Why do LGBTQ2S+ students go to TWU?
Last month, the Current spoke with leaders of an LGBTQ2S+ community fighting for acceptance on TWU’s Langley campus. Learn more about why they—and other queer students—attend the school.
Carter Sawatzky and Queenie Rabanes run ONE TWU, a community of LGBTQ2S+ students at Trinity Western University.
Why does a queer student go to a christian university like Trinity Western in the first place? It’s a question that ONE TWU leader Carter Sawatzky hears all the time.
“People ask me that on dating apps,” said Sawatzky, a leader of ONE TWU, a community of queer students and allies on TWU’s Langley campus.
Critics, curious supporters, other students, and reporters also ask variations of the same question.
TWU’s history with queer students on campus—and its explicitly and implicitly discriminatory policies—is public knowledge. Two weeks ago, the Current wrote about the LGBTQ2S+ community on campus and its leaders, who continue to fight for inclusion and space at the Langley school. Read that story here.
Today, Grace takes you back to that conversation to learn why queer students choose to attend a school that doesn’t seem to want them there.
Choosing a school
Matthew Wigmore, a founding member of ONE TWU and its managing director, graduated from TWU in 2016. He knows there’s more to a teenager’s decision on where to attend university than where they get into or what subject they want to study. There was more to his.
“I was very heavily pressured to come [to TWU] by my parents,” he said. “And I was also deeply closeted, and actually still undergoing conversion therapy, when I started going to Trinity.” (Conversion therapy is the widely discredited and, as of January 2023, illegal practice of trying to change a person's sexual orientation to heterosexual or gender identity to cisgender.)
Eventually, Wigmore and other queer students started ONE TWU and began speaking publicly about their time on campus.
For some queer students, TWU’s history of anti-gay policy choices and the experiences of students like Wigmore and Sawatzky may have been deterrents. Others don’t know that these stories will someday apply to them.
“Students may not know that they're LGBTQ yet. Students may not know of anti-LGBTQ policies, students may prefer a conservative school,” Sawatzky said, speaking from a list that they often send to people who ask why they or any other LGBTQ2S+ student attends a Christian school. “And students may find a good fit for other reasons.”
Family and Finances
Family and finances can play a role too. Some students rely on others for financial support. Still others, like Wigmore, have family that push hard for them to attend a faith-based institution.
(The majority of undergraduate students who enrolled at TWU in 2021 were between the ages of 18 and 24.)
And, for some, the finances for higher education (despite TWU’s high tuition costs) may depend on family support.
“[A student] may come to TWU because their parents will only support them financially if they go to TWU,” Sawatzky said.
The queen of the bait and switch
The way TWU presents itself to prospective students also plays a role in any student’s choice. Prospective queer students are not immune to that.
Like most universities, TWU puts on a show for hopeful future students. It runs events and weekend-long previews where current students host potential students.
“You would easily forget it’s a Christian university…you think that this is the best freaking place ever,” Wigmore said. That changes, though, once the school year sets in. Some of the similarities to other schools also slip away.
“Once you get there, once you're in the door, once you experience it more, you realize just how different it is,” Wigmore said.
Wigmore believes that the presentation is done intentionally. The school, he said, wants to “reap the rewards of being a university while also being able to tread the path of the right wing group. They'd like to do both.”