While Catholic higher education often leads the church’s efforts to be more inclusive of LGBT people, as Saturday’s post about gay college athlete Chase Boyle explored, several incidents this fall reveal that campuses are not without LGBT-related problems. And the institutional church may be complicit.
Fordham University Heals After LGBT Harassment
In September, students at Fordham University rallied at the “Speak-Out Against Homophobia,” a response to anti-LGBT comments written on the dorm room door of three LGBTQ students.
According to campus newspaper The Fordham Ram, the speak-out allowed students to not only show solidarity but share their negative experiences on campus. Junior Gina Foley addressed the impact that the University’s Catholic identity has had on her:
” ‘It feels like Fordham doesn’t want us here. . .I know that I belong in the LGBTQ community and at Fordham. I know that I belong in the Catholic community, but they don’t want me here. I see this all the time, and it hurts.’ “
Sarah Lundell, a senior with Progressive Students for Justice: Women’s Empowerment, said the student body largely “has remained apathetic,” and this has contributed to policies that harmful to LGBTQ students remaining in place. Lundell said that “although Fordham claims to be a welcoming Jesuit university, it fails to uphold cura personalis [sic] for LGBTQ students and other marginalized identities.”
While progress can be made, a recent piece on Fordham’s Rainbow Alliance displays some of the positive work and community building already underway. You can read more in campus newspaper The Fordham Observer.
Students Push for GSA at Newman University
After a proposed gay-straight alliance (GSA) was rejected by Newman University administrators two years ago, students are again seeking its establishment on at the Wichita, Kansas, school. Student Lauren Spencer wrote in campus newspaper The Vantage that such a group was needed because homophobia is present on campus:
“Last year I was told by a friend that as they were passing through the Student Center they heard a classmate say something along the lines of, ‘Now they’re letting gay people get married. What’s next? Are they gonna let people marry animals?’ “
Spencer said uninformed statements like these prove that a GSA is needed not only to support LGBTQ students, but to educate other students on issues of sexuality and gender and, she concluded, “what is more Catholic than putting an end to the hating of thy neighbour?”
Outside Groups Protest at Marquette’s Campus
Problematic actions have come not only from within campus communities, but from outside groups intent on disrupting policies supportive of LGBTQ people. Ten people from the ultra-right-wing organization American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property protested at Marquette University about the school’s support for transgender students.
Enrique Tejada III, a student who coordinates the LGBTQ+ Resource Center, organized a counter protest because, he told The Marquette Wire:
” ‘We align with Christ-like ideals of respect, support and compassion and we hope we can be a light for the community. We are charged to be the difference and we want to be that everyday for faculty, staff and students.’ “
Administrators, including Provost Dan Myers and Dr. William Welburn, who directs the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion, lent their support. Welburn said the protestors should read Marquette’s values and “respect our position on human dignity and what we teach our students.”
Pride Week Starts at Stonehill College
Finally, a bit of positive news from Stonehill College, Massachusetts, which celebrated its first ever PRIDE Week in mid-October, hosting events that recognized and affirmed LGBTQ+ persons in the community and provided a space for allies to show solidarity.
These stories from Catholic campuses across the United States are reminders that despite the positive steps of establishing resource centers and allowing LGBT student groups, colleges and universities affiliated with the church still face some of the same challenges any institution faces when it comes to prejudices and fears. But it is worth reflecting, too, on the ways which LGBT-negative church teaching and a less affirming ecclesial culture impair Catholic higher education from offering a more robust and unequivocal embrace of LGBT community members.
Catholic education should aid all students in coming to know God’s love by living into their authentic self, so the question worth asking is whether schools doing enough to curtail ignorance and hate so this flourishing becomes possible for every student?
This post is part of our “Campus Chronicles” series on Catholic higher education. You can read more stories by clicking “Campus Chronicles” in the Categories section to the right or by clicking here. For the latest updates on Catholic LGBT issues, subscribe to our blog in the upper right-hand corner of this page.
–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 22, 2016