CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Sr. Jeannine Gramick Speaks of Hope at Stonehill College

March 6, 2013

Sr. Jeannine speaking at Stonehill College (Credit: Daniel Gardiner)

Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, spoke with the Stonehill College community recently about her experiences in LGBT ministry and hopes for the future.  This event came at a critical juncture for colleges run by the  Holy Cross Fathers, whose campuses have seen signs of progress and regression in the last year around LGBT issues.

Over a hundred students and faculty filled the lecture hall, warmly receiving Sr. Jeannine for nearly two hours of dialogue. The event’s co-sponsors included PRIDE, the Moreau Honors Program, the Gender and Sexuality Studies Program, the Moore Center for Gender Equity, and faculty members from the Religious Studies Department. Reviews from those in attendance extolled not only the importance of discussing LGBT issues within Catholic higher education, but of doing so in the hope-filled way Sr. Jeannine demonstrated.

An article in the campus newspaper, The Summit, captured faculty reactions for those who participated in the evening, including that of Fr. George Piggford who teaches English:

“I think that Sister Jeannine Gramick’s witness and her ministry is incredibly powerful…I have a great deal of respect for her willingness to live according to her conscience, and to discern, not just on her own, but in conversation with other people, how she feels God is leading her to minister to other people.”

Sister Jeannine Gramick

Sister Jeannine Gramick

Students also responded positively over social media. Daniel Gardiner wrote a blog post titled “I am the vine; you are the branches” based on his reflections from the evening with Sr. Jeannine. He lauded the event for exposing students to new perspectives, writing about Sr. Jeannine’s lecture:

“Her message was strong and her passion was palpable…

“The bulk of her presentation was centered on ‘signs of hope’ which demonstrate what she believes to be a changing attitude in the Catholic Church toward the LGBT community. She speaks of the church in terms of the masses of people rather than the men who make up the hierarchy and cites polling that indicates a growing sense of support among Catholic people for LGBT individuals and even same-sex marriage. This was her first sign of hope.

“Her second sign of hope came through the success of the ministry which she founded. Gramick insisted that New Ways Ministry is not advocating for a triumph of new ideas over old, but rather, the simple idea that God loves all his children just the way they are. While this ministry has faced significant scrutiny since its inception during the seventies, there has also been tremendous support for the mission of New Ways and for Sister Jeannine herself.

“Another sign of hope has been the changes Gramick has seen in the institutional structures of the church…After citing scripture, ‘I am the vine; you are the branches,’ Gramick explained that we are all rooted in God’s love, there are individuals who comprise the right branches, like Pope Benedict, and individuals who comprise the left, like Sister Jeannine, but it is in our common point of origin that we can move the conversation forward.”

Stonehill’s invitation to Sr. Jeannine came in the midst of Holy Cross-run campuses across the country engaging LGBTQ issues due to growing student advocacy. The University of Notre Dame recently released a pastoral plan to address sexual orientation and gender issues in the wake of students agitating for fifteen years, while the University of Portland witnesses renewed controversy of disparaging comments by their president recently. Stonehill College itself just recently listened to student input by beginning to implement sexual orientation into College non-discrimination policies. In the midst of all this, student Gardiner blogged:

“Our institution was founded by the Congregation of the Holy Cross and our Catholic identity is something of which we are very cognizant. By bringing Sister Jeannine to our campus and welcoming her discussion among our students, faculty and staff, we are sending a very clear signal that not only are we an open minded community but a community which fosters rich discussion on the topics that may be marked as controversial but we deem as important and worthwhile. Bravo, Stonehill.”

New Ways Ministry echoes Daniel’s applause and continues to support LGBT students and their allies at Catholic universities and colleges. For a full 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 or seek support, contact me at youngadults@newwaysministry.org.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: University of Portland President Stokes Outcry After Anti-LGBT Remark

March 1, 2013

Students at three Congregation of the Holy Cross colleges continue to advocate for more LGBT-inclusive campuses, facing setbacks and steps forward intermittently. Bondings 2.0 highlights the University of Portland (Oregon) today, with Stonehill College (Massachusetts) and the University of Notre Dame (Indiana) to come.

University of Portland President Fr. Bill Beauchamp, CSC, ignited controversy after comments made during an annual question and answer session last Monday. In response to a question about the lack of sexual orientation in the university’s non-discrimination policy, Fr. Beauchamp affirmed University support for the LGBT community without the legally-binding impositions of a policy. As reported in student newspaper The Beacon, the president made a further comment about LGBT employees:

“‘We know that there are faculty and staff in same-sex relationships on campus,’ Beauchamp said. ‘They are not public about it and we don’t ask them. But if someone were to go very public about it and make an issue then we would have trouble’”

Bondings 2.0 spoke to Andrea Merrill, a junior who holds a leadership position in the campus Gay Straight Partnership, about Fr. Beauchamp’s comments and the campus atmosphere. She highlighted two positive initiatives: a Statement of Inclusion released in 2011 and the Gay Straight Partnership founded in 2008. Both help foster a safe community and educate the wider campus. Ms. Merrill credits these initiatives with helping many students identify more openly on campus, but she also cautions against too much optimism:

“There is much to be done. These steps have been great but many students agree that there is a lot more to be done on the campus. The president’s words highlight the fact that while the university has provided many resources, there is still a fear for students and faculty members to be out with a part of their identity. Everything is unspoken and under the rug…the subtle atmosphere of campus is one of fear for many people of various minorities.”

The president responded to the controversy through two letters to the The Beacon, but Ms. Merrill believed they were not adequate. However, she quickly noted this current controversy should not eliminate a supportive record by Fr. Beauchamp who oversaw the drafting of the Statement of Inclusion and the founding of the Gay Straight Partnership:

“He has done a lot of work to push this movement forward, but a lot of trouble students are having is the fact that what he said [the comment about about LGBT employees] still instills that fear on campus.”

An article in the Willamette Weekly,  a regional newspaper, reports that a growing student movement called “Redefine Purple Pride” is pressuring the administration, and Fr. Beauchamp specifically, to be more proactive in correcting the harm his comments caused:

“Within days of Beauchamp’s chat, a new ‘Redefine Purple Pride’ group gained 820 members on Facebook, a change.org petition advocating LGBTQ inclusion at UP reached its 1,000-signature goal and the University’s mailbox received an influx of sharp correspondence…

“Student responses have included a photography campaign of undergraduates, mouths taped over, standing before an equality flag. Senior Casey Anderson opened his house to volunteer models last weekend; the result is about 70 faces staring at Beauchamp and the administration. YouTube videos, one collecting dozens of statements beginning “I am standing up because…” appeared. That one ends with: ‘We the students of the University of Portland hold these truths to be self-evident that…all Pilots are created equal.’ On Facebook, hundreds of students have changed their profile photos to a purple equal sign.”

Fr. Beauchamp maintains that student reactions resulted from misunderstanding his comments, but how credibly his words will be received after last Monday is an open question. New Ways Ministry encourages all to support students at the University of Portland through the various means listed above.

–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


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