CAMPUS CHRONICLES: LGBTQ Resources Expand at University of Notre Dame & Elsewhere

September 14, 2013

Classes are underway at over two hundred Catholic colleges and universities in the US, and with the new academic year comes expanded awareness of and resources for LGBT students at these schools, including celebrated developments at the University of Notre Dame.

Already, leading Catholic schools like Georgetown University, DePaul University, and Loyola Marymount University host LGBT resources and programming led by full-time staff, reports USA Today. Many others allow gay-straight alliances and other supportive student-run initiatives, especially colleges rooted in the Jesuit tradition. New Ways Ministry lists more than half of the US’ Catholic colleges and universities on their Gay-Friendly listing, and Catholic campuses become better on LGBT issues every year.

Staff members point out that merely allowing a resource center or student group is not an end though, given the Catholic context they work within, and tensions remain that require greater resolution. Several staff people spoke with USA Today on this matter, saying:

“Although Georgetown’s center has the largest endowment of any LGBTQ resource center in the country, director Sivagami Subbaraman says the programming’s legitimacy in a Catholic university is constantly questioned…

“Since moving into her new position, Maureen Doyle is still determining what her role will be as Notre Dame’s first assistant director of LGBTQ concerns. She plans to improve perceived tensions between Catholic teachings and sexual orientation through campus education.

” ‘I think a lot of it comes in with a misunderstanding of what the Catholic Church’s teachings are…What we’re doing actually doesn’t counter or go against any of the Catholic Church’s teachings. ‘

“Georgetown’s center aims to meet students where they are, rather than take theological positions or attempt to change Catholic teachings, Subbaraman says.”

At Notre Dame last week, over 140 students celebrated the launch of a new student group, PrismND, that was the culminating product of two decades of campus advocacy regarding a group for LGBTQ students. This fall will be a formative time for the group, and is a first step in implementing the University’s pastoral plan released in December 2012. Students and staff spoke with the campus newspaper, The Observer, about the group’s name and launch:

“Student body president Alex Coccia [who led the 4 to 5 Movement for an LGBTQ group] said…

“The fact that [the name] reflects quite a spectrum and a range of interests and passions and identities, I think is something that people will identify with and appreciate when the group gets off the ground’…

“Sophomore Connor Hayes, who helped to launch PrismND, said the name is intended to be all-inclusive, instead of specific to people who identify as LGBTQ.

“ ‘I think relating to the Catholic identity of [Notre Dame] and backgrounds of people coming from religious environments, [some] people don’t really want to identify as gay or lesbian, so … we were just going for a name that was very inclusive…We wanted this name to be one that can last and kind of become a brand.’ “

Christine Caron Gebhardt who heads up the University’s Gender Relations Center told The Observer:

“We realize this is about who we are as a community, and [PrismND is] one facet in which students can feel welcomed and loved and supported on this campus and that we will all work together to try to create the community that Notre Dame can be and I hope will be…“We want the student organization … to emerge from the ideas and the interests and the hopes and dreams of the students in collaboration with all of us across campus.’ “

Elsewhere this summer, members of the University of San Francisco’s LGBTQ Caucus joined in San Franciso’s Pride festivities with t-shirts sponsored by several campus departments (USF is a Jesuit school). In a piece discussing Christian higher education in Pennsylvania, that state’s Catholic colleges such as Villanova University, St. Joseph’s University, and Chestnut Hill College were depicted as  LGBT-friendly Christian campuses for not specifically targeting same-gender relationships in their student handbooks. Benedictine College in Kansas welcomed an openly gay student who was a star athlete, as well.

All of these moments are signs that Catholic higher education increasingly welcomes all students for who they are as God created them. However, challenges remain within Catholic higher education for LGBT students and their allies who will spend another semester this fall meeting with administrators, organizing students, and support one another on more hostile Catholic campuses. As the new academic year begins, it is a fitting moment to offer thanksgiving for advances made, prayers for those still needed, and a renewal by every Catholic to impact Catholic higher education in LGBT-positive ways.

For more information on PrismND, you can view their website, Facebook page, and Twitter feed.

-Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Responses to LGBT Decisions at UND and CUA

January 8, 2013

Administrators at the University of Notre Dame (UND) and The Catholic University of America (CUA) arrived at opposite decisions in December about  supporting LGBT students on their campuses:  UND accepted a student-run gay-straight alliance as part of a comprehensive pastoral plan, while CUA rjected a proposal for a gay-straight alliance.  Bondings 2.0 previously covered the decisions here for CUA and here for Notre Dame.

Members of Notre Dame’s 4 to 5 Movement

Notre Dame’s release of the pastoral plan, Beloved Friends and Allies, received widespread praise from students and Catholics nationwide alike. Alex Coccia, student leader of the 4 to 5 Movement that had spearheaded the push for an LGBT group, wrote in the University’s student newspaper, The Observer:

“This plan is an enormous accomplishment for the entire Notre Dame family. We would like to thank the students, faculty, staff and administrators who have been an integral part of the 4 to 5 Movement through their involvement and support. Now, as students, we have the responsibility to remain dedicated through the implementation process in order to utilize the full potential of this pastoral plan. Though we remain fully committed to these efforts, today we celebrate this achievement for our community.”

National Catholic Reporter editorialized its support of the decision to recognize and support LGBT students, saying:

“Indeed, what is most noteworthy about the announcement is that it properly recognized that it is not contrary to Catholic teaching to engage in pastoral ministry to any group or to teach and promote tolerance, love and respect for the dignity of every individual. Yes, we all know what the church teaches about same-sex activity. But the church also teaches that all human beings have innate dignity and worth, that they are loved by God and are to be treated with respect. The church teaches that any human community, and any Catholic community worthy of the name, must enflesh this respect for human dignity in the way it treats all of its members.”

Student leaders of CUAllies with Fr. Peter Daly

Student leaders of CUAllies with Fr. Peter Daly

In contrast, The Catholic University of America denied an application for CUAllies, an LGBTQ and Ally student organization, after nearly ten months of dialogue under claims it could too easily become an advocacy group for the “homosexual lifestyle.” In a column in National Catholic Reporter, Fr. Peter Daly described just how troubling  the situation for LGBTQ students is at CUA:

“I had been asked to speak to them because of an article I wrote for Catholic News Service recounting my experiences in dealing with gay young people who were suicidal. I concluded the article with the simple observation that no one should ever feel excluded from God’s love and no one should be driven to despair. Evidently, they were surprised to hear that from a Catholic priest, so they asked me to speak to their group.

“CUAllies is not an officially recognized student group at Catholic University…Lack of university recognition means the group cannot reserve rooms, publicize their meetings, receive student funds or be listed in the student directory. They still manage to meet, however. Students use social media, like Twitter, to communicate, just like the pope.”

Bondings 2.o spoke with the student leadership of CUAllies, who stated their re-commitment to establishing a “safe, welcoming, and affirming” campus and identified 2013 as a crucial year for their movement. On January 14th, the first day of classes, students will be launching a 30 Days of Action campaign to build support as further dialogue begins with the administration in the wake of a harsh denial.

Additionally, concerned alumni, parents, and Catholic LGBT supporters nationwide began organizing under the title “Friends of CUAllies” with a solidarity pledge campaign that has gained nearly 650 signatures in an effort to pressure the administration to listen to students.

New Ways Ministry encourages all to assist these students at CUA in their ongoing struggle to provide a safe and welcoming campus for LGBTQ students by signing the pledge here and ‘Liking’ their Facebook group here.

-Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Catholic Columnist Urges Church to Rethink Homosexuality Teaching in Wake of University Decision

December 12, 2012

Michael Sean Winters

Michael Sean Winters, a columnist at National Catholic Reporter, recently wrote on the failing nature of Catholic teaching on homosexuality in light of the University of Notre Dame’s decision to approve a comprehensive plan for LGBTQ students. You can read an earlier Bondings 2.0 post on the decision here.

Winters notes the decision garnered a positive statement by Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Ft. Wayne-South Bend, the diocese in which the University is located, before divulging his personal commentary. His commentary takes up several points relevant to the Notre Dame decision, the first of which is the theology surrounding homosexuality:

“Here is the bottom line for me on these issues. The Church’s theological reflection on homosexuality is inadequate at the moment, usually crammed into the worldview that existed for a very long time that assumed that the sexual activities of gay people were the perverse acts of straight people.”

Winters acknowledges that advancements of the past decades allow a deeper understanding of homosexuality as something “constitutional” and “it is not an aberrant choice.” This leads him to conclude:

“The language about ‘intrinsically disordered’ should be dropped entirely because it ran the danger of creating a new category of sin, not a vice like the seven deadly to which we are all prone, nor a specific act like stealing a car, but a disposition that was itself flawed and unique to certain persons.”

Finally, Winters directly addresses the decision at Notre Dame, which he calls “courageous” because the University recognizes the human dignity of LGBTQ students beyond a theology of human sexuality that is outdated:

“We also have a Christian obligation to ‘create a community where all may flourish and feel welcome, where we aspire to an even deeper understanding and appreciation of Catholic teaching, and where the human dignity of each Notre Dame student is valued.’ That, too, is part of our Catholic moral tradition. Notre Dame is right, and even courageous…”

Winters has named the essential struggle for LGBTQ and Ally students at Catholic colleges and universities, and indeed for the entire church:  how to protect human dignity .

Only emphasizing Catholic sexual ethics that classifies homosexuality as a sin set apart when addressing LGBTQ campus needs is dehumanizing. Students fade from being persons who deserve pastoral and educational care into partisan activists that are to be battled for nothing more than their sexual orientation. Worse, these anti-inclusive institutions miss some legitimate issues at stake: a student’s safety, well-being, and success in higher education.

New Ways Ministry joins Michael Sean Winters in applauding the University of Notre Dame and over a third of Catholic colleges that defend their student’s dignity foremost by providing resources for LGBT persons. You can view our listing of gay-friendly Catholic schools here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Notre Dame Releases Pastoral Plan for LGBTQ Students

December 7, 2012

Notre DameThe University of Notre Dame, released a plan yesterday that addresses the pastoral concerns of LGBTQ community members after concluding a five-month review by the administration, and decades-long movement by students, most recently under the 4 to 5 Movement and Progressive Student Alliance.

The plan, titled “Beloved Friends and Allies: A Pastoral Plan for the Support and Holistic Development of GLBTQ and Heterosexual Students at the University of Notre Dame,” will enact three major changes on campus to further education about and support for those who identify as LGBTQ. The University explained these changes in a press release.

Foremost, a student organization will be established under the advisement of University administrators to program around relevant topics and provide peer-to-peer support. Students at Notre Dame have long requested recognition of a gay-straight alliance group, and an application by the 4 to 5 Movement last spring prompted University president, Fr. John Jenkins to commission the review.

In addition, an advisory committee of students, faculty, and staff will replace the present Core Council with the intent of guiding the administration, particularly the Vice President of Student Affairs, on how best to respond to LGBTQ students in their questions, concerns, and desires.

The student organization and the advisory committee will be overseen by a full-time staff member focused on educating the campus, promoting dialogue, and acting as a liaison between LGBTQ students and existing campus resources.

Reception by the Notre Dame community is generally positive after a collaborative review process, as reported by the South Bend Tribune:

“Karl Abad, an openly gay Notre Dame senior, welcomes the decision…

“’Students here are ready for a change, but the climate didn’t encourage open discussion,’ Abad said. The new student organization will encourage and support honest discussion of issues related to sexuality, he said…

“He praised the efforts of Erin Hoffmann Harding, who in August became Notre Dame’s vice president for student affairs, for moving the discussions forward. ‘Throughout this process, she’s been in constant dialogue with other administrators and knows what students need,’ he said.”

In an extensive interview with campus newspaper, The Observer, Vice President of Student Affairs Erin Hoffman Harding described the administration’s approach to the review.

The interview is worth reading in its entirety for those interested in the intricacies of LGBT movements at Catholic campuses, but specifically on process she mentioned three elements: consultation with Church teaching in keeping with Catholic mission; extensive student consultation, including nearly four dozen meetings with Hoffman Harding alone; and external benchmarking, particularly of Catholic institutions, for what they provide students identifying as LGBT.

Fr. Jenkins spoke in the same interview in broader themes about the harmony, timeliness, and progress of this decision:

Fr. John Jenkins“If you avoid controversy, you don’t do anything, controversy’s ok. But I think if people look carefully at what we’re doing and really in a thoughtful way evaluate it, I think thoughtful people will see that makes sense, it makes sense for a Catholic university like Notre Dame to provide such structures to serve their students effectively…

“It really is about building a community. As Erin said, we’re not there. We should never feel we’ve got this down. It’s rather we’re always trying to improve and it’s my responsibility and Erin’s responsibility to work on this, but it’s everybody’s responsibility. And I hope that people take this as Erin said a sign of hope. Let’s make it a better community. Let’s work together to make it a better community, more inclusive, more welcoming, more supportive.”

Fr. Jenkins recognizes, even if slightly late, that the support and embrace of LGBT students on Catholic campuses is a demand placed on colleges and universities by the Catholic faith they profess, not the students themselves. The formation of strong communities where all find their place in the pursuit of education and growth is a noble goal consistent with a long-standing intellectual tradition in the Church.

New Ways Ministry applauds the progress made at the University of Notre Dame, and further applauds the acknowledgement that this is a forward step and not an end point in addressing the needs of LGBT persons.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

For New Ways Ministry’s listing of gay-friendly Catholic colleges and universities, visit newwaysministry.org/gfc.

For further information on New Ways Ministry’s efforts in Catholic higher education and to get involved, contact youngadults@newwaysministry.org.

Previous Updates on the University of Notre Dame

October 16, 2012: CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Students and Faculty at University of Notre Dame Push for Inclusion

September 1, 2012: Notre Dame’s President on LGBT Issues on Campus

May 4, 2012: Movement Toward Equality on Two Catholic Campuses

April 27, 2012: Notre Dame Fails to Adopt Non-Discrimination Policy for Sexual Orientation; Progress Made on Other LGBT Issues

March 30, 2012: Videos Advance Cause of Equality at CUA and UND

March 9, 2012: CUA and UND Students Making Great Strides Toward Official Recognition

February 22, 2012: Catholic U. and Notre Dame United to Work for Gay-Straight Alliances


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Students and Faculty at University of Notre Dame Push for Inclusion

October 16, 2012

Members of the University of Notre Dame’s academic community continue to seek greater recognition of and protection for LGBT students on campus in the new academic year. In recent weeks, 391 faculty released an open letter in campus newspaper, The Observer, and students in the ‘4 to 5 Movement’ keep the issue alive with several public initiatives.

Under the leadership of sociology professor Richard Williams, the faculty letter affirms the value of LGBTQ persons at Notre Dame and notes the faculty’s commitment to providing safe spaces in offices and classrooms, as they simultaneously work for a more inclusive environment campus-wide. It implicitly endorses the pending application for AllianceND’s recognition as a campus GSA as well.

Professor Williams spoke to The Observer about the aims for releasing this letter, which sought institutional change and personal commitment:

“‘We aren’t just trying to influence the University. … We can’t control what other people do, but we can control what we do ourselves,’ he said. ‘We wanted to show the members of the LGBTQ community that we support them, that we will not discriminate against them.’”

As reported in The Observer, the letter follows up on a statement from faculty released last May in response to the University administration’s public refusal to include sexual orientation in its non-discrimination clause. Since then, the number of faculty signers tripled and continues to expand after this most recent publication.

Faculty support bolsters the student activism present this fall due to optimism that the proposed GSA, AllianceND, will be approved by the administration soon.

Alex Coccia

Bondings 2.0 spoke with Alex Coccia, a junior leading the ‘4 to 5 Movment,’ about the faculty letter and coinciding student efforts this semester. Regarding the faculty’s efforts, Coccia said:

“We’ve really been keeping in touch with faculty and getting faculty involved. Faculty are in an extremely unique position. They’re not just professors, they act as mentors outside the classroom and this recent letter in particular is extremely good because they make the commitment that their classrooms are safe spaces and they will not discriminate based on sexual orientation.”

