CAMPUS CHRONICLES: LGBT Rankings Fail to Reveal Full Story

August 16, 2013

As college students return to campus for the fall, the Princeton Review released its annual listings of most- and least-friendly schools for LGBT students. Catholic schools fared as expected given public perceptions of Catholicism:  Catholic schools appear on the negative listing and are absent from the positive one. The three Catholic colleges listed under least-LGBT friendly were the University of Notre Dame (#5), University of Dallas (#10), and The Catholic University of America (#18). The Princeton Review’s rankings, though, fail to capture what is really happening in Catholic higher education around LGBT issues.

At The Catholic University of America, an LGBTQ student group was denied official recognition in December 2012 over concerns it would engage in political advocacy. Students organized for several years to create a safer space on a conservative campus, but without success and perhaps the Princeton Review’s rankings are correct for listing this school. in addition, questionable comments by the University of Portland’s president or the 2010 firing of a Marquette University administrator because of her sexual orientation are all reminders that not all is well in Catholic higher education.

Yet, the high-profile controversies and Princeton Review rankings cannot capture the good happening just below the firestorms. New Ways Ministry’s list of “Gay-Friendly Catholic Colleges and Universities” contains more than half of the Catholic campuses in the U.S.  for having student organizations, campus ministries, and other programs and policies that support LGBT students.

In a high-profile example,  University of Notre Dame administrators released a pastoral plan in December 2012 focused on LGBTQ students that would establish a staff position, student group, and other reforms to make the campus more inclusive. Student leaders and University staff worked closely leading up to the plan’s release to ensure it would make Notre Dame more-LGBT friendly and maintain the school’s Catholic identity.  The work of many students for many years had achieved a great success.

Elsewhere in the last year, Stonehill College students won the inclusion of sexual orientation in non-discrimination policies and hosted New Ways Ministry co-founder, Sr. Jeannine Gramick, to speak. Georgetown University and Marquette University have extensive LGBTQ resource centers with professional staff and programming. The New York Times and USA Today reported on the prominence of gay student leaders in campus governance elected by their peers. In a comprehensive article, Michael O’Loughlin recently examined the positive things that Catholic campuses are doing for LGBT issues across the country. Then there are the numerous initiatives that do not gain media attention such as building up inclusive communities in dorm rooms, chapels, and meetings nationwide.

Is this a declaration that the struggle to make Catholic higher education more inclusive is over? No. However, as students and their allies strive for  Catholic campuses where LGBT community members feel safe and respected, it is essential to recall all the good happening too. Certainly, it is a dream at this time to think Catholic colleges would be the most progressive on LGBT issues, but there is too much good for the dominant theme to be just the anti-gay listing. The Princeton Review’s rankings cannot reflect nuanced reality within Catholic schools.

Is the University of Notre Dame’s plan perfect? Probably not, but for those following Catholic LGBT issues this was viewed as a positive and significant step for a high-profile Catholic school. The willingness of administrators to listen and engage LGBT student concerns should be applauded and this dialogue will only flourish into more steps forward. Is the rejection of Catholic University of America students a final chapter? Certainly not, as they reorganize for the coming academic year to ensure every student has a safe place on campus and a community where they are included.

Instead of condemning the Church’s higher education where problems remain, every Catholic might ask themselves at the start of a new academic year how to support students and schools in becoming friendlier for LGBT students and educators.  With over one million students in approximately 220 Catholic campuses nationwide, this is certainly an important area for all in our church to be considering.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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


The Best of 2012 in Catholic LGBT News

December 31, 2012

Thumbs_upYesterday, we posted our list of the worst of 2012 in Catholic LGBT news.  Today, as promised, we end the year on a positive note by presenting our list of the BEST of the previous year.  Much good has happened in 2012, with Catholics at all levels of the church speaking out for justice and equality for LGBT people.

Thanks to the 286 of you who voted in our poll to determine the selection and ranking of these best news stories.  The percentage following each story is the percentage of people who chose this item as one of their top five.

The Top Ten

1. Catholic lay support aids marriage equality victories in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington State. 23.08%

2. Priests in Minnesota and Maryland publicly counter the local hierarchy’s opposition to marriage equality. 14.69%  

3. Berlin’s Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki suggests that the church should treat gay and straight couples similarly9.09%  

4 & 5.  TIE                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Bishop Richard Malone in Maine announces that the diocese will not take an active political role against the state’s marriage equality referendum. 8.39%                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Surveys show increase in support for LGBT issues among Hispanics, especially Catholics. 8.39%

6. At New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium, Australia’s Bishop Geoffrey Robinson calls for the church hierarchy to re-think its sexual ethics teachings8.04% 

7 & 8. TIE                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    The University of Notre Dame gives official recognition to a gay-straight alliance after years of student activism. 5.24%                           Austrian Cardinal overturns a pastor’s decision to bar a gay man from serving on a parish council. 5.24%

9. Catholics in Media Associates gives its top award to TV’s Modern Family, a show featuring a gay family. 3.85%  

10. Maryland priest who denied communion to a lesbian woman at her mother’s funeral is removed from pastoral ministry. 3.5%  

Editor’s Note:  One item which we neglected to add to the list for voting was that Vice President Joe Biden, a  Catholic, endorsed marriage equality, paving the way for President Barack Obama to do the same.  Biden also referred to transgender equality as “the civil rights issue of our time.”  We feel these should deserve some mention on the list of the best Catholic news of 2012.  We regret that we didn’t include them for voting.  Mea maxima culpa.

Other items

Cardinal Francis George apologizes for comparing the LGBT community to the Ku Klux Klan. 2.45%  

Ontario requires all schools, including state-supported Catholic schools, to institute gay-straight alliances. 2.1%  

Jesuit author James Martin endorses Spirit Day, a national program to end bullying of LGBT youth. 2.1% 

Pastor at Most Holy Redeemer parish in San Francisco reverses his earlier decision to ban drag queens from parish events. 1.75%

Students at Stonehill College, a Catholic campus in Massachusetts, win a new and improved non-discrimination policy. 1.4%  

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Stonehill College Students Win Improved Non-Discrimination Statement

September 28, 2012

Students during the September 21st walkout

The Board of Trustees of Stonehill College, a  Catholic college in Easton, Massachusetts, approved a new non-discrimination statement last week that now lists sexual orientation among the protected categories.

In a release by President Mark Cregan, the Board’s decision was announced after consultation at their most recent meeting and with outside counsel. The new statement will read in part:

“Therefore, Stonehill College prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, gender, disability, age, marital status, religion, color, sexual orientation, or national origin in admission to, access to, treatment in or employment in its programs and activities, except where such conditions may constitute bona fide qualifications for the programs or activities in question.

“Nothing in this statement shall require Stonehill College to act in a manner contrary to the beliefs and teachings of the Catholic Church.”

Stonehill College is operated by the Congregation of the Holy Cross, the same religious community which operates the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, which is also debating a non-discrimination policy.

Students, faculty, and staff began advocating for the inclusion of sexual orientation in 1997 with the recognition of Stonehill’s first gay-straight alliance, PRIDE. Bondings 2.0 spoke yesterday with 2012 graduate Ashley Trebisacci, who wrote her thesis on the fifteen year movement.

Trebisacci detailed the multiple interactions students had with the college’s administration and Board of Trustees since 1997, and the responses students received that entailed a document called ‘Spirit of Inclusion’ in 1998 and several presentations to the Board.

In 2012, several Stonehill students began organizing again for sexual orientation in the non-discrimination policy and released their own ‘It Needs To Get Better Video’ coinciding with an online petition and alumni pressure.

The Taunton Daily Gazette reported student reactions to the new policy:

“For the students, the issue was always one of equality and fairness.

“‘I’ve never felt prouder to be a Stonehill student,”’said junior Kristen Bailey. ‘It was a great day.’”

Bondings 2.0 contacted the current student leadership about the Board’s decision. This most recent iteration of the ‘It Needs to Get Better’ movement continues today and is responsible, with the support of faculty, staff, and alumni, for this most recent victory.

Senior Amanda Macchi, one of the leaders, detailed September 21, 2012’s events. At 9:30am that day, over 185 members of the Stonehill Community staged a ‘walkout’ and went to Alumni Hall where the Board of Trustees was meeting in a show of solidarity and to reinforce that Stonehill cares deeply about this issue.

Supporters make their presence known to the Board

Macchi noted that the Board’s statement does not constitute a change in the College’s non-discrimination policy:

“It’s a non-discrimination statement that the Board of Trustees make and their statement influences and guides all the school’s policies. So when the policies come up they will be revised to add sexual orientation.

“We’re very excited. This is a huge step forward and we’re relishing in that. We’ll keep track of changing all the policies. The next step is to ensure that everyone is equal…to have further discussion about what this truly means and ensure everyone is protected.”

Sean Borger, a leader in the ‘It Needs To Get Better’ movement as well as an on-campus LGBTQ discussion group, spoke to the heart of Stonehill’s needs in the future:

“When I spoke with them [the discussion group] last year more generally on the campus climate, it wasn’t that they didn’t feel safe. They didn’t feel they could be open…My hope is that with this change in statement, which hopefully our campus policies will reflect eventually, they will feel more comfortable expressing themselves.”

The student leadership spoke warmly of the overall campus atmosphere for LGBT community, but remains committed to continuing the work of inclusion and safety. Ashley Trebisacci summarized this:

“Being at a Catholic college presents problems for LGBTQ students that they may not encounter at colleges that aren’t religiously affiliated.

“Overall, we are blessed with a progressive, caring, and open faculty and staff, which in both this campaign and in general makes it a great place to be. The group of students as well are great and now, in part because of this activism and other activism in the past, the groups on campus are much more engaged and passionate about what they do.”

New Ways Ministry congratulates the Stonehill College community, especially the student leadership behind this movement, for moving towards a more inclusive campus.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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