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: Gay Students’ Elections Signal Shift in Catholic Colleges’ Inclusivity

April 2, 2013

Nate Tisa of Georgetown University

Students at leading Catholic colleges continue electing openly gay peers to lead campus governing bodies, in a widening trend of greater LGBT acceptance in Catholic higher education.

The student body elected Nate Tisa as President of the Georgetown University Student Association in early March, marking the first election of an openly gay candidate at that Washington, DC school and the second at a Jesuit-sponsored institution following University of San Francisco’s lead in 2003. The Hoya, a Georgetown student newspaper, reported on the significance of Tisa’s election :

“[Tisa] was sworn in with the book ‘Taking a Chance on God’ by JohnMcNeill, a gay (resigned] Jesuit priest. He said he chose the book because it redefines Catholicism in a way that affirms LGBTQ Catholics and other groups.

“’I thought it had special significance at Georgetown, where our Catholic and Jesuit identity is a strong and crucial part of our heritage that can promote, rather than conflict with, our values of diversity, inclusion and the dignity of all members of our community,’ Tisa said.”

Anthony Alfano of DePaul University

Other Catholic colleges have also elected openly gay student leaders in recent years. Anthony Alfano presided over student government at the US’s largest Catholic college, DePaul University, Chicago, in 2011-12 as an out gay student. Ryan Fecteau was Speaker of the Student Association at The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC, last year, after co-leading CUAllies, the rejected LGBT student group. Fecteau spoke to Bondings 2.0 about his role within this broader trend of LGBT student leadership:

“There is much to be said about the call students are making to their administrators and their Chruch with my election as the first openly gay speaker at Catholic University, Anthony Alfano at DePaul, and now Nate [Tisa] at Georgetown. While there is much progress to be made, students are telling their peers that being LGBT does not prevent you from being an effective leader–even on a Catholic campus.”

At the University of Notre Dame, student newspaper The Observer reported on Alex Coccia’s election as president of the student body for this upcoming year after he was active as a straight ally in the successful 4 to 5 Movement that won greater LGBT student support from the South Bend, Indiana university in late 2012. Coccia also spoke to Bondings 2.0, saying:

Ryan Fecteau of The Catholic University of America

Ryan Fecteau of The Catholic University of America

“With the 4 to 5 Movement, we built a broad-base of support for initiatives aimed at creating a more welcoming and inclusive environment for LGBTQ students, faculty, and staff…I think we all recognize that this is an exciting time for Notre Dame.  As a University, we’ve made a commitment to become a more welcoming University through recognizing the gay-straight alliance organization.  There was a sense that Student Government has an important potential to take the lead on these larger issues that affect student well-being on campus…

“The trend of prominent LGBTQ and Ally individuals being elected to leadership positions shows an increase in passion and drive from our generation — a willingness to work together to ensure that each individual’s dignity is protected.”

Alex Coccia of the University of Notre Dame

Alex Coccia of the University of Notre Dame

While hopeful that their elections signal a groundswell of LGBT inclusion on Catholic campuses and planning to continue efforts, each of these leaders has and intends to focus on the good of students-at-large. As a member of student government, Fecteau battled the administration’s implementation of mandatory single-sex housing and worked to improve safety on campus grounds. Both upcoming presidents laid out plans that include the expansion of free-speech on campus and an attempt at gender-neutral housing by Tisa, and the implementation of Notre Dame’s LGBT pastoral plan and town halls with Student Affairs by Coccia

Clearly, these student leaders recognize the significance of their elections as openly gay students or publicly straight allies within Catholic higher education. After the elections though, they demonstrate that LGBT students on campus express similar concerns to college students nationwide about housing, safety, quality of their education, and the abundant topics filling student government meetings. New Ways Ministry applauds Anthony, Nate, Ryan, and Alex in leading their campuses and advocating for LGBT dignity within Catholicism.

–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


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


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


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


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