Coccia said the student aspect of the ‘4 to 5 Movement’ was in limbo as the academic year commenced because the Student Affairs Office (SAO) postponed its decision on AllianceND until this fall when a broad review of LGBTQ resources at Notre Dame concluded. Amidst that climate, student leadership is hopeful and Coccia told Bondings 2.0:

“At Notre Dame, there’s a sense that it is time…there’s no legitimate reason to reject the GSA, especially this application.  We simply need to stress to the Student Affairs officers how important the GSA decision itself is.”

However hopeful they are, students continue to organize and publicize the issue with vigor. Over summer break, they collected 192 testimonies from the Notre Dame community, including alumni and family members, to help those in SAO understand why a gay-straight alliance is necessary for Notre Dame. An “I’m an Athlete, I’m an Ally” photo campaign will include photos from all varsity teams expressing their support and the addition of a high school mentoring program for youth who may be questioning as a service component.

These sentiments reflect wider student opinions, evident in the campus newspaper, including a Letter to the Editor from senior Julia Kohne:

“Last May, you stated that a decision about AllianceND’s application for official club status would be decided at the beginning of this academic year…It is now October…Please know that we have not forgotten AllianceND’s still-pending application for official club status.”

According to Alex Coccia, the Catholic faith is extremely important for many supporters and was clear in the 192 testimonials collected from Notre Dame community members, where about half claimed that their Catholicism causes them to write for justice. Coccia also added that the ‘4 to 5 Movement’ posits itself as enhancing the University’s Catholic identity:

“…because students deserve a place where it is open and very welcoming and people who do struggle to find a relationship between faith and sexuality can have peer-to-peer support…The peer-to-peer support is much more effective than the structures on campus now.”

Just last week, a dozen Notre Dame students opined in The Observer on National Coming Out Day again restating their mission and seeking even greater support:

“Today is National Coming Out Day…The Notre Dame LGBT community certainly remains in this struggle. Current structures and the general campus climate both continue to discourage students from coming out.

“AllianceND itself has come out time and time again over the past two decades, fighting for the right to exist. Today, we write to you all encouraging you to come out in support of our struggle to improve campus climate, and ask administrators of this campus to come out with substantial plans for doing so.”

As the struggle for recognition, protection, and equality at the University of Notre Dame continues through the devoted efforts of students and faculty, New Ways Ministry commends the progress already made by these visionary young adults and their older mentors.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Bondings 2.0 Post:

September 1, 2o12:   Notre Dame’s President on LGBT Issues on Campus


Notre Dame’s President on LGBT Issues on Campus

September 1, 2012

 

It’s the time of year when students across the nation are returning to college campuses.     At the University of Notre Dame, that means the revival of the major debate on LGBT issues that took place at their school during the past academic year.

Students in the campus’ 4 to 5 Movement, led by sophomore Alex Coccia, had made great strides last year in gathering support from a variety of university groups to support their quest for an officially recognized student-run gay-straight  alliance (GSA), as well as trying to have sexual orientation added to the university’s non-discrimination policy.  At the end of the school year in May,  the university postponed the GSA decision until the fall, which has now arrived.

In one of the first issues of this The Observer, the student newspaper, Fr. John Jenkins, Notre Dame president discussed the  possibility of amending the university’s non-discrimination policy as well as the possibility of establishing a GSA.

On the latter issue, Jenkins offered some hope to the students who want a GSA.  He stated:

“Are there better structures to achieve our ends? I think it’s time for a fresh look.”

On the issue of adding sexual orientation to the university’s non-discrimination policy, Jenkins defended the current policy of not including the category:

“ ‘At Notre Dame, we do not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation,” Jenkins said. ‘That’s a fundamental thing, but that’s not the only thing. The Spirit of Inclusion, which was approved by the Board of Fellows, higher than me, the highest level of the University, says that not only don’t we discriminate, but we want to be a place, an environment, where people feel — of same-sex orientation, anything else — feel respected, supported, fully involved in this community.’ . . .

