SEATTLE — Some graduating students at Seattle Pacific University's (SPU) commencement ceremony chose to hand the school's president pride flags instead of shaking his hand on Sunday.
The demonstration was in response to a policy that SPU's Board of Trustees recently voted to uphold that prevents the school from employing LGBTQ+ staff members. The school's employee conduct expectations require employees to refrain from same-sex sexual activity, extramarital sex and cohabitating before marriage.
Students at SPU have been protesting the board's decision for weeks, including a sit-in outside the university president's office that has been ongoing since May 24. Some graduating seniors decided they wanted to make one last statement about the policy as they walked across the stage.
"A lot of us expressed that we didn't really want to shake the president's hand," said SPU student Chloe Guillot. "So one of the ideas that came up is 'what if we just handed him pride flags instead of extending our hand, and then we took our degrees?'"
Around 50 graduating students were given pride flags to walk across the stage, and around 45 of them handed the president the flag instead of shaking his hand. Guillot said the demonstration represents the graduating class' dedication to achieving lasting change at the university.
"We just wanted to have a very visual display at graduation of how our community is still continuing to fight against these policies at SPU," Guillot said. "Just because we're graduating doesn't mean we're going to forget or stop fighting."
Students plan to continue the sit-in in front of the president's office through at least July 1, which is also the deadline organizers gave the board to re-evaluate their decision. After that, Guillot said students will pursue legal action.
"[SPU] did teach us students to stand up for what we believe in and so I think that doing a demonstration at graduation is a great encapsulation of what we've been taught here, and we're putting it into action," Guillot said.
In a statement, SPU Interim President Pete Menjares said: "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."