Are LGBTQ students welcome at Duke Div.?

Some background and photo-12 photo-14

Duke Divinity School orientation this month included a panel on Friday, Aug. 22, focused on diversity and inclusion. During Q&A, a student stood to ask a question something like, “What resources at the Divinity School are available to LGBTQ students and our allies? And what do you do as professors to combat heteronormativity in your classrooms?” Two professors answered the question well and then the dean, who was not on the panel, stood up, took a microphone, and said something like, “As a United Methodist minister and the dean of this divinity school he felt the need to say that the United Methodist Book of Discipline says (304.3) ‘The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.’”

Students organized a “show for support” for the LGBTQ community before convocation on Tuesday morning, Aug. 26. Over 70 people showed up, wore rainbow ribbons and stoles, stood in a big circle, and prayed together. They then went into convocation along with hundreds of others. (Pictures from event are posted on this page.)

Herald Sun coverage of “show of support:”

Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite wrote a letter in response to reports:

The dean issued a letter on Tuesday, Aug. 26, saying he was misinterpreted, that Duke Div. really is welcoming. You can see it:

Meghan Florian wrote a fabulous blog about the Dean’s letter, “When an Apology is Not an Apology,” here:

Duke Chronicle article, Thursday, Aug. 28:

Duke UNIVERSITY has a non-discrimination policy (emphasis added ):

Duke University is committed to encouraging and sustaining a learning and work community that is free from prohibited discrimination and harassment. The university prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, disability, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender identity, sex, genetic information, or age in the administration of its educational policies, admission policies, financial aid, employment, or any other university program or activity. The university also makes good faith efforts to recruit, employ and promote qualified minorities, women, individuals with disabilities, and veterans. It admits qualified students to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students.

The university also does not tolerate harassment of any kind. Sexual harassment and sexual misconduct are forms of sex discrimination and prohibited by the university. Duke University has designated Dr. Benjamin D. Reese, Vice-President of the Office for Institutional Equity, as the individual responsible for the coordination and administration of its nondiscrimination and harassment policies. The Office for Institutional Equity is located in Smith Warehouse, 114 S. Buchanan Blvd., Bay 8, Durham, North Carolina 27708. Dr. Reese’s office telephone number is (919) 684-8222 and his email address is

Finally, I wrote an email to the Provost:

Aug. 27, 2014
Subject: Treatment of LGBTQ students at Duke Divinity School
Dr. Sally Kornbluth, Provost, Duke University

Dear Dr. Kornbluth,

I’m writing to express my concern over reports coming out about Divinity School and about whether LGBTQ students are welcome there.

I am a Presbyterian minister, the Executive Director of the Resource Center for Women and Ministry in the South, and a 1977 graduate of Duke Divinity School. I was a member of one of the first Duke Div. classes with a large number of women (about 35 women in a class of about 125), and served as the second coordinator of the Duke Divinity School Women’s Center (which was opened Fall 1974). I remember what it was like to be a female student at Duke Divinity School and to have to wonder whether I was entirely welcome.

I am concerned about the mixed messages coming from Duke Divinity School at present. The dean, a respected New Testament scholar, has widely published his opinion that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. That alone might caution LGBTQ students and their allies from applying to Duke Divinity School, but the school also has a fine Gender, Theology, and Ministry Certificate Program and any number of welcoming and supportive faculty members. So the institutional message is confusing.

I am disturbed that the Duke Divinity dean, the chief administrative officer of a school within Duke University, would remind incoming divinity students that the United Methodist Book of Disciple says that “homosexual lifestyle is incompatible with Christian teaching.” His audience of incoming divinity students included LGBTQ students and students who are not United Methodist and therefore not bound by the UMC Book of Discipline.

His clear statement of his position creates a hostile environment for LGBTQ students. His statement fosters contempt for LGBTQ people and encourages others to think of them as less valuable than straight people. His statement opens the door for others to discount or disrespect LGBTQ students. When the leader says that the very lives of LGBTQ people are incompatible with Christian teaching, how can those students feel anything but demeaned?

The dean’s subsequent written statements that the divinity school really does welcome all students are not convincing.

I trust that Duke University is serious about its commitment to prohibit “discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, disability, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender identity, sex, genetic information, or age in the administration of its educational policies, admission policies, financial aid, employment, or any other university program or activity.”

I cannot currently trust that LGBTQ students are safe and will be treated with all due respect at Duke Divinity School.

In the wake of the dean’s statements during orientation, steps need ensure that Duke Divinity School is a learning and working community that is free from discrimination and harassment. I understand that there is a conflict between the official position of the United Methodist Church about LGBTQ people and the official position of Duke University about LGBTQ students and employees. I hope that the university can make it clear that it will protect the dignity LGBTQ students even if the United Methodist Church and the dean of the divinity school question their very lives.


The Rev. Jeanette Stokes, Duke Div.’77




About stokesnet

Jeanette Stokes is a writer, artist, minister, and the Director of the Resource Center for Women and Ministry in the South, located in Durha
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3 Responses to Are LGBTQ students welcome at Duke Div.?

  1. Jane Tillman says:

    Jeanette, Thanks for keeping this organized and the communications about the whole sad Duke situation available to those of us who aren’t in Durham.

  2. Betsy says:

    Great letter, Jeanette. I am not exactly convinced, either (by the D
    ean’s comments).

  3. Diane Decker says:

    great article, and I totally support the LBGTQ students at DDS, where I am a staff member. I am saddened by the Dean’s remarks, which feels to me like a personal agenda. Please note, though, that using quote marks (“) is an exact word for word quote… you should have used the single version (‘) which means you are paraphrasing.

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