Campus Pride recently updated and released its annual 2021 Worst List naming the “absolute worst and most unsafe campuses for LGBTQ youth.” Malone University was listed among this year’s worst campuses, and frankly it deserves it - being named one of the worst, most unsafe schools for LGBTQ+ students.
As an LGBTQ+ student attending Malone University, a conservative private Christian school, I can tell you Campus Pride’s “Worst of the Worst List” is a necessary resource to expose religious harm and bigotry toward LGBTQ+ youth. The list documents schools’ anti-LGBTQ+ policies, discriminatory practices, and lack of accountability.
Unlike others on the Worst List, Malone University has not filed for a Title IX religious exemption, which permits a private university to openly discriminate based on religious views. The exemptions when received allow campuses to legally discriminate against students based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Nevertheless, Malone’s treatment of the LGBTQ+ community has been nothing short of disturbing, unsafe, and toxic to students and the campus community.
Just by looking at the university’s website, an incoming student would never know about its anti-LGBTQ+ policies. I personally believe that’s the goal at Malone University — to hide behind obscure religious language and behavior codes. A student’s choice of which university to attend is crucial to their path, and Malone is blatantly infringing on their integrity by not disclosing this information to prospective students.
In 2012, a Malone student founded Safe Space, a campus group that promotes belonging and safety for LGBTQ+ students. He wanted this group to remain a part of Malone’s culture for years to come — but it never happened. Safe Space was never recognized as an “official” university club or organization, allowing it to drift further and further out of the minds of students, faculty, and community alike.
If you take nothing else away from this piece, take this: Incidents like this are no accident. Schools like mine — schools like the ones on the “Worst List” — are very intentional in their erasing of LGBTQ+ students and their respective organizations.
Malone University employs professors who perpetuate this narrative of discrimination. My theology professor expressed his opinions to me about my identity as an LGBTQ+ student in a series of multi-paragraph emails:
“I’d love to explain why, from a Christian perspective, ‘being true to myself,’ doesn’t make much sense. Just as christianity teaches that our community is grounded in forgiveness… it also insists that all humans are confused about their own identity. This is part of what it means to be made in God’s image; it means that our identity is not ‘essential’ - it is teleological - something to pursue over a lifetime, something finally given as a gift.”
According to my theology professor, LGBTQ students being true to themselves are lost. In the same email, he decided to throw in this piece as written:
“I’m not writing this to suggest that you need gay therapy, by the way. I don’t believe that sexual attraction is a choice for everyone, though it is probably a choice for lesbian pornstars, celebrities, and whatnot, who are engaged in a great deal of sexual experimentation. I am suggesting, however, that there is far more to identity - what it means to know yourself - than you can possibly know at this point in your life.”
For the record, I am not the only LGBTQ+ student who has received such emails from this professor, and he is only one example of the type of faculty that exists at Malone University.
And when there are LGBTQ+ affirming faculty and staff, it is becoming more clear that there are limits. Recently, the campus administration sent an email to current Malone students stating, “Earlier this semester Dr. Karyn Collie informed the leadership of the university that she is in a relationship with a woman and intends to be married this summer. After conversation with university leadership, Dr. Collie has respectfully agreed to resign from her faculty position.” Later in the email, they stated, “We believe that adhering to the Community Responsibilities fosters an environment that holistically supports students throughout their Malone experience.”
The implication of this is that having LGBTQ+ members on staff would create an unhealthy environment for students. In reality, Malone’s decision to let Dr. Collie go has perpetuated the toxic environment for Malone’s LGBTQ+ community, who are clearly not as important to Malone as their heterosexual, cisgender students.
Many students at Malone also take a similar stance toward LGBTQ+ people as the school. One of these individuals was my freshman-year roommate — a girl I have known since I was about six years old and was my best friend throughout high school. When I came out to her my sophomore year of high school, she broke down crying, saying it wouldn’t make her love me any less.
Three years later, in our shared dorm room, she contradicted herself when she told me she didn’t support the LGBTQ+ community, but she could settle for not hating them. It never made sense to me, and neither did our friendship after the fact. We lived together in a 10 foot by 11 foot room for the next five months without ever speaking another word to each other.
Being an LGBTQ+ student at Malone University for the last four and half years has been difficult emotionally and frustrating, to say the least. Perhaps this is a cynical outlook to have, but I think everyone is to blame. I blame myself and my fellow students for not speaking up for what is right and pushing for change. I blame the faculty for supporting a discriminatory institution and furthering these harmful acts toward LGBTQ+ students. I blame the local community for not getting in an uproar and doing more to support the LGBTQ+ community. I blame every person who has ever been silent in the face of discrimination on campus. I blame every single one of us; and in the same breath, I believe we are all responsible to change this narrative.
Campus Pride is actively working to effect this change, starting with the “Worst List” and calling attention to these not only harmful but also unsafe campuses for LGBTQ+ youth. Every college or university that has ever carried out the mistreatment of LGBTQ+ students, Title IX exempt or not, must be held accountable for their actions. Public tax dollars are going to these private religious institutions that openly discriminate and harm LGBTQ+ youth. These campuses should be branded and should be required to share their anti-LGBTQ+ harassment and discriminatory policies on the front page of the campus website.
Every LGBTQ+ student should feel safe, welcomed, and valued by their school, regardless of its religious affiliation. Rules, exemptions, and loopholes are no longer and have never been, an excuse for harmful and unsafe harassment and discrimination toward anyone.
Michelle Lori is currently a senior at Malone University in Canton, Ohio. She is pursuing a BA in English, with a minor in Creative Writing Michelle is an author of a recently published YA novel titled The Head and The Heart, which was the catalyst for her non-profit organization to end relationship abuse and dating violence, The Head and The Heart Foundation.