Jallen Messersmith is the first openly gay college basketball player. Many commenters, including Bondings 2.0, applauded the athlete and his campus, Benedictine College, a Catholic school, for its support at the time. A recent incident calls into question if the school’s support for Messersmith has changed. decision to hang a rainbow flag in his dorm window?
Messersmith recently hung a rainbow flag from his dorm window. A day after doing so, he he received a call from Dean of Students Joe Wurtz who demanded the flag be removed because it had made someone “uncomfortable.” While the basketball star removed the flag, he has not remained silent about this incident which upset him greatly.
According to the campus newspaper, The Circuit, college president Stephen Minnis called the flag a “mess” on Second Street, where the dorm is located. He further added:
” ‘I saw this flag, and I thought, “Oh my gosh”…Saturday’s our big home football game, this is the opening to campus, people are going to be driving up Second Street and we got somebody hanging something in their window. I didn’t want [the flag] to be a distraction.’ “
Minnis, who was apparently unaware of the flag’s meaning before a student notified him, said its removal was a matter of “cleanliness.” He admits he could have communicated better about this policy because he said the flag’s removal is about appearances, not a political statement by the Benedictine administration.
Wurtz said the flag’s removal, though not elucidated in any policy, comes from the “president’s prerogative” against external decorations and is about consistency. He added that controversy may have ensued because people are simply “hypersensitive” about LGBT issues.
Messersmith’s roommate Luke Norville, who is notably not affirming of gay people, questioned whether this was really about consistency because he had seen other items hung on Second Street. Another roommate, Nick Hercules said he could “guarantee” an American flag or Benedictine flag would be allowed to stay.
For his part, Messersmith said the rainbow flag, a well known sign for the LGBT community, is “an acceptance thing” for those on campus who may struggle with their sexual orientation. The Circuit adds:
“Although Messersmith feels Benedictine College as a whole has been supportive of his sexual orientation, he says the way administration handled this particular situation is ‘interesting.’
” ‘I would have preferred to have had a black and white [statement]–”This is why you can’t do this, it says right here in the mission, right here in this handbook”, wherever it said I couldn’t do this…I still care for every administrator on campus, and have deep personal relationships with all of them; it is just interesting the way they handled it.’ “
Interesting indeed. By coming out, Messersmith has been a role model for LGBT youth and athletes of all ages. His intuition to put a supportive sign in his dorm window for others on the Kansas campus who are questioning their sexuality or gender identity is a most Catholic and pastoral one. Hanging the flag to create a more welcoming and inclusive campus community should be a move applauded by administrators.
Yet, if Benedictine administrators are to be believed, and the flag’s removal is truly about cleanliness and consistency in student housing, this is a case of mistaken priorities. Preserving aesthetic appearances at the cost of LGBT inclusion is not a good model for Catholic education. There is the possibility as well that administrators simply do not want LGBT-positive symbols seen at the school. Either way, Benedictine College would do well to queer its policies on external decor.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry