When a rainbow flag and welcome banner on the University of Dayton’s LGBTQ alliance house were torn down and