It is becoming a mantra for me: Catholic higher education in the US is a bright light for the church and the world when it comes to LGBT justice. Bondings 2.0‘s “Campus Chronicles” series often reports on the positive developments taking place on these campuses, or at a minimum, the way students and faculty are challenging anti-gay elements.
Though a few days after Thanksgiving, there is still much to be grateful for at America’s more than 200 Catholic colleges and universities. Below is a brief sampling of what has happened this November.
Controversy at Marquette U.
A class discussion at Marquette University in Milwaukee has attracted national attention after a student’s challenge to a teaching assistant’s handling of an ethics debate.
The teacher, Cheryl Abbate, passed over the topic of same-sex marriage to focus on other examples related to the philosophy of John Rawls which was being discussed. After class, a student recorded a conversation with Abbate, without her permission, in which he challenged her decision not to discuss same-sex marriage. Inside Higher Ed reports on the details of the conversation, but in can be summarize by saying that Abbate decided the student’s desired debate over same-sex marriage and LGBT parenting was irrelevant to the topic and grounded in questionable data.
Conservative outlets claim the incident reveals just how heavily academia inhibits free thought on LGBT issues, though Abbate denies a key quote they attribute to her and there is no recording of the class itself. University of South Carolina professor Justin Weinberg offers a different and more helpful perspective on the incident:
“There are certainly interesting pedagogical questions about how to discuss potentially offensive topics without violating harassment policies…However, the event at the center of this controversy does not appear to be one of speech being shut down because it is offensive. Rather, the [student’s] comment was off-topic and based on false claims, and the instructor needed to make a decision about how to use limited class time, especially given the topic of the lesson and the subject of the course (which is ethical theory, not applied ethics).”
For her part, Abbate hopes the incident will lead Marquette administrators to reconsider their policy on cyberbullying and harassment, given that the secret recording of her conversation was posted by a faculty member posted on his personal blog. Saying such practices lead to a “toxic environment,” she added:
” ‘I would hope that Marquette would do everything in its power to cultivate a climate where Marquette employees, especially students, are not publicly demeaned by tenured faculty.’ “
A spokesperson for Marquette University said administrators are reviewing the incident, which has prompted complaints from both students and faculty.
Holy Cross to Build Digital Transgender Archive
A faculty member at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, has won a fellowship to develop a Digital Transgender Archive (DTA) which would document “information on the works, studies and experiences of transgender individuals and the social movement to advance their rights.”
The archive, an idea of English professor K.J. Rawson, is the first of its kind, according to Holy Cross Magazine and involves ten collaborating analog archives. Rawson describes it as: “a collaborative project with a robust search engine that virtually merges disparate collections of materials.” The purpose is to quickly and easily connect researchers to appropriate materials, in part as a way to correct a harmful historical narrative on trans identities.
Though the article notes many challenges ahead for the archive, it appears Holy Cross’ Catholic identity is proving to be an asset. Rawson explains he “could not imagine a more welcoming environment for the DTA,” including laudatory administrators and thankful alumni who reached out to the professor. He added:
” ‘The core Jesuit qualities that distinguish Holy Cross also inspire this project; as the mission statement successfully captures, Holy Cross encourages every member of our community to be passionate about truth, promote social justice and foster dialog in order to more deeply understand and respect diverse experiences. The DTA will further these qualities by counteracting negative and hurtful stereotypes of transgender people with more truthful and historically informed representations.’ “
Loyola Communities Press for Change
The faculty Senate at Loyola University New Orleans voted to expand fringe benefits to same-sex partners of employees, whether legally married or in domestic partnerships. The Maroon, the campus newspaper, reports that a faculty committee proposed the change before it was overwhelmingly approved in a vote, despite opposition from the Catholic Studies department head.
Meanwhile, Loyola University Chicago’s student government is exploring how the campus could implement gender-neutral restrooms. A coalition of student groups and administrative departments is researching the change and has already received an anonymous financial contribution to help fund replacement signs, according to campus newspaper Loyola Phoenix.
Villanova U. Moves Beyond Gender Binary
Villanova University hosted its second annual LGBT Awareness Week in late October, during which a faculty member gave a lecture entitled “Moving Beyond the Gender Binary: What We Need to Know About Gender Expression.” Professor Katina Sawyer spoke about how different people associate with and express a particular gender identity, according to campus newspaper The Villanovan.
Speaking about the week generally, Kathy Byrnes, associate vice president for student life, said:
” ‘It’s really important to acknowledge, but more important celebrate our LGBTQ students because we love them, they’re valuable…
” ‘Villanova can maybe be a beacon of light in modeling of how people can stay faithful, be faithful and still celebrate whether they’re LGBT themselves, or celebrate their LGBT brothers and sisters.’ “
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry