Newman University has curtailed LGBT inclusion on campus this academic year, most recently cancelling an LGBT art exhibition and last fall barring students from including rainbow imagery in a student video.
Citing “some confusion regarding the purpose and content of this particular [art] exhibit,” the administration of the Wichita, Kansas, cited “community concerns” in their decision to cancel the appearance of “Rainbow in Reverse: Queer Kansas History.” The Wichita Eagle reported:
“In a statement, the university said it ‘understands that diverse perspectives, in an atmosphere in which the human dignity of each person is respected, are key to learning,’ yet ‘we thought it was best to make this decision,’ Newman Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Kimberly McDowall Long was quoted as saying.”
Artist Genevieve Walker was scheduled to lead the exhibition which through various art mediums focuses on LGBTQ Kansans. She explained that the exhibit is intended “to spark curiosity about LGBTQ history in Kansas and help pave the way for LGBTQ Kansans’ stories to become part of official state histories.”
Those “community concerns” seem to have involved pressure from local right-wing Catholics, one of whom said the exhibit would “expose students to evil” and encourage them “a sickness in our society,” according to The Wichita Eagle. These right-wing voices encouraged people to contact Newman University, sponsored by the Adorers of the Blood of Christ and the Diocese of Wichita.
Thankfully, a local gallery, Harvester Arts, will now host the exhibition. Walker expressed hopes this would still allow Newman students to see the art.
In a related story, an official at Newman barred students from using rainbow imagery in a student video in the fall of 2017.
Members of the school’s newly approved LGBT student group, Kaleidoscope, had prepared a video for National Coming Out Day. Campus newspaper The Vantage reported:
“Kaleidoscope members said the rainbow streamers were a harmless symbol of unity, but advisory committee members said the colors were too political and could cause backlash.
“Junior Kevin Clack, the president of Kaleidoscope, said Father John Fogliasso [Director of Campus Ministry and Theology professor] told him to cut the scene with the streamers because they represented the colors of the gay pride flag, which could be interpreted as support for gay marriage. . .
“[Fogliasso] said via email that ‘the Pastoral Plan lays clear the expectation that any and all programs and initiatives be consistent with the University’s mission and Catholic values.”
The group’s advisor Levi Esses, who is also Newman’s Dean of Students, said the issue was a “challenging conversation.” Esses also said it was “a tough balance” in making this decision because there are “numerous stakeholders involved in a university,” but “students are the most important stakeholder.”
Clack said the decision forcing students to edit the video made him question the University’s support for Kaleidoscope, which was only approved last May. He commented, “I’m starting to believe that this is less of an organization and more of a daycare for the people in our community.”
These two decisions by Newman officials do indeed raise questions about whether the University is really striving to support and include LGBTQ students. Such censorship likely compounds messages students might already be getting in Catholic and Kansan contexts that they should not come out, nor expect to be welcomed if they do. Unfortunately, this incident is not the first time rainbow imagery has been disallowed in Catholic education.
Ironically, creator of the rainbow flag, Gilbert Baker, is a gay Kansan who would likely be featured in the cancelled art exhibition. Baker, who passed away last year, created the rainbow flag to be inclusive of sexualities, but also to include more meaning as well. The stripes each had meaning, including healing, nature, serenity, and sunlight. Over time, the rainbow flag has come to signify inclusion, acceptance, and pride in embracing the sexual and/or gender identity.
That Fr. Fogliasso and other school officials simply equated rainbow imagery with same-gender marriage advocacy indicates their limited knowledge of LGBTQ history is, thus highlighting how much they could have used the very art exhibition that was cancelled. That they conceded to limited right-wing pressure in deciding to cancel the exhibition rather than prioritize students’ needs is even more unfortunate. Newman University’s students deserve far better treatment than they have received this year.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 23, 2018