In Higher Education, What Does “Catholic Identity” Actually Mean?

Each semester, there are an increasing number of LGBT-positive developments in Catholic higher education, documented by Bondings 2.0’s “Campus Chronicles” series. But opposition to these efforts often frames LGBTQ supportive developments as undermining Catholic identity. Today’s post highlights some approaches to Catholic identity from this spring to reflect further on just what is meant by Catholic identity when it comes to Catholic higher education.

lucLoyola University Chicago Affirms Trans Students

Responding to the Trump administration’s withdrawal of federal guidelines to protect transgender students, Loyola University Chicago’s Office of the Dean of Students and Office of Student Diversity and Multicultural affairs released a statement saying they “remain committed to serving as sources for advocacy, resources, and support for all students.” It continued:

“This commitment has never been driven by federal directives or guidance, but stems rather from our Catholic, Jesuit mission, which calls us to honor the dignity and humanity of all people and to stand in solidarity with those among us who may be vulnerable to oppression or exclusion. . .we remain committed to the policies we have in place and our institutional mission, both of which fully support Loyola’s transgender, gender-nonconforming, and non-binary students.”

21231_fullMarquette University Resource Center Reopens

In January, Marquette University reopened its LGBTQ+ Resource Center, an occasion for the Marquette Wire to look at the University’s somewhat contentious history around LGBT issues. Referencing anti-transgender protestors the school faced last fall, the editors noted how two administrators explained how the school’s identity relates to the Resource Center:

“University Provost Dan Myers, who stood in counter-protest across Wisconsin Avenue from the [protestors] with members of the Marquette community, said in an email, ‘There is no question that our Catholic, Jesuit mission calls on us to be a welcoming place for all, and we strive to be that welcoming place.’

“Coordinator for LGBTQ+ programs and services Enrique Tejada III said in an email, ‘I believe that it is because of Marquette’s Catholic, Jesuit identity and values that our LGBTQ+ Resource Center is able to operate on a religious and specifically Catholic campus.’

 

georgetown20logoFor Georgetown, Catholic Identity Means Diversity 

The editors of Georgetown University’s campus newspaper, The Hoya, took up the question of Catholic identity recently. Right-wing critics have, through a petition and a lawsuit, challenged the University for not being Catholic enough. In response, The Hoya editors wrote:

“In attempting to stifle the diversity of viewpoints represented at the university through speakers and faculty, the lawsuit neglects to recognize that Catholicism does not abide by one narrow definition and that, more than any other facet, the university’s particular Jesuit tradition strives to promote authentic human understanding and compassion guided by Catholic social teaching. This includes promoting dialogue among different groups, even if official church doctrine diverges from their ideas.

“No part of the [right-wing] petition failed to grasp this more than the section criticizing Georgetown’s placement within Newsweek’s top-25 ‘gay-friendly’ colleges in the country in 2010— the only Catholic university to be included — and contending that the school’s LGBTQ Resource Center and recognition of LGBTQ student organizations countered Catholic teaching. . .

“[The U]niversity ought to ensure all students receive exposure to the rich religious tradition which informs its values. Yet, in the truest spirit of Georgetown’s Jesuit heritage, the university should not acquiesce to demands for an overly narrow interpretation of Catholicism demanded by the petition.”

Georgetown’s latest initiative is “to make single-stall restrooms in public buildings on campus both gender-inclusive and Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant by the end of the semester,” a joint effort by the administration and the Student Association’s LGBTQ Inclusivity group. Reporting on the initiative, The Hoya noted that in many cases this development means only changing signs, and a feasibility study will look at other cases.

What Catholic identity means concretely in higher education, or in any institutional setting, is not always clear. The devil is in the details when determining how colleges and universities provide high-quality education that is accessible to all and integrates faith.

But investing in programs and policies which welcome, support, and educate LGBTQ students– and particularly trans students in the current climate–is clearly a key part of Catholic identity today.

What do you think Catholic identity means for colleges and universities, at it relates to issues of gender and sexuality? Leave your thoughts in the “Comments” section below.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 25, 2017

THREE DAYS LEFT TO REGISTER TO AVOID A LATE FEE!

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org. REGISTER BY MARCH 27th TO AVOID A LATE FEE!

Catholic University Students Again Seek LGBTQ Group Recognition

Students at The Catholic University of America (CUA), Washington, DC, are again seeking official recognition for their campus LGBTQ group, but whether their proposal will be approved or again denied is not clear.

16681740_1385224528176201_1053160779331066292_n.jpgLeaders of CUAllies (in which I participated during college) submitted their proposal to the administration last Wednesday, the culmination of a week of actions to make visible the support they have on campus.

Events included an “I am an Ally” photo campaign, wearing rainbow pins to a town hall with University President John Garvey, and a social media blitz using the hashtag #RecognizeAllies.

This latest drive began with a petition that generated 1,900 signatures, promoted on Twitter by CUA alumni like former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and actress Susan Sarandon. The petition read, in part:

“All students, regardless of their sexuality or gender identity, deserve to be accepted and treated with respect. . .We seek to create a respectful, compassionate, and understanding community at CUA by providing resources, a safe environment, and a voice for LGBTQ+ students on campus.”

CUAllies President Carly Tomaine told Metro Weekly that official recognition is not only about using University spaces or receiving funding:

“‘[I]t’s that Catholic University needs to acknowledge the fact that the LGBT community has been marginalized and discriminated against, and are still, to this day, fighting for their rights . . . And because of that they deserve an outlet to feel safe and feel at home, and that’s what CUAllies is to so many people.'”

But CUAllies is facing resistance from not only the administration. A small group of students is now opposing the group. A student government resolution to support the group, which passed unanimously last year, failed in a recent vote. And The Tower, the campus newspaper, once unabashedly supportive, was critical of the group in its latest editorial.

For now, CUAllies is continuing to hold meetings, offer support, and fundraise for expanded programming as they wait for a response from an administration that has been dismissive of students’ desires for an LGBTQ group on campus.

Similar proposals for official recognition were denied in 2009 and 2012 (the day after the University of Notre Dame finally approved an LGBTQ pastoral plan) despite the fact that CUA had a recognize student group from 1988 to 2002.

In 2014, administrators cancelled a screening of the film Milk about the life of gay rights icon Harvey Milk, and have the school has hosted LGBT-negative speakers.

Milk_FinalWhat is different this time is that the human rights law in the District of Columbia has changed. The Armstrong Amendment, which allowed religiously-affiliated colleges to discriminate against LGBTQ student groups, was repealed in 2015, opening the school to a potential lawsuit if CUAllies is again denied.

Approving CUAllies would be entirely consistent with church teaching, and it would enhance the University’s Catholic identity. New Ways Ministry’s list of LGBT-Friendly Catholic Colleges and Universities includes dozens of schools who have chosen to support LGBTQ members in their communities. It is far past time to #RecognizeAllies.

To read Bondings 2.0’s interview with CUAllies leaders last year, click here. For the blog’s full coverage of LGBT issues in Catholic higher education, see our “Campus Chronicles” category to the right or by clicking here.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 4, 2017

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

 

LGBT Issues Prominent at Conference on U.S. Catholic Higher Education

LGBT inclusion was a central theme at the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities‘ (ACCU) annual meeting this year. Entitled “Inclusion on Campus: Exploring Diversity as an Expression of God’s Grandeur,” the meeting explored several issues, including race, immigration status, and gender.

cukqoshwyaqbqfvDr. Julie Hanlon Rubio, an ethicist at St. Louis University, led a workshop on “Serving the LGBTQ Community.” According to the National Catholic Reporter, Hanlon is concerned that Catholic higher education did not offer appropriate support following last year’s massacre at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando in which 49 people were killed.

Rubio said, “[W]e can’t quite find the words. . .We have to find the theological resources that give us the ground to stand on so that we can appropriately claim the ground that is out there.” NCR reported further:

“Rubio advocated for calling students and others by the names that they wish to be called. Educators ought to be, she said, ‘less worried about the trouble we might get in by inclusion and more worried about the suffering they are experiencing.’. . .

“Rubio walked participants through a timeline of Catholic thinking on topics like what it means to be made in the image of God while offering theological tools for discussing gender and offering hospitality in the context of diversity and inclusion. Urging her listeners to be sensitive to the experiences of their LGBTQ students, Rubio stressed the importance of listening.

“In a question-and-answer period following the session, conference members discussed how to minister effectively when students may want advocacy, the status of conversations with bishops about LGBTQ concerns, and even the potential need for a  ‘safe space’ for theologians who grapple with these topics.”

Beyond gender and sexuality, the meeting dealt with other areas in Catholic higher education where diversity and inclusion could improve. These issues have taken on a new urgency given the first two weeks of the new U.S. presidential administration.

Fr. Bryan Massingale, a theologian at Fordham University, New York, said this was a “moment of stark clarity” calling on Catholic colleges and universities to offer a “powerful, robust vision” that understands “the urgency in which your students are feeling this moment in history.” He said further, “We need to both respond to and interrogate in light of our commitment to God” this new reality.

executive-order-statementIndeed, just as ACCU members gathered for the meeting, the president was issuing an executive banning citizens from seven predominantly Muslim nations from entering the U.S. ACCU’s statement in strong opposition to this ban affirmed, “The commitment of our institutions to creating inclusive, welcoming campus environments that embrace people of all faiths and cultures.”

