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Behind the systems: Former members frustrated over student’s resignation, double standards for dealing with sexual activity

Former members say rules regarding moral conduct were not applied equally

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As a part of the Catholic Church, the Newman Center falls under the jurisdiction of the Seattle Archdiocese, which requires all employees to live a lifestyle in accordance with Catholic teachings. // Photo courtesy of Matthew Gasper

This is the second part in a four-part investigative series about the forced resignation of an LGBTQ+ student and the role of religious institutions on Western’s campus. Parts one, three and four can be found here.


In Jan. 2019, Leah Adams was forced to resign her job as peer events coordinator at the Newman Center after coming out as lesbian. The job had previously been filled by Mia McFarland, who had recently graduated Western and was living in Seattle when she heard about Adams’ resignation through some of her friends who were still involved in the center.

According to McFarland, Emma Fisher, the Newman Center director, didn’t publicly announce the reason for Adam’s resignation, but anybody who went to talk to her about it on their own was told. 

“The specific wording she used with a few people was that it was a really hard decision but she had to follow the rules of the church and not make exceptions,” McFarland said. 

McFarland said several people she knew at the time were upset about what happened and chose to leave the Newman Center. She had already graduated and moved away, but said Adams’ resignation changed her perception of the Newman Center. 

“I don’t know that it’s really a safe space any more. I don’t think I would be comfortable being there,” she said. 

Several former members said Adams’ resignation came at a time when they were noticing a more conservative shift in the culture at the Newman Center. 

“It definitely sort of backed up some larger things I was noticing about the culture there that made me kinda feel like I wanted to be less involved if that was the stance that they were going to take,” said Patrick Kissinger, who still considers himself a Catholic but stopped attending the Newman Center’s events and services shortly after Adams’ resignation. 

Kissinger said that prior to Adams’ resignation, he had noticed the Newman Center moving away from some of its social justice programs, and becoming less tolerant of other religious beliefs.

Several former members of the Newman Center said the decision to remove Adams was hypocritical. 

“People aren’t disciplined for other moral clause violations,” McFarland said. “When I was working for the Newman I was a big drinker and I was getting drunk all the time, but everybody knew quite well that I was going out all the time and I was never fired or disciplined for it. Also skipping church, never fired for that.”

Another former employee said she was sexually active and frequently stayed with their partner of the opposite sex while she worked for the Catholic organization. She believes her boss was aware of this, and it was never an issue. 

Adams said she noticed similar double standards. She said one of the students at the center lived with his girlfriend and was sexually active with her. 

“[My boss] told me he wouldn’t get the job because he was living with his girlfriend, but he was hired, despite having premarital sex,” she said. 

Adams said she was also upset because her position wasn’t a religious one. Her main duties involved planning events, not teaching or leading any sort of prayer.

“She was just somebody who was happy to be there and was just working to help out. She wasn’t teaching or leading anything,” Kissinger said.

The Line-Up:

Monday: WWU Newman Center forced resignation of student employee after learning of same-sex partner

Tuesday: Former members frustrated over student's resignation, double standards for dealing with sexual activity

Wednesday: For LGBTQ+ employees at religious organizations, a murky legal landscape on campus and in the courts

Thursday: In wake of resignation, a journey of faith and acceptance


Nate Sanford

Nate Sanford is the editor-in-chief of The Western Front and a fourth year news/editorial journalism major. His reporting focuses on the environment, local politics, culture and anything else that matters. His writing has appeared in Crosscut, The Planet magazine, Whatcom Watch and at least one desk in Haggard Hall. You can find him on Twitter @sanford_nate and at natesanford.westernfront@gmail.com.


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