Writing the “Campus Chronicles” series for this blog, I frequently report on the good works being done at Catholic colleges to promote acceptance and inclusion of LGBT community members. That is why I was again disappointed at the absence of Catholic schools on a couple of 2014 listings of the most LGBT-friendly campuses nationwide.
The Princeton Review failed to include any Catholic schools on its most LGBT-friendly ranking, but did include two on the twenty least LGBT-friendly listing, those being the University of Notre Dame (#9) and The Catholic University of America (#12).
Campus Pride, a national LGBT organization, claims its listing of most LGBT-friendly schools is more comprehensive than the Princeton Review listings because it is conducted “for and by LGBT experts in the field of higher education” without a profit motive. Though the organization makes this claim and also expanded its list from top 25 to top 50 this year, noting more than 80% of participating schools improved their rankings, Campus Pride failed to include any Catholic colleges as well.
Last year at this time, I claimed such rankings fail to reveal the full story about Catholic higher education. Now, I wonder why this absence exists in the first place. Are Catholic colleges failing to welcome LGBT students and employees? Are they inherently excluded because of their religious identity? Are there too few Catholic schools to be considered?
First, let’s look at the question of whether Catholic colleges are just not LGBT-friendly. I do not believe this to be true. As with any large field of members, Catholic colleges’ and universities’ responses to accepting diverse sexual orientations and gender identities are varied. I admit problems remain within the church’s higher education efforts. Traditional campuses like my alma mater, Catholic University, have a ways to go regarding LGBT acceptance. More progressive schools have also encountered obstacles, like Loyola Chicago’s decision to ban same-sex alumni from marrying in the campus’ chapel after marriage equality was legalized in Illinois.
However, there are numerous examples where schools are making progress and I would like to highlight a few from the past year:
- DePaul University, Chicago, which regularly hosts LGBT workshops and student groups, celebrated its longtime and s successful LGBTQ Minor program.
- Georgetown University’s LGBTQ student group teamed up with Campus Ministry at the Washington, D.C. school to help students synthesize their sexual orientation and/or gender identity with their faith.
- Stonehill College, Massachusetts, warmly welcomed Sr. Jeannine Gramick who dialogued with students and faculty at the Holy Cross Fathers-administered school about inclusion.
- Boston College Law School students applauded the administration’s rapid and supportive response to anti-gay vandalism, transforming the damage into a moment of healing and education.
- The University of Notre Dame, Indiana began implementing its new pastoral plan, forming a successful student group and hiring staff for its new LGBT resource office.
- One of the first college athletes to come out did so with the full support of coaches and peers at Benedictine College in Kansas.
- Gonzaga University in Washington State announced new policies regarding housing, bathrooms, records changes, and medical care that are more trans-inclusive.
- Georgetown University in Washington, DC, welcomed its first openly transgender students last fall and they spoke highly of how students and staff alike have affirmed their presence.
- The University of San Diego stood by students organizing an annual drag show that came under fire from conservative Catholic groups.
These instances are those which made news headlines, and yhey do not include the countless daily efforts being made by thousands throughout Catholic higher education to ensure all are welcome.
Second is the question of whether there are just two few Catholic colleges to choose from and highlight. Again this seems far fetched. There are more than 220 Catholic institutions of higher education in the US, according to the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities. Of these, New Ways Ministry lists more than half on its listing of gay-friendly Catholic colleges. Though the level of LGBT inclusion varies, the examples above and these numbers broken down seem to show there are Catholic campuses to choose from for the Princeton Review and Campus Pride rankings.
So why are Catholic schools absent? I think the reason comes down to a specific misconception about Catholicism and how educational institutions function within the church. A common narrative is that the Catholic Church is anti-LGBT because of the bishops’ views, thus when conflicts in Catholic education arise it is easy to dismiss all those involved in the Church as anti-gay. Nuanced understandings of church as the People of God, teachings on conscience and social justice, and the reality that most US Catholics support LGBT justice are lost in broader public discourse.
What these rankings fail to account for is this disparity between the hierarchy’s teaching and the lived reality of most Catholics. The rankings do not acknowledge the attempts to heal and divide communities, like at Providence College, where a poor decision to cancel a pro-gay lecture became a teaching moment and led to growth. They do not consider cases, like at Creighton University, where school officials stood up to conservative critics within the church about a music concert by a pro-gay performer. Ultimately, they fail to consider how passionately and firmly students and staff have stood up for LGBT inclusion — and have succeeded in so many instances.
I doubt Catholic higher education is alone in being incorrectly understood, as other religiously-affiliated schools from officially anti-LGBT denominations are also absent. However, as I wrote last year, Catholic schools can have a tremendous impact on the lives of the more than one million students they serve:
“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.”
I do not expect the Princeton Review or Campus Pride to change their listings this year, but in the future a nod to the many and varied efforts being made to create Catholic campuses where all are welcome would do the cause of LGBT equality a lot of good.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry