News September 2014

Quaker university denies male housing to transgender student

In April of this year, George Fox University, a Christian university founded by Quakers in Newberg, Ore., denied the request of a female-to-male transgender student to live in single-sex male housing on campus.

The student, 20-year-old psychology major Jayce Marcus, responded by filing a discrimination complaint with the U.S. Department of Education.

The university then lobbied for religious exemption under Title IX (the federal law barring sex-based discrimination in education) to refuse single-sex housing to a transgender student. In drafting its petition, the university consulted with evangelical group Alliance Defending Freedom. The exemption was granted by the Department of Education on May 23. A complaint against the exemption was denied on July 11.

A statement released by the university claimed, “The university sought this exemption to preserve its right to draw on its religious convictions to handle situations related to students experiencing gender identity issues. Other colleges have received similar Title IX exemptions in the past.”

George Fox University prohibits unwed students from living with anyone of the opposite sex, and it initially offered Jayce a single-person apartment on campus or off-campus housing. Declining this compromise, Jayce and his lawyer, Paul Southwick (a 2005 graduate of George Fox), decided to speak out against the university’s policy and cite discrimination.

Amid the resulting public controversy, the university announced on July 17 a revision to its housing policy such that “common residence halls are single-sex, defined anatomically,” meaning that individuals who have undergone gender-confirming surgeries will be assigned housing in accordance with their gender.

Jayce is legally a male under the purview of the State of Oregon—on his birth certificate, Social Security card, and driver’s license. He plans to have sex-reassignment surgery but cannot afford it right now.

Many transgender individuals choose not to undergo surgery for a variety of reasons, including the high financial cost, not wishing to damage their reproductive ability, or believing it unnecessary for affirming their gender identity.

“George Fox is very conscious of the need to approach difficult questions with grace, understanding, and an abiding love for our students, faculty, and staff,” asserted the university in a statement. “George Fox strives to be a Christ-centered community and our residential facilities are single sex because of our theological commitment.”


Quaker meeting’s Skyspace rated top attraction

skyspace-sketchThe Skyspace at Chestnut Hill Meeting in Philadelphia, Pa., was ranked sixth out of 286 attractions in the area this year on TripAdvisor, a popular travel website.

The Skyspace, designed by Quaker artist James Turrell and local architect James Bradberry, is part of the newly constructed building for Chestnut Hill Meeting. The permanent art installation opened in October of last year.

“Experience surprising visual effects in a Quaker meetinghouse,” states the description on TripAdvisor. The creative blend of space and light, along with custom-designed cove lighting and minimalist aesthetics, create an environment of silence and meditation. Natural light is highlighted, and the aperture in the ceiling makes the sky and clouds appear closer. As light changes with seasons and time of day, every visit to the Skyspace makes for a singular experience.

“This is a unique and special experience. An extraordinary way to contemplate the magic of the sky and light. Once seen, the conversations and wonder continue,” remarks one of the reviewers of the Skyspace on TripAdvisor. According to another reviewer, “This is one of the hidden treasures in Philadelphia—the only time I’ve ever experienced what I can only call ‘unforced serenity.’”

Most dramatic at dawn and dusk, the Skyspace is open to the public at specified times throughout the year but not during Sunday worship. Performances last about 50 minutes and are free, but reservations are required and donations appreciated. Go to for more information.

Quaker artist awarded 2013 National Medal of the Arts

turrellQuaker artist James Turrell was among 11 individuals and one group to receive the 2013 National Medal of the Arts, which was awarded by President Obama at the White House on July 28. The recipients were all nominated for the honor by the National Endowment of the Arts.

As stated in the White House press release, Turrell was chosen to receive the medal “for his groundbreaking visual art. Capturing the powers of light and space, Mr. Turrell builds experiences that force us to question reality, challenging our perceptions not only of art, but also of the world around us.”

Turrell, a birthright Quaker from Los Angeles, Calif., studied psychology and mathematics at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., and later pursued art, receiving an MFA from the Claremont Graduate School. He began experimenting with the medium of light in the mid 1960s. His fascination with light is something very personal, an “inward search for mankind’s place in the universe,” and influenced by his Quaker faith, which he characterizes as having a “straightforward, strict presentation of the sublime,” as quoted from, the website for his longest-running project (nearly 40 years), Roden Crater in Arizona. “Turrell’s art prompts greater self-awareness through a similar discipline of silent contemplation, patience, and meditation.”

His work has been installed in 22 countries and in world-renowned institutions such as the National Gallery of Australia and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Turrell has designed over 80 Skyspaces including his most recent at Chestnut Hill Meeting in Philadelphia, Pa.


Friends school breaks ground for new Passive House building

Friends School of Portland, an independent Quaker school in Falmouth, Maine, hosted a groundbreaking ceremony on August 7 for its new school building to be constructed based on Passive House design principles and located on 21 acres of forested land in Cumberland.

According to the press release, “Passive House refers to a rigorous, voluntary standard for energy efficiency in a building, thereby reducing its ecological footprint. Passive House design uses solar gain and carefully engineered air ventilation to warm and cool the building.” Additionally, the building will burn no fossil fuels.

The new school is on track to be the first Passive House certified school in Maine—only the third in the country—and will be featured at the North American Passive House Network 2014 conference to take place on September 22–23 in Portland, Maine.

Due to open in the fall of 2015, the school building is designed by Kaplan Thompson Architects and will be built by Warren Construction Group. The building design is in full keeping with the Quaker value of stewardship, which includes the careful use of resources, an understanding of the interconnectedness of all living things, and a focus on sustainable practices. Friends School of Portland teaches preschool through eighth grade and is the only Friends school in northern New England. Learn more at



PMcBee2710After five years of serving Friends Center Corporation, Patricia McBee will retire from the executive director position on December 31. The board of directors of Friends Center announced her retirement in July with a statement saying, “Friends Center is grateful for her dedication and integrity, as well as her many skills and accomplishments. We will miss her and wish her well in the next phase of her life.”

McBee is known for her exceptional talent for making Friends Center a friendly hub of activity for the equity partners, tenants, visitors, and vendors alike. She stepped into the position of interim director in June 2009, bringing a calm, professional competence that steered the building’s renovation to completion and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum certification with recognition of Friends Center as an early leader in green energy systems.

In April 2010 McBee accepted the permanent position of executive director, enabling her to continue building strong traditions of environmental stewardship and peace work. She has developed a high degree of technical expertise, and skillfully risen to the challenge of managing the complex operational systems of the campus. At the same time, she has helped to widen the scope of activity at Friends Center, serving the broader community of Philadelphia with safe spaces, rentals, and a growing number of events. Her commitments to the people and the green footprint of the building exemplify her deeply held Quaker values.

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