“ ‘If Notre Dame voluntarily took this on, our fear is that it would be seen as a broader and stronger commitment with regard to same-sex orientation that may undermine our ability to live in accordance with the Catholic teaching because we distinguish between orientation and action.’ ”

Jenkins explained that he feared that adopting such a policy would make the university vulnerable to law suits and that he didn’t think such a policy would end discrimination:

“I don’t believe that step [of including sexual orientation in the non-discrimination clause] would achieve the goal of creating an environment of welcome, of support. I fear that it would tend to be divisive. So I am absolutely committed to try to create that environment, but I think there are other ways to do that.”

Jenkins offered that the university will continue to work in other ways towards non-discrimination:

“I think so much of this is about climate, and it’s not what I’m, what the president, is doing in his office. It’s about what all of us are doing on campus. I think that’s extremely important, and that’s something we work on with hall staff, that’s something we work on with our Student Affairs personnel. … We just have to keep working on it.”

Fr. Jenkins is correct that adopting a policy is not a guarantee that discrimination will end.  What he fails to recognize, however, is that adopting such a policy would send a strong and important message that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is unacceptable.  While it may not guarantee an end to discrimination, it would surely be a giant step towards achieving that end.

Adopting such a policy does not mean that the university’s work stops there.  Other measures, such as recognizing an official GSA on campus, would also be an important step towards achieving a fully inclusive community.  While these steps may not guarantee a fully inclusive campus community, not having them certainly guarantees that the movement towards inclusion will be hampered and less likely to be achieved.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Videos Advance Cause of Equality at CUA and UND

March 30, 2012

Students at two of the nation’s top Catholic universities are gaining momentum in their campaigns to get their campuses’ gay-straight alliances recognized by their respective administrations.  At Catholic University of America (CUA), Washington, DC, the students of CUAllies launched an online-video and petition drive for their cause.  At the University of Notre Dame (UND), South Bend, Indiana, the 4 to 5 Movement has been amassing additional support from campus and non-campus groups for their campaign to get recognition.

The CUA video was posted at midnight this past morning on YouTube.  In the style of the famous “It Gets Better” videos, students speak about the need for and importance of a gay-straight alliance on campus. The video is part of a new campaign that CUAllies has launched to collect signatures online for a petition to have their organization recognized by the school’s administration.   All Catholics are encouraged to sign the petition, which can be found here.

You can watch the video here:

UND’s 4 to 5 Movement launched a similar video a few weeks back which has inspired various UND personnel to add their own video comments.  You can view all the videos here. The popularity of these messages have inspired the student government at Jesuit-run Loyola University of Chicago to passed the “It Needs to Get Better” Act,  in support of the UND effort. According to a recent article in The Observer, UND’s student newspaper:

“The act finds the Notre Dame administration would be ‘flouting the reigning moral culture of our day and our shared Catholic heritage’ if it were to not allow for such changes.

“Russell Gonzalez, senior senator and chair of the Constitutional Review Board at Loyola Chicago, said the group passed the act to show a school with a similar faith-based mission to Notre Dame has been able to successfully integrate a gay-straight alliance and an inclusive non-discrimination clause.

“ ‘We hope that the administration of [Notre Dame] takes notice that other Catholic universities have achieved a balance between faith and student experience such that no one needs to feel excluded,’ he said.

“A Jesuit Catholic university, Loyola Chicago has both an inclusive non-discrimination clause and an officially sanctioned LGBTQ student organization. Gonzalez said student government was inspired to pass their ‘It Needs to Get Better’ Act by Church teachings.

“ ‘[The] Church has stated very explicitly in many arenas that all instances of unjust discrimination against LGBTQ people should be removed and avoided,’ he said. ‘The exclusion from the official [Notre Dame] non-discrimination statement and from the constellation of student [organizations] is one such instance.’ ”

What makes both the CUA and UND groups so inspiring is not just that students are organizing for their rights, but that they are doing so from such a strong Catholic perspective.  These students are showing their administrations that recognition of LGBT equality and justice are in the best traditions of the Catholic faith.

Bondings 2.0 has reported on both the CUA and UND efforts previously. You can access those posts by clicking on any of these links:

CUA and UND Students Making Great Strides Toward Official Recognition

Catholic U. and Notre Dame Unite to Work for Gay-Straight Alliances

ALL ARE WELCOME: At Notre Dame, Does Buying In Equal Selling Out?

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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