It is heartening to see thtat this commitment to inclusion and diversity is focusing on matters of gender and sexual identities, which are so present in students’ lives and about which institutions can offer key supports. As last Wednesday’s post for National Catholic Schools Week highlighted and New Ways Ministry’s LGBT-Friendly Colleges listing makes clear, many Catholic colleges and universities in the U.S. are already offering LGBTQ supports and even coursework.

Hopefully, with ACCU’s forward-looking leadership, the meeting this year will encourage schools to either step up or start altogether their inclusion of LGBTQ people on campuses. To read the organization’s list of “Ten Ways to Be More Inclusive,” click here.

bryan
Rev. Bryan Massingale

Fr. Bryan Massingale will address “Pope Francis, Social Ethics, and LGBT People” in the opening plenary session of  New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss:  LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis.” The symposium begins on the evening of April 28th and runs until the afternoon of April 30th.  All events are in Chicago.  For more information, click here.

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, February 4, 2017

CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Responses to LGBT Decisions at UND and CUA

Administrators at the University of Notre Dame (UND) and The Catholic University of America (CUA) arrived at opposite decisions in December about  supporting LGBT students on their campuses:  UND accepted a student-run gay-straight alliance as part of a comprehensive pastoral plan, while CUA rjected a proposal for a gay-straight alliance.  Bondings 2.0 previously covered the decisions here for CUA and here for Notre Dame.

Members of Notre Dame’s 4 to 5 Movement

Notre Dame’s release of the pastoral plan, Beloved Friends and Allies, received widespread praise from students and Catholics nationwide alike. Alex Coccia, student leader of the 4 to 5 Movement that had spearheaded the push for an LGBT group, wrote in the University’s student newspaper, The Observer:

“This plan is an enormous accomplishment for the entire Notre Dame family. We would like to thank the students, faculty, staff and administrators who have been an integral part of the 4 to 5 Movement through their involvement and support. Now, as students, we have the responsibility to remain dedicated through the implementation process in order to utilize the full potential of this pastoral plan. Though we remain fully committed to these efforts, today we celebrate this achievement for our community.”

National Catholic Reporter editorialized its support of the decision to recognize and support LGBT students, saying:

“Indeed, what is most noteworthy about the announcement is that it properly recognized that it is not contrary to Catholic teaching to engage in pastoral ministry to any group or to teach and promote tolerance, love and respect for the dignity of every individual. Yes, we all know what the church teaches about same-sex activity. But the church also teaches that all human beings have innate dignity and worth, that they are loved by God and are to be treated with respect. The church teaches that any human community, and any Catholic community worthy of the name, must enflesh this respect for human dignity in the way it treats all of its members.”

Student leaders of CUAllies with Fr. Peter Daly
Student leaders of CUAllies with Fr. Peter Daly

In contrast, The Catholic University of America denied an application for CUAllies, an LGBTQ and Ally student organization, after nearly ten months of dialogue under claims it could too easily become an advocacy group for the “homosexual lifestyle.” In a column in National Catholic Reporter, Fr. Peter Daly described just how troubling  the situation for LGBTQ students is at CUA:

“I had been asked to speak to them because of an article I wrote for Catholic News Service recounting my experiences in dealing with gay young people who were suicidal. I concluded the article with the simple observation that no one should ever feel excluded from God’s love and no one should be driven to despair. Evidently, they were surprised to hear that from a Catholic priest, so they asked me to speak to their group.

“CUAllies is not an officially recognized student group at Catholic University…Lack of university recognition means the group cannot reserve rooms, publicize their meetings, receive student funds or be listed in the student directory. They still manage to meet, however. Students use social media, like Twitter, to communicate, just like the pope.”

Bondings 2.o spoke with the student leadership of CUAllies, who stated their re-commitment to establishing a “safe, welcoming, and affirming” campus and identified 2013 as a crucial year for their movement. On January 14th, the first day of classes, students will be launching a 30 Days of Action campaign to build support as further dialogue begins with the administration in the wake of a harsh denial.

Additionally, concerned alumni, parents, and Catholic LGBT supporters nationwide began organizing under the title “Friends of CUAllies” with a solidarity pledge campaign that has gained nearly 650 signatures in an effort to pressure the administration to listen to students.

New Ways Ministry encourages all to assist these students at CUA in their ongoing struggle to provide a safe and welcoming campus for LGBTQ students by signing the pledge here and ‘Liking’ their Facebook group here.

-Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Notre Dame Releases Pastoral Plan for LGBTQ Students

Notre DameThe University of Notre Dame, released a plan yesterday that addresses the pastoral concerns of LGBTQ community members after concluding a five-month review by the administration, and decades-long movement by students, most recently under the 4 to 5 Movement and Progressive Student Alliance.

The plan, titled “Beloved Friends and Allies: A Pastoral Plan for the Support and Holistic Development of GLBTQ and Heterosexual Students at the University of Notre Dame,” will enact three major changes on campus to further education about and support for those who identify as LGBTQ. The University explained these changes in a press release.

Foremost, a student organization will be established under the advisement of University administrators to program around relevant topics and provide peer-to-peer support. Students at Notre Dame have long requested recognition of a gay-straight alliance group, and an application by the 4 to 5 Movement last spring prompted University president, Fr. John Jenkins to commission the review.

In addition, an advisory committee of students, faculty, and staff will replace the present Core Council with the intent of guiding the administration, particularly the Vice President of Student Affairs, on how best to respond to LGBTQ students in their questions, concerns, and desires.

The student organization and the advisory committee will be overseen by a full-time staff member focused on educating the campus, promoting dialogue, and acting as a liaison between LGBTQ students and existing campus resources.

Reception by the Notre Dame community is generally positive after a collaborative review process, as reported by the South Bend Tribune:

“Karl Abad, an openly gay Notre Dame senior, welcomes the decision…

“’Students here are ready for a change, but the climate didn’t encourage open discussion,’ Abad said. The new student organization will encourage and support honest discussion of issues related to sexuality, he said…

“He praised the efforts of Erin Hoffmann Harding, who in August became Notre Dame’s vice president for student affairs, for moving the discussions forward. ‘Throughout this process, she’s been in constant dialogue with other administrators and knows what students need,’ he said.”

In an extensive interview with campus newspaper, The Observer, Vice President of Student Affairs Erin Hoffman Harding described the administration’s approach to the review.

The interview is worth reading in its entirety for those interested in the intricacies of LGBT movements at Catholic campuses, but specifically on process she mentioned three elements: consultation with Church teaching in keeping with Catholic mission; extensive student consultation, including nearly four dozen meetings with Hoffman Harding alone; and external benchmarking, particularly of Catholic institutions, for what they provide students identifying as LGBT.

Fr. Jenkins spoke in the same interview in broader themes about the harmony, timeliness, and progress of this decision:

Fr. John Jenkins“If you avoid controversy, you don’t do anything, controversy’s ok. But I think if people look carefully at what we’re doing and really in a thoughtful way evaluate it, I think thoughtful people will see that makes sense, it makes sense for a Catholic university like Notre Dame to provide such structures to serve their students effectively…

“It really is about building a community. As Erin said, we’re not there. We should never feel we’ve got this down. It’s rather we’re always trying to improve and it’s my responsibility and Erin’s responsibility to work on this, but it’s everybody’s responsibility. And I hope that people take this as Erin said a sign of hope. Let’s make it a better community. Let’s work together to make it a better community, more inclusive, more welcoming, more supportive.”

Fr. Jenkins recognizes, even if slightly late, that the support and embrace of LGBT students on Catholic campuses is a demand placed on colleges and universities by the Catholic faith they profess, not the students themselves. The formation of strong communities where all find their place in the pursuit of education and growth is a noble goal consistent with a long-standing intellectual tradition in the Church.

New Ways Ministry applauds the progress made at the University of Notre Dame, and further applauds the acknowledgement that this is a forward step and not an end point in addressing the needs of LGBT persons.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

For New Ways Ministry’s listing of gay-friendly Catholic colleges and universities, visit newwaysministry.org/gfc.

For further information on New Ways Ministry’s efforts in Catholic higher education and to get involved, contact youngadults@newwaysministry.org.

Previous Updates on the University of Notre Dame

October 16, 2012: CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Students and Faculty at University of Notre Dame Push for Inclusion

September 1, 2012: Notre Dame’s President on LGBT Issues on Campus

May 4, 2012: Movement Toward Equality on Two Catholic Campuses

April 27, 2012: Notre Dame Fails to Adopt Non-Discrimination Policy for Sexual Orientation; Progress Made on Other LGBT Issues

March 30, 2012: Videos Advance Cause of Equality at CUA and UND

March 9, 2012: CUA and UND Students Making Great Strides Toward Official Recognition

February 22, 2012: Catholic U. and Notre Dame United to Work for Gay-Straight Alliances