Bondings 2.0 started the “Campus Chronicles” series a year ago with the desire to highlight the struggles and successes for LGBT welcome at Catholic colleges universities. While many challenges still exist, we also recognize that campuses contain many hopeful signs of where the Church overall may be headed. In that light, this post features two colleges which have seen both sides of the coin recently. Creighton University, in Omaha, Nebraska, and Providence College, in Providence, Rhode Island, constructively dealt with controversies related to marriage equality in ways that signify the progress being made and the work which still remains.
The Students Union Program Board at this Jesuit school sponsored a ticket giveaway to a concert by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, which initiated student protests due to the artists’ outspoken support for marriage equality. Macklemore, who was raised Catholic, topped charts in 2012 with his song “Same Love” and since then continues to advocate for LGBT equality.
Students protested the ticket distribution in a letter to the Student Union and University President, causing the giveaway to be delayed while administrators met with the protestors. Two protesting students also wrote a letter to the editor in the campus newspaper, The Creightonian, explaining their views. They requested that Creighton cancel the ticket giveaway, so as to not be seen supporting an artist who happens to support marriage equality.
Creighton administrators, however, allowed the giveaway to proceed. Omaha.com reported on the administrators’ statement, as well as general student reactions:
“The university said it is focused on educating students on social issues and that, ‘in the past, the university has hosted debates on the issue of same-sex marriage. We have had open sessions on this topic which centered on (Catholic) tenets of understanding and inclusion.’ ”
“Dozens of students and alumni took to Twitter to complain about the delay in the ticket giveaway.”
The news website also noted that last year Macklemore and Lewis performed at a number of Catholic schools, including Boston College, University of San Francisco, and St. Joseph’s University, Philadelphia. They also note that Creighton has allowed previous performers who have conflicted with Catholic teaching on marriage and other issues:
“In the past, Creighton has hosted artists and speakers whose values don’t match up with the university’s. Some have since come out in support of gay marriage. Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas, which performed at Creighton in 2004, has publicly pushed for President Barack Obama to do more to support gay marriage. In October, Creighton sponsored a concert free for students that featured 3OH!3, a band widely criticized for sexism and misogyny in its lyrics.”
In September, Providence administrators cancelled a planned lecture by philosophy professor John Corvino on marriage equality. The decision raised serious questions about the College’s welcome for LGBT students and academic freedom. Students and faculty met that same week on the night of the cancelled event to discuss these issues. What followed was a growing student movement, a strong resolution condemning the College’s action from the Academic Senate, and national media attention.
Now, The Brown Daily Herald reports these actions resulted in positive change. The lecture was rescheduled for this coming spring, which will now be a debate with leading anti-equality activist Sherif Girgis. Additionally, the school’s President Brian Shanley apologized for the way in which the decision was made. Most important of all, the Board of Trustees adopted a non-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation and gender identity. As the Herald reports:
“The student congress and faculty senate voted last year to change the college’s non-discrimination policy statement, but the Board of Trustees had yet to approve it, said Catherine Jones, a senior at Providence College. If the demands were not met by Friday at 5 p.m., the students wrote in their email, they planned to hold a silent demonstration that Saturday during a celebration honoring the opening of a new campus building, Terrones said.
“On Friday at about 3:30 p.m., Shanley announced that the school’s Board of Trustees had amended the policy to protect students of all gender identities and sexual orientations from discrimination on campus, Terrones said.”
The Friarfighters, as the group leading this movement call themselves, cancelled the protest amid promises to continue pushing Providence administrators towards a greater acceptance of LGBT people on campus.
The events at both Creighton University and Providence College offer students at Catholic colleges, and those who support them, at least two lessons.
First, for the most part the leadership in Catholic higher education increasingly understands the need to create inclusive, safe campus for all sexual orientations and gender identities. There is tremendous progress being made, and in the Creighton case it was the administration who largely defended the Macklemore giveaway against student anti-LGBT activists. Administrators can be forces for good on LGBT issues, and often the best approach is for students, faculty, staff, and administrators to work as partners to enhance inclusivity and Catholic identity.
Second, acceptance of equality is not yet universal, and some Catholic colleges remain deficient in protecting and affirming their LGBT community members. This does not mean however growth is not possible, but it may require students, or administrators, taking action. At Providence College, students successfully organized to persuade the Board of Trustees into adopting a non-discrimination policy which will tangibly improve the welcome for LGBT people on that campus.
Finally, students, employees, and alumni can on other Catholic campuses can take a first step by helping the schools to adopt employment non-discrimination policies. Such policies make words of welcome become real and tangible. For more information on how to do this, you can click here or contact Bob Shine at firstname.lastname@example.org.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry