LGBTQI+ students at Seton Hall University are working to have their voices heard across the campus community, and especially in the classroom. As reported by Dalton Allison in The Setonian, during a March 28th panel entitled “What LGBTQI+ Students Want Their Professors to Know,” speakers shared challenges they have faced at the Catholic university owned and operated by the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey.
For panelist, student Essence Williams, a sophomore, one of the most pervasive issues is the “subtle but very deadly act of being ignored,” noting that LGBTQI+ students do not receive any acknowledgement “in public university spaces…there are no events or announcements honoring our queer student body.”
While Seton Hall does have an LGBTQ organization, it is not listed on their official website, and Williams says that they are only now being recognized after two years of existence. “I don’t even feel safe enough to do more besides wear a pride pin attached to my book bag because I don’t feel safe in university spaces. Seton Hall has not, with intent, created spaces safe for queer students.”
It’s not the first time that Seton Hall has made waves with the content they choose to endorse in official online spaces. In February, after a protest from a student, they quietly removed a link directing to Courage International, a celibacy-only Catholic organization that has been known to support conversion therapy. The full panel was made up of four students: Emani Miles, Laura Mendez, Essence Williams, and Adam Varoqua, along with professors Judith Stark and Richard Blissett. Emeritus professor Stark expressed hope that there will be a generational shift in which younger faculty will take LGBTQI+ issues more seriously. Affiliated with Seton Hall for 39 years, Stark says that “newer, younger professors typically are more attuned to these issues on campus…not all of them, but more of them are.”
In looking back at her time at the school, Stark sees students as becoming “much more aware of searching for their own identities in intersectional ways than students did even 15 or 20 years ago.” As these students grow in numbers and support, the university will need to open a space for their success. Says Williams: “Religion and sexuality don’t have to and really shouldn’t exist opposite of each other. Race, class, religion, and gender are intersectional identities that cooperate. To sound completely idealist, we need to cooperate.”
Williams also expressed the need for “anyone who does not identify as queer but stands in solidarity with the queer community” to work for a greater dialogue. “It also takes the work of allies and the institution and itself to change,” she said, adding that this panel can’t stand alone as the only work being done for LGBTQI+ members of the Seton Hall community.
At the start of the event, moderator Peter Savastano, an anthropology professor who researches religion, gender, and sexuality, began by expressing his gratitude that panelists were “finally being asked who they were,” instead of being told. Savastano’s research is listed on the Seton Hall website as examining the ‘intersection/clash of religion and sexuality,’ a crossroads that must necessarily exist on a college campus where increasing numbers of students and faculty are asking for their fundamental existence to be both acknowledged and respected.
It is this need for spaces for LGBTQI+ students to share their own perspectives on campus life that is most urgently necessary at Catholic colleges across the country. While Seton Hall may still have a considerable amount of work to do in creating a fully inclusive community, we hope that this conversation may be the start of tangible change and representation.
—Catherine Buck, New Ways Ministry, April 26, 2019