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.
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