Christian college outside Philly ends social work program, citing guidelines on gender and sexuality

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PHILADELPHIA – A small Christian university outside of Philadelphia has shut down its popular social work program in part because school officials say the accrediting agency was trying to impose sexual and gender values ​​that don’t do not correspond to the religious mission of the university.

According to those officials, the decision of the Cairn University board of trustees on May 24 had been under consideration for almost a year due to funding and enrollment issues. They say the language of accreditation was only one factor.

But representatives from the accreditation body – the Council on Social Work Education – said its language on sexuality and gender had not changed significantly in a recent accreditation project, although the language dealing with race and inclusion has been updated. Council leaders said in a written statement they feared Cairn officials may have misinterpreted the language or based the shutdown decision on a growing wave of conservative voices opposed to the teaching of theories reframing the history of race and racism.

The group’s response challenged statements by Cairn President Todd Williams, alleging that the council was attempting to force the programs to teach “a set of critical theories and assumptions and values ​​of intersectionality inconsistent with our biblical view of the world. ‘humanity, of human nature and of the world’.

Cairn’s mission is to “educate students to serve Christ in church, society, and the world as biblically-minded, well-educated, and professionally competent men and women of character,” according to its website. Langhorne University, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) northeast of Philadelphia, has approximately 1,500 students.

The council called Williams’ statements about the language “bogus” and noted that the project underscored the importance of fairness and inclusion in shaping someone’s identity.

Williams rejected the idea that the shutdown was based on race guidelines, saying racism and discrimination were at odds with his faith and that of the big university.

“It’s unfortunate it was presented that way because that’s absolutely not who we are,” said Williams.

“We identify ourselves as an evangelical institution and we have standards of conduct based on our beliefs. It is part of our understanding of our own faith but also of religious freedom. We don’t think it’s fair to engage or get involved in anything hateful or hurtful towards this (LGBTQ) community, or any discrimination. But we are a religious institution, ”he said.

Williams’ initial letter to students indicated that he believed previous versions of the guidelines had exceptions allowing exceptions when a university’s religious mission did not match the document.

CSWE officials said there had never been an exception in its ethical guidelines. But they allow universities to supplement the requirements with an additional program of study.

Cairn students and alumni who spoke to The Associated Press said they felt blinded by the decision. The university had acted quickly, even removing the school of social work website, they said.

The closure allows for “teaching” of currently enrolled undergraduates, meaning that the roughly 50 students will complete the program with an accredited bachelor’s degree. But the recently launched master’s program was immediately shut down, leaving around two dozen students to be transferred to other universities.

Many of these students and alumni said they did not believe Williams’ statements were race related. They also said they saw no problem separating their theological beliefs about sexuality and gender from the call to become social workers.

“If you’re a well-trained social worker, you don’t need to let your theology get in the way of your social work or help a population that you might disagree theologically,” said Lizzie Walker, graduate of the program in 2018. “I think my faith fits very well with the mission of being a social worker, of meeting people where they are.

Johanna Byrd, executive director of the Pennsylvania chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, condemned the shutdown, saying the university appeared to send the incorrect message that social workers cannot have or maintain their faith and do their job. job.

“There are a lot of Christian colleges that have social work programs, and they were the first to react to that by saying that we are going to close our school of social work. We of course have concerns that could be part of a trend, ”Byrd said, noting a failed attempt in Texas last year to allow social workers and others to refuse to treat people based on their religious beliefs about gender and sexuality.

“It would be really horrible if the social work profession fell victim to all this talk about critical race theory, or the misconception that you can’t be a Christian and do this job. It’s absolutely wrong,” she added.

Student Melanie Crosscombe, who still has a year to go before she graduates, said after the first closing email citing the language on sexuality, she compared the project with previous credentials and found little difference.

“This section of the document has already existed and it doesn’t say that you have to subscribe to these beliefs, but you have to understand them in order to be able to treat the whole person,” she said. “It means that a person who comes to you deserves to be understood and treated with human dignity and respect … human.”

Crosscombe said her biggest worry is with the classes below her and that they will miss the experience that has turned so many into social workers ready to take on hard and important work.

“This is what keeps me from sleeping at night,” she said.


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