Student leaders at Marian University, Indianapolis, are pushing back against the school’s restrictions on events held by the Marian Alliance, a student group whose mission is to “understand, support, and celebrate sexual orientation and gender identity with a focus on the four core Franciscan values.” When a public event the group planned for the spring was denied by the university, a protest was organized, attended by current students, alumni, and other supportive members of the Indianapolis community.
According to Rachel Horan, an Alliance member, mixed messages from the university is part of the frustration. She said: “The Marian Alliance has been blocked from hosting student events throughout the year, though they’ve been given a budget and follow the correct steps in planning these events.”
Mark Apple, the university’s vice president for marketing and communications, used the school’s Catholic identity as justification for the restrictions.: “There are a lot of topics that are hot button topics for some students,” he said, “and in those cases, we still want to allow that dialogue…we just need to make sure as a Catholic institution that it’s illumined by the teachings of the Catholic church.”
Kayla Bledsoe, a student who organized the protest, told The Indy Channel that the school’s expressed attempts to meet students ‘halfway’ is falling short. “They’ll accept us as students,” she said, while still maintaining that the school’s message is that LGBTQ+ students “do not run in line with…Catholic teaching.”
Horan saidd that the group’s current challenges to gain visibility and acceptance on campus are not new. “Historically, any attempt at sustaining an LGBTQ+ student organization has been shut down and not given support.” She pointed out that faculty and staff have also been “instructed not to support or give any assistance to the group.”
Since April’s protest, there have been some moves towards conversation between the Marian Alliance and the school administration. According to Karina Mosqueda Yepez, Alliance president, Dean of Students Ruth Rodgers plans to meet with students over the summer to “collaborate and talk about future events.” She said that the administration expressed a willingness to work with the students in search of some middle ground.
“They also said that they want us to feel welc
ome,” Yepez said, but they’re trying to find how to reconcile that with Catholic tradition. “All we have wanted and still want is to be acknowledged on campus and to be treated like any other club on campus without policing from the higher-ups of the school.”
“We want to be able to host our events and to be able to celebrate and educate those around us about who the LGBTQ+ community is, and that we are walking on campus with them, sitting in classes with them, and possibly even best friends with people who aren’t supportive. We are just done hiding, we’re here and we’re queer.”
While members of the administration at Marian University and many Catholic colleges may feel a tension between a Catholic identity and a LGBTQ+ one, it is precisely these types of restrictions on expression that make the tension exist in the first place. And what about the Catholic value of welcoming and accepting all people? Why isn’t that given priority? Even declaring the existence of an LGBTQ+ group a ‘hot button topic’ will make students feel isolated from their campus community. Greater dialogue needs to exist to ensure that groups like the Marian Alliance are allowed to flourish with the same rights as all student organizations within a Catholic university.
—Catherine Buck, New Ways Ministry, May 19, 2019