CANYON, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — In response to West Texas A&M University President Dr. Walter Wendler’s letter, two alumni are stopping financial contributions to the university and rescinding future donations.
Rev. Nathan A. Russell sent an email to the university and shared on Facebook that he would no longer be gifting WTAMU School of Music $100,000 from his estate.
“For me, I want to be sure that the legacy I leave through my estate goes to institutions that espoused values of justice, equity and inclusion, “said Russel. “That was the university I experienced in my years at WT but it appears that Dr. Wendler is taking the institution in a different direction.”
Russell is the senior Pastor of Washington Avenue Christian Church Disciples of Christ in Elyria, Ohio.
“There is more than one way to be a Christian,” said Russell. “No one, including myself, holds a monopoly on that and in Dr. Wendler’s column, he invokes his Christian faith, and that probably more than anything else is what further motivated my response.”
“I do understand Jesus and God to be is someone who celebrates diversity, someone who is not at all opposed to drag, but rather I think, a participant in it, especially when we look at like the story of Moses and the burning bush.” Russell continued, “What is that but God in drag a top at Mount Sinai? So I think that are really, really wonderful ways in which we can interpret Scripture faithfully, that show a God who is loving and kind and certainly which would show up to a drag show with dollar bills in their pockets.”
Also, discontinuing financial contributions is Cassidy Smith-Toliver. Smith-Toliver is a 2015 graduate and donated monthly to the Paul Engler College of Agriculture and Natural Sciences.
Smith-Toliver shared she began donating to help develop future agriculture communicators. But, following Dr. Wendler’s letter she is redirecting her money.
“I’m doing exactly what he said I’m skipping the show and spending my dough, it is like anything else in the world,” said Smith-Toliver. “If you feel like your money is not being used where you want it to be, or you’ve had a bad experience, you take that money somewhere else.”
Smith-Toliver plans to donate money directly to the Trevor Project as well as Buff Allies and Spectrum. If at some point the university finds a solution to the present issues, she will consider donating again.
“When there is a solution, I will more than happily come back to donate to WT,” stated Smith-Toliver.
A defining moment of Smith-Toliver’s time at WT was learning about Buff Allies from a professor, something that she said has helped her throughout her life.
“WT is where I learned to become the person I am today,” said Smith-Toliver. “It is where I learned that, having compassion and compromise is important because not everyone is exactly like you.”
Smith-Toliver also reflected on her time on campus when religious groups were allowed on campus and no one removed them.
“I thought about how we would constantly have preachers on campus, exercising their First Amendment right, yelling things about, certain groups going to hell,” explained Toliver. “I never saw them stopped. So, to call drag, which is an art that has been around for centuries. I mean, you look at operas, and Shakespeare, men were dressed as women.”
Additionally, both Russell and Smith-Toliver emphasized that WT does not have religious affiliations, and students on campus had a choice in attending or not attending the show.
Neither Russell nor Smith-Toliver is calling for the removal of Wendler but instead, hope that their actions and student protest will encourage positive change.
“I hope that it highlights that we do care about our university even if we’re not in state and we also do care about the students on campus because the university cannot succeed if there are no students and the university cannot succeed if there are not diverse voices,” said Smith-Toliver.
“So when we take action as so many are doing as students are protesting and as I wrote my letter, we are shining an inconvenient light on a truth that the executive administration would rather keep hidden,” said Russell. “So, this is a way for us to let our voice be heard. To speak truth to power as our ancestors in faith traditions have done and to show for a way to change to repent and repair.”