SEATTLE - To the untrained eye, a move at Sunday's commencement ceremony looked like a quirky move by several dozen students at Seattle Pacific University, but to those paying attention, it was the latest missive after a prolonged battle over LGBTQIA+ rights on SPU’s campus.
A large number of graduating seniors took the stage and handed interim president Pete Menjares a Pride flag, and some refused to shake his hand.
"This was our way of having an impact at our graduation while still respecting the space," said Cora Bruders. "We wanted people to know SPU is gay and that’s not changing."
Bruders is one of the many students who took part in the direct action inside the Tacoma Dome during Sunday’s commencement ceremony.
A loop of roughly a dozen students taking part spread like wildfire on the internet on Monday, leading to national headlines.
Menjares released a short statement on Monday, reading in full: "It was a wonderful day to celebrate with our graduates. Those who took the time to give me a flag showed me how they felt and I respect their view."
SPU has previously released a FAQ section about their decision, as the controversy has grown.
The flags were just the latest action. While seniors walked, underclassmen continued a sit-in that started in late May just outside of Menjares’ office. Students marched through campus and took over the space inside Demaray Hall following the school’s board of trustees' vote to re-affirm a policy that bans the university from hiring LGBTQIA+ employees.
An "Employee Lifestyle Expectations" policy was voted on in late May. However, the fight over banning same-sex employees stretches further back.
Jeaux Rinedahl sued the school in 2021, accusing SPU of rejecting his application for a full-time tenured job because he’s gay. Rinedahl, who was an adjunct nursing professor, has since settled out of court.
Laur Lugos, the student government president, helped organize the sit-in and the events at Sunday’s commencement. She told FOX 13 that the battle on-campus started long before Rinedahl. What Rinedahl's case brought was attention, but it also led to working groups that hoped to change the university’s stance on its policy. When the board of trustees voted to keep it, things on campus began to change rapidly.
While students like Lugos are calling for the board of trustees to resign, the majority of the Faculty Senate – the teachers – voted in early June to formalize their support for the students. Students say they’re determined to create change.
"He steps over sleeping students every morning," said Tatumn Mathews-Rauch, another graduating student who’s been involved with recent actions. "They’ve been begging. They’ve been yelling. They’ve been protesting and you still refuse to listen – and now you have to. All he says is, ‘Congratulations,’ and it’s like, the next one."