Students at three Congregation of the Holy Cross colleges continue to advocate for more LGBT-inclusive campuses, facing setbacks and steps forward intermittently. Bondings 2.0 highlights the University of Portland (Oregon) today, with Stonehill College (Massachusetts) and the University of Notre Dame (Indiana) to come.
University of Portland President Fr. Bill Beauchamp, CSC, ignited controversy after comments made during an annual question and answer session last Monday. In response to a question about the lack of sexual orientation in the university’s non-discrimination policy, Fr. Beauchamp affirmed University support for the LGBT community without the legally-binding impositions of a policy. As reported in student newspaper The Beacon, the president made a further comment about LGBT employees:
“‘We know that there are faculty and staff in same-sex relationships on campus,’ Beauchamp said. ‘They are not public about it and we don’t ask them. But if someone were to go very public about it and make an issue then we would have trouble’”
Bondings 2.0 spoke to Andrea Merrill, a junior who holds a leadership position in the campus Gay Straight Partnership, about Fr. Beauchamp’s comments and the campus atmosphere. She highlighted two positive initiatives: a Statement of Inclusion released in 2011 and the Gay Straight Partnership founded in 2008. Both help foster a safe community and educate the wider campus. Ms. Merrill credits these initiatives with helping many students identify more openly on campus, but she also cautions against too much optimism:
“There is much to be done. These steps have been great but many students agree that there is a lot more to be done on the campus. The president’s words highlight the fact that while the university has provided many resources, there is still a fear for students and faculty members to be out with a part of their identity. Everything is unspoken and under the rug…the subtle atmosphere of campus is one of fear for many people of various minorities.”
The president responded to the controversy through two letters to the The Beacon, but Ms. Merrill believed they were not adequate. However, she quickly noted this current controversy should not eliminate a supportive record by Fr. Beauchamp who oversaw the drafting of the Statement of Inclusion and the founding of the Gay Straight Partnership:
“He has done a lot of work to push this movement forward, but a lot of trouble students are having is the fact that what he said [the comment about about LGBT employees] still instills that fear on campus.”
An article in the Willamette Weekly, a regional newspaper, reports that a growing student movement called “Redefine Purple Pride” is pressuring the administration, and Fr. Beauchamp specifically, to be more proactive in correcting the harm his comments caused:
“Within days of Beauchamp’s chat, a new ‘Redefine Purple Pride’ group gained 820 members on Facebook, a change.org petition advocating LGBTQ inclusion at UP reached its 1,000-signature goal and the University’s mailbox received an influx of sharp correspondence…
“Student responses have included a photography campaign of undergraduates, mouths taped over, standing before an equality flag. Senior Casey Anderson opened his house to volunteer models last weekend; the result is about 70 faces staring at Beauchamp and the administration. YouTube videos, one collecting dozens of statements beginning “I am standing up because…” appeared. That one ends with: ‘We the students of the University of Portland hold these truths to be self-evident that…all Pilots are created equal.’ On Facebook, hundreds of students have changed their profile photos to a purple equal sign.”
Fr. Beauchamp maintains that student reactions resulted from misunderstanding his comments, but how credibly his words will be received after last Monday is an open question. New Ways Ministry encourages all to support students at the University of Portland through the various means listed above.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry