanding of sexuality, but we are also committed to helping students who struggle. Balancing these two priorities is one of the toughest tasks we face.”
Yarhouse, who also serves as the director of the Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity, opened Thursday’s session with the topic “Sexual Identity and the Christian University Campus.” The session offered an update on the sexual and religious identity conflicts faced by students who experience same-sex attraction, as well as concerns for campus climate.
Yarhouse’s presentation was followed by a panel discussion responding to the plenary address and moderated by Brad Lau, vice president for student life at George Fox University in Newberg, Ore. Panel members included Melanie Humphreys, dean of student care and services at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill.; Mark Davis, dean of student affairs at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif.; Caye Barton Smith, vice president for student development at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego; and Christopher Yuan, author, speaker, AIDS activist, and adjunct faculty member at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.
Thursday’s sessions ended with a final Yarhouse presentation titled “‘Convicted Civility’ as Concept Brand: From the Interpersonal to the Institutional.” During his talk, he explained the concept of “convicted civility” beyond the interpersonal to application as concept brand for Christian colleges and universities.
“This year's conference topic was timely and relevant in the ‘now times,’” said Daryl L. Hawkins, dean of students at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pa. “There are times when a conference topic is a tad bit late in delivering materials and information. However, this year's conference hit the mark regarding timeliness and relevancy.”
Friday’s speaker was Michael D. Lastoria, director of counseling services at Houghton College in Houghton, N.Y. His recent research, entitled “Religiosity, Sexual Attitudes and Sexual Behavior of Christian College Students: A Survey Study,” gathered data from over 2300 students at 19 Christian colleges located in 14 states. His presentation to the conference was titled “Reflections on Student Sexuality: Heterogeneity within a Homogenous Group.”
A final panel discussion followed, moderated by Ginny Carpenter, vice president for student development at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Ill., and including panelists Kimberly Thornbury, vice president for student services and dean of students at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.; Jim Koch, director of counseling services at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minn.; and Joe Brockinton, vice president for student life at Southern Wesleyan University in Central, S.C.
Although the conference’s content was gravitas, it also proved to be an encouragement to SSDOs as they look toward the challenges that lie ahead concerning student sexuality and the university community.
"Attending the SSDO conference has been helpful and encouraging in the past, but this year was extraordinarily so,” said Edee Schulze, vice president for student life at Bethel University. “The speakers prompted me to think about the ways in which students understand and form their sexual identity and the basis on which they make those decisions. With so many messages coming at our students we, as professionals, must continue to develop our capacity for having helpful, Christ-centered conversations about difficult topics such as this. The SSDO conference challenged me and equipped me in my work serving students."
About the CCCU: The Council for Christian Colleges & Universities is a higher education association of 185 intentionally Christ-centered institutions around the world. The 116 member campuses in North America are all fully-accredited, comprehensive colleges and universities with curricula rooted in the arts and sciences. In addition, 69 affiliate campuses from 25 countries are part of the CCCU. The Council’s mission is to advance the cause of Christ-centered higher education and to help our institutions transform lives by faithfully relating scholarship and service to biblical truth. Visit www.cccu.org.