Young Life is a national organization that claims to offer social and religious support. From bonfires to summer camps, this organization made a name for itself nationally and internationally, with around 400,000 regular attendees and famous alumni including Stevie Nicks and Aaron Rogers. On our campus, this organization presented itself as a safe haven to all students who wish to engage with other evangelical Christians. However, Young Life has its fair share of controversy with revelations of a homophobic and misogynistic culture that permeates throughout the organization. A recent Business Insider investigation has only added to this organization’s notoriety by uncovering a string of alleged sexual assaults by members against other members — including individuals from the University of Michigan chapter.
In an interview conducted by The Michigan Daily’s Editorial Board, LSA senior Becca Wong, the ex-student leader in the Young Life chapter at the University that spoke out about sexual misconduct within the community, discussed both the sexual misconduct allegations as well as the broader culture of the organization.
According to Wong, Young Life is “created by and for straight white men.” The organization codified its homophobic perspective and disallowed LGBTQ+ members from holding leadership roles. Young Life’s Statement of Faith refers to same-sex relationships as “clearly not in accord with God’s creation purposes.”
Wong also alleged racist statements made toward her and other students of color while in Young Life. As one of two people of color in leadership positions, she said she was tokenized and stereotyped. According to Wong, she was put into a group chat with the only other POC by a white member, who asked them once or twice if certain comments were offensive. In an organization with whiteness as a norm, cultural appropriation was normalized, Wong said. Wong claimed that during frequently performed skits, members sometimes wore Afros and made racist imitations of accents.
Based on Wong’s testimony, while Michigan’s chapter creates a sense of community for some, it allows dangerous practices that have institutionalized and excused intolerance. Yet, the campus chapter of Young Life receives University funding and resources. Currently, Young Life receives access to a Festifall table, Central Student Government funding and University Union spaces. These resources allow them to carry out their weekly meetings, socials and the active recruitment of new members.
It is critical that the instances of racism Wong alleged is considered in concert with the allegations of sexual misconduct. Against the backdrop of recent sexual harassment scandals on campus, the University overhauled its approach to addressing sexual misconduct over the summer. Committing to a culture change through the creation of an Equity, Civil Rights and Title IX Office, the University’s reformed policies better empower administrators to take action against individuals and organizations with allegations of misconduct. Not using these new powers to address the toxic culture of Young Life would be a mistake.
The Daily’s Editorial Board inquired if the University planned on responding to the allegations against Young Life.
“Young Life is a voluntary student organization and registered for the 2021-22 academic year,” University spokesperson Kim Broekhuizen wrote in response “All members of the U-M community are encouraged to report sexual and gender-based misconduct to the university, to the police or both. The university responds to any information it receives and is limited in its ability to follow up depending on the amount of information available to the university.”
In light of the concerns expressed about Young Life, both nationally and on our campus, we urge the University to pull its funding and support from the University’s chapter. We have seen an alleged culture of sexual assault, homophobia and racism ingrain themselves in the fabrics of Young Life, and the University must do its part in working to create an environment of no tolerance.
“It is absolutely unsafe for a survivor to be in Young Life,” Wong said. “I do not believe Young Life is capable of becoming (the) organization they portray themselves to be.”
The Editorial Board supports these statements and compels the University administration and community to take these sentiments to heart.