Semesters End with a Hate Crime, a Walkout, and a Lavender Graduation

Yet another academic semester is in the books. Today’s post features news highlights from around Catholic higher education.

Creighton University Responds to Hate Crime

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Note found at Creighton University with anti-gay slur blurred out at the top

Community members at Creighton University were shaken when a gay student, Joseph Gray, discovered a hateful note pinned to the door of his dorm room. The note said:

“Kill yourself. Leave our school. Gays are not welcome in Nebraska or Creighton.”

Gray reported the note to University officials, saying he “shouldn’t have to come back to where I sleep and worry about what I’m going to see” when he and other gay students have to worry about on-campus bullying in the daytime.

Fr. Daniel Hendrickson, S.J., the University’s president, released two statements. In the first statement, he said the note was “a breach of the Jesuit values we all share as the Creighton community, values which bind us all in the common mission of ensuring Creighton is a safe, respectful, inclusive place.”

Following up, Hendrickson said he was “very troubled” by the note and confirmed it was being investigated by the administration.

Gray told WOWT 6 News, a television station in Omaha, that while the note was only frustrating to him, similar acts could be far more damaging to other students. He wants administrators to help the note’s author understand the harm such hate speech causes.

Notre Dame Graduates Walk Out on VP Pence

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Students walking out of Notre Dame’s commencement ceremony as Vice President Pence speaks

As Vice President Mike Pence began addressing the University of Notre Dame’s commencement last week, more than 150 graduates and their families silently walked out in protest. They were greeted outside the ceremony by some 300 additional protestors, reported the South Bend Tribune.

Xitlaly Estrada, a graduate who participated in the walkout, said the protests were because students were “for racial justice, for immigrant rights, for LGBT rights, for every marginalized group that’s been targeted by Pence’s actions.”

Student organizers with We Stand for ND cited Pence’s opposition to LGBT rights as a key part of the protests. The statement said:

“During his time as governor of the state of Indiana and now as a Vice-President, Pence has targeted the civil rights protections of members of LBGT+ community. . .Pope Francis has bestowed upon the world a call. . .to acknowledge and respect the humanity of sexual minorities, and to bring down all walls that separate us.”

Georgetown Students Celebrate Lavender Graduation

Students at Georgetown University once again celebrated a Lavender Graduation organized by the LGBTQ Resource Center by recognizing the achievements of some 120 LGBTQ graduates, according to the campus newspaper, The Georgetown Voice.

Fr. Greg Schenden, S.J., the Catholic chaplain, said the University supports LGBTQ students “precisely because we are Catholic and Jesuit.” The Voice reported that “University President John DeGioia spoke about the activism that led to the founding of the LGBTQ Resource Center.”

Georgetown University has hosted a Lavender Graduation each year since 2009, and there are at least seven other Catholic colleges who have held such ceremonies in previous years.

Holy Cross Students Share Campus Experiences

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Sample posters that were part of Holy Cross’ students listening campaign

Student leaders at the College of the Holy Cross recently displayed posters with quotes from LGBTQ+ community members about what it means to be a sexual and/or gender minority on the campus.

The Student Government Association said the project sought to raise such voices because, according to the campus newspaper, The Crusader, “In order for us to become more welcoming to people in the lgbtq+ community, we need to listen closely to what those already here are saying.”

Responses were gathered through an anonymous survey, and were mixed between positive and negative statements. Some students said they felt supported, while others said they could not be out at Holy Cross or had to begin commuting. One poster read, “Being queer at Holy Cross means you’re an activist simply by existing whether you want to be or not.”

Fordham University Raises Trans Awareness

Students at Fordham University celebrated the Transgender Day of Visibility in late March by hosting a screening of “The Trans List,” a documentary about prominent trans people like Laverne Cox and Bamby Salcedo, founder of the TransLatin@ Coalition. A discussion followed and student journalist, Sam Deassis, raised questions in the campus newspaper, The Fordham Observer, about the practical implications of trans awareness for their campus community.

Fordham has already taken steps to be more supportive of transgender students by implementing gender-neutral restrooms and hosting a Transgender Day of Remembrance vigil in 2015.

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, May 26, 2017

Newman University Recognizes LGBTQ Group; The Catholic University of America Holds Out

As another school year wraps up, students at Newman University, Wichita, Kansas,  are celebrating a new LGBTQ student group. Today’s post shares this story and an opposite one from The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C.  Both stories highlight the importance of such groups.

Newman University Welcomes LGBTQ Group

Facing student pressure, Newman University administrators approved an LGBTQ student group this spring.

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Ruben Lerma

Ruben Lerma led efforts for a recognized group at the school, which he decided to attend because it offered him generous financial aid despite his lack of U.S. citizenship. But being gay, Lerma was skeptical of attending a Catholic institution. The Witchita Eagle reported:

“He overheard other students on campus talk about how gay people should go to hell, he said, and how the legalization of gay marriage would lead gays to want to get married to animals. Some of his friends would point out other students on campus who, he was told, hated gay people.”

These experiences propelled Lerma to make a public speech his junior year, acknowledging that he was not the only gay person on campus and, “If for their sake, if not mine, you should make [the campus] more amiable, make the environment better.”

Student interest in an LGBTQ group spread quickly, building on existing alumni support and a more general overhaul on campus about how the school handles diversity.

In response to this pressure, administrators formed a committee to figure out how the school could better support LGBTQ students like Lerma. The Eagle reported that the committee, “which included nuns, priests, students, faculty, and administrators,” is modeled on the University of Notre Dame’s pastoral plan for LGBT students.

The plan, supported by Newman University staff, recognizes a new student group called Kaleidoscope. Student Adviser Ami Larrea, who helped form the group, explained the name:

“‘A kaleidoscope has all these different colors and shapes, but they somehow come together to make this really awesome picture and it’s beautiful even though it’s all different. . .That was important for us. We are LGBTQ, but we are different colors, different shapes and sizes, and it all looks great.'”

The plan, unfortunately, reveals the compromises which LGBTQ students are often required to make in more conservative Catholic environments. The Eagle reported:

“The Notre Dame-type model included language that emphasizes that the club cannot contradict the Catholic view that LGBTQ students should be ‘chaste,’ because sex is condoned only in marriage between a man and a woman.

“‘The University exhorts all to hear and live the Church’s teaching that ‘the deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage (between man and woman) is essentially contrary to its purpose’ and is considered gravely sinful,’ the plan reads.”

Dean of Student Affairs Levi Esses affirmed this mission, saying the group would be a “very supportive atmosphere” for students to remain celibate outside of heterosexual marriage. Nonetheless, students are celebrating the plan even with its compromises:

“Kevin Clack, who will be the group’s first student leader, said he doesn’t think the language in the pastoral plan means the group won’t be able to talk about dating and romance. But LGBTQ students have a lot of concerns, and Clack said he doesn’t expect the group to focus on sexuality more than any other group on campus, including the Black Student Union, of which he is also a member.

“Clack doesn’t agree with the language about what constitutes a true marriage but thinks compromise was necessary to get the group started.”

Catholic University of America Denies LGBTQ Group Again

Meanwhile, administrators at The Catholic University of America again denied students’ application for a recognized LGBTQ group, CUAllies.

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John Garvey

Speaking at a town hall with students, President John Garvey explained his rationale, according to campus newspaper The Tower:

“‘We’re not going to officially sponsor CUAllies. But that should not, I hope, be the measure of our support. . .We do not want to endorse a whole set of propositions that our culture insists on sexuality and gender. . .Neither do we want to ignore the needs of our gay and lesbian students. We ask all freshmen to take a pledge when coming here, we offer a counseling center, and Father Jude has a chaplet initiative.'”

Earlier this spring, the University hosted lesbian Catholic speaker Eve Tushnet who promotes celibacy for lesbian and gay people. In response, CUAllies President Carly Tomaine told The Tower that in keeping with Tushnet’s message about inclusion, “[The university] needs to publicly acknowledge [CUAllies] because no one wants to be pushed to the side.”

Administrators have rejected student and alumni requests for CUAllies to be recognized since 2008, leading one alumnus to publish a post on Buzzfeed recently titled “Reasons Queer Youth Should Not Attend Catholic University of America.”

Student demands at both Newman University and Catholic University make clear the importance of recognized LGBTQ student groups that act both as safe spaces and campus educators. Thankfully, more often than not, we report on Catholic institutions which are recognizing, not rejecting such groups.

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, May 21, 2017

 

 

On Gilbert Baker’s Passing, Why Rainbow Flags Are Needed in Catholic Spaces

Gilbert Baker, the person who designed the rainbow flag used as a symbol of LGBT identity, passed away last week. Despite his flag first appearing in 1978, controversy about its presence continues, including a recent spate at a Catholic university in Australia. As we remember Baker’s contribution, this additional unfortunate incident is a reminder of why pride flags are so essential for Catholic spaces.

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The flag sticker in dispute

Rainbow flag stickers have twice been posted, and twice torn down, at the University of Notre Dame Australia’s campus in Fremantle. The stickers were posted by the Student Association on their office windows as an expression of welcome, given the general absence of LGBTQ supports on campus. Buzzfeed reported:

“’We took it upon ourselves to do stuff for our LGBTIQ students, because there was nothing,’ student association president Dylan Gojak told BuzzFeed News. ‘One of the first steps was putting up these ally stickers.’ . . .But the vandalism has placed the stickers in the spotlight – and prompted complaints to university management arguing the ‘divisive’ rainbow flag has no place on campus.”

Gojak said for LGBTQ students like himself “there’s nothing, there’s no public statement, there’s no sign that you’re welcome here.” No action thus far has been taken on recommendations made by the Sexuality and Pastoral Care Working Party. The repeated vandalism against the flag stickers has only intensified awareness that such supports are absent.

Administrators initially asked the Student Association to remove the flag stickers, though a compromise was reached which allowed them to remain. After the stickers were vandalized a second time, Vice Chancellor Celia Hammond sent an email, saying:

“‘While I believe the symbol is divisive, and the University does not support all that has come to be associated with the Rainbow flag, the University does not condone the sticker being deliberately taken down in the way that it was. . .This only aggravates the situation and has the potential to cause additional distress.’ . . .

“‘To that end, while the University does not endorse the Rainbow flag, and does not approve it being displayed on any other parts of the University campus, the University is not seeking for it to be removed from the two windows of the Student Association Office at this time.'”

According to Hammond, “the display of the politically charged stickers” could imply the University is not in full compliance with Catholic teaching. She acknowledged there may be people on campus with homophobic views that are “inconsistent with our Catholic teachings,” but that there were others with “legitimate concerns” about the flag stickers.

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Gilbert Baker

Over time, the rainbow flag has come to signify inclusion, acceptance, and pride in embracing the sexual and/or gender identity.  These are all Catholic values and can lead a person on the path to holiness.

Baker’s flag, created at the request of martyred gay icon Harvey Milk, was to be more celebratory than the pink triangle symbol then in use, which has ties to Nazi Germany. And, according to Gay Star NewsBaker imbued the flag with even more meaning:

“Each stripe on the original eight-color flag had a meaning starting with hot pink which represented sexuality. Red represented life, orange was healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, turquoise for magic and art, blue for serenity and harmony and violet for spirit.”

These facts make it hard to understand what “legitimate concerns” could be lodged against the posting of rainbow flag stickers. Rather, it is very disturbing that the University of Notre Dame Australia offers no formal support to LGBTQ students, and, in this recent situation, administrators could not express unqualified solidarity with such students.

As the world remembers Gilbert Baker, church officials should remember that church teaching backs the value of each stripe on the rainbow flag, as well as the flag’s symbol of welcome and acceptance. Given how important LGBTQ visibility can be for youth and young adults, every Catholic institution should fly the rainbow flag with pride this spring.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, April 10, 2017

 

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!

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.

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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

Is the Church Complicit When Bias Incidents Occur on Catholic Campuses?

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

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A sign near gathered Fordham University students

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.

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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

Santa Clara University Responds to Anti-LGBT Slurs, Swastikas

Santa Clara University experienced multiple hate crimes last month, including messages against LGBT people, incidents which have energized members of the campus community to express their solidarity and demand change.

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Student vandalizing a poster at SCU

Vandals struck the California Jesuit school twice this past October, reported campus newspaper The Santa Clara:

“Over the weekend in Casa Italiana Residence Hall, a swastika was drawn in blood in an elevator and derogatory messages aimed at the LGBTQ community were written on a fourth floor hallway bulletin board. These acts came just two weeks after the 43 Students Memorial was defaced.”

The anti-LGBT messages appeared days before National Coming Out Day, when students on campus expressed their solidarity by affixing supportive fabric signs to their backpacks and coming out on social media. But LGBT programming and a generally affirming campus environment do not preclude prejudice said some students. Alaina Boyle, a senior who directs the Santa Clara Community Action Program and is queer, told The Santa Clara:

” ‘I have experienced discrimination and words of persecution from people on our campus before. . .I’m not surprised to hear that this is how some people really feel. . .I think there’s this overarching atmosphere of it being okay to put down certain groups and to speak out about how you feel about minority groups. I think that’s normalizing the hatred.’ “

Students and several offices on campus organized a march in which 70 students, staff, faculty, and administrators participated. Marchers changed “We are one” and “Love not hate” during the witness, about which the Multicultural  Center’s director Isaac Nieblas explained to The Santa Clara:

“We want to be loud and we want to be proud and we want to showcase that regardless of the symbols of hate and undertone of racism and misogyny and bigotry that exists here on this campus. . .We are not going to stand for it and we are going to start moving forward hand and hand.”Fr. Michael Engh, SJ, the University’s president, participated in the march and explained that he was there because “it is important that the administration

Fr. Michael Engh, SJ, the University’s president, participated in the march and explained that he was there because “it is important that the administration demonstrate that all students are welcome here.” Engh said the acts had violated a “sense of home” on campus.

Administrators hosted a community forum shortly after the acts of vandalism to address students’ questions, and the Multicultural Center facilitated restorative circles to help students process the incidents.

The forum was tense, according to The Santa Clara, as students asked whether the perpetrators would remain on campus and administrators refused to give details citing confidentiality requirements and the involvement of the Santa Clara Police Department. Students also questioned why administrators had used terms like “bias incident” and “act of discrimination” instead of “hate crime” to describe the events.

A statement from 25 LGBTQ community members was subsequently released, condemning the acts and naming four demands:

“The document contains four core demands, including that the acts be called hate crimes rather than acts of discrimination and that a full description of the vandalism be released to the Santa Clara community.

“The statement also demands that the university increase the security of campus surveillance footage to prevent images of hate crimes from circulating around the university and ‘re-traumatizing’ affected communities.

“The joint statement also calls for using a ‘transformative justice’ approach in order to hold the perpetrators accountable. This would allow those affected to address the perpetrators directly.”

The topic of hate crimes targeting LGBT people and other marginalized communities is quite present in the U.S. today after the presidential election. Though these incidents at Santa Clara happened in October, the negative effects such crimes cause are harm more than just the campus community. What should not be lost is that not only tragedy occurred at Santa Clara, but solidarity from church leaders and an appeal for transformative justice by campus groups.

Clearly, the teachings of the church on justice, solidarity, and reconciliation are foremost considerations for the community at Santa Clara University. The rest of us would do well to keep these teachings at the forefront of our lives, too, in these coming months and years when it seems hate is poised to raise its ugly head.

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 21, 2016