CAMPUS CHRONICLES: LGBT Rankings Fail to Reveal Full Story

As college students return to campus for the fall, the Princeton Review released its annual listings of most- and least-friendly schools for LGBT students. Catholic schools fared as expected given public perceptions of Catholicism:  Catholic schools appear on the negative listing and are absent from the positive one. The three Catholic colleges listed under least-LGBT friendly were the University of Notre Dame (#5), University of Dallas (#10), and The Catholic University of America (#18). The Princeton Review’s rankings, though, fail to capture what is really happening in Catholic higher education around LGBT issues.

At The Catholic University of America, an LGBTQ student group was denied official recognition in December 2012 over concerns it would engage in political advocacy. Students organized for several years to create a safer space on a conservative campus, but without success and perhaps the Princeton Review’s rankings are correct for listing this school. in addition, questionable comments by the University of Portland’s president or the 2010 firing of a Marquette University administrator because of her sexual orientation are all reminders that not all is well in Catholic higher education.

Yet, the high-profile controversies and Princeton Review rankings cannot capture the good happening just below the firestorms. New Ways Ministry’s list of “Gay-Friendly Catholic Colleges and Universities” contains more than half of the Catholic campuses in the U.S.  for having student organizations, campus ministries, and other programs and policies that support LGBT students.

In a high-profile example,  University of Notre Dame administrators released a pastoral plan in December 2012 focused on LGBTQ students that would establish a staff position, student group, and other reforms to make the campus more inclusive. Student leaders and University staff worked closely leading up to the plan’s release to ensure it would make Notre Dame more-LGBT friendly and maintain the school’s Catholic identity.  The work of many students for many years had achieved a great success.

Elsewhere in the last year, Stonehill College students won the inclusion of sexual orientation in non-discrimination policies and hosted New Ways Ministry co-founder, Sr. Jeannine Gramick, to speak. Georgetown University and Marquette University have extensive LGBTQ resource centers with professional staff and programming. The New York Times and USA Today reported on the prominence of gay student leaders in campus governance elected by their peers. In a comprehensive article, Michael O’Loughlin recently examined the positive things that Catholic campuses are doing for LGBT issues across the country. Then there are the numerous initiatives that do not gain media attention such as building up inclusive communities in dorm rooms, chapels, and meetings nationwide.

Is this a declaration that the struggle to make Catholic higher education more inclusive is over? No. However, as students and their allies strive for  Catholic campuses where LGBT community members feel safe and respected, it is essential to recall all the good happening too. Certainly, it is a dream at this time to think Catholic colleges would be the most progressive on LGBT issues, but there is too much good for the dominant theme to be just the anti-gay listing. The Princeton Review’s rankings cannot reflect nuanced reality within Catholic schools.

Is the University of Notre Dame’s plan perfect? Probably not, but for those following Catholic LGBT issues this was viewed as a positive and significant step for a high-profile Catholic school. The willingness of administrators to listen and engage LGBT student concerns should be applauded and this dialogue will only flourish into more steps forward. Is the rejection of Catholic University of America students a final chapter? Certainly not, as they reorganize for the coming academic year to ensure every student has a safe place on campus and a community where they are included.

Instead of condemning the Church’s higher education where problems remain, every Catholic might ask themselves at the start of a new academic year how to support students and schools in becoming friendlier for LGBT students and educators.  With over one million students in approximately 220 Catholic campuses nationwide, this is certainly an important area for all in our church to be considering.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

8 replies
    • newwaysministryblog
      newwaysministryblog says:

      Dear Monica,

      Thanks for letting us know about Marygrove. Our criteria for listing a school is that they have some sort of public program, policy, or organization for LGBT students, faculty, staff. I know that Dignity/Detroit meets at Marygrove’s chapel. Do you know of any programs for students, faculty, staff that the school has instituted? We would be glad to list them if you can tell us about such a project.

  1. Annette Magjuka
    Annette Magjuka says:

    I am a ND grad (1978) and so are my husband and two kids. The rankings are based on one survey question and the data are from two years age. So I don’t know how much validity the rankings have. Obviously, ND is a Catholic institution, and as such, is “discriminatory.” ND has made some significant steps forward in the past couple years. It is imperative that Catholics reconnect to their strong social justice roots. The spirit of social justice is strong on the ND campus. It is the institutional church that needs the big changes.

    We need to find a way to speak about sexuality in a moral context with all young people, gay and straight. There have been several high profile articles about the hook-up culture on college campuses. There is an issue of sexual maturation in college students, and we need to talk about this for all kids, gay and straight. But we can’t, since much of the conversation begins and ends with “Just say no,” and “It’s a sin.”

    We need to shift our focus to “How to Be” instead of “How to Act.” By this I mean that young people need to be fully engaged in self discovery and maturation within the framework of lifelong conscience formation. Loving adults must promote the idea that sexuality is a sacred act that involves true sharing and responsibility to one another. In this context, sex within marriage makes more sense to kids, gay and straight. People wait until way later to get married, so the idea of no sex before marriage is even more unlikely than in the past. And sexual maturity is a process, so people must know that each sexual encounter is part of the process, not “a sin.” There needs to be a framework for how people build intimacy (and this is important for all issues, not just sexuality). Parents, teachers, and religious leaders should speak to the ideas of love and commitment, responsibility to one another and to the dignity of each person.

    GLBT issues are defined by sexuality. Most people cannot even talk to their own kids about sex! But everyone can understand social justice issues: dignity, fairness, and standing up when there is clear injustice. Most Catholic students could rally around the outrageous laws in Uganda and Russia. Social justice, that is the conversation. The rest of the acceptance flows naturally from there.

    • Friends
      Friends says:

      What Annette said! One of the smartest, most thoughtful and reasonable, and most intellectually and spiritually informed discussions of this conundrum to appear so far. College kids WILL BE HAVING SEX during their four year campus sojourn. This includes Catholic kids, and even the active members of our university Newman Center community.To believe otherwise is to live in la-la fantasy land. So are they supposed to regret and to repent from being perfectly normal contemporary young people in their late teens and early twenties? An unrealistic proposition at best. We need to teach these kids to nurture mutual love and shared spiritual integrity and commitment — as opposed to the pervasive “casual hookup” culture. But draconian ideals of absolute chastity and absolute abstinence are virtually unattainable in the contemporary world, for better or worse. And as we now know, even many PRIESTS can’t live up to this draconian standard! So how can they be preaching it sanctimoniously to young people? Our Anglican and Episcopalian cousins are way ahead of us in this basic understanding.

  2. Stonehill Kid
    Stonehill Kid says:

    I think it’s important to point out that Stonehill College included sexual orientation in a non-discrimination statement, not policy. This is a huge difference, because it means the school is not actually required to act on anything. And I’m shocked to see Stonehill as one of the more accepting and inclusive schools. As a student who transferred from there because of lack of acceptance, I know many students who identified as LGBTQ who did not feel comfortable being open about their sexuality in Stonehill’s hypermasculine and heteronormative culture.
    And sure, let’s applaud Catholic colleges on the progress they’ve made, but they’re already so far behind other colleges that we need to critique their efforts and sound the alarm when more can be done.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] as I have written in past years (2013 and 2014), rankings like the Princeton Review’s cannot capture the full story when it comes […]

  2. […] year at this time, I claimed such rankings fail to reveal the full story about Catholic higher education. Now, I wonder why this absence exists in the first place. Are […]

  3. […] is a fitting moment to offer thanksgiving for advances made, prayers for those still needed, and a renewal by every Catholic to impact Catholic higher education in LGBT-positive […]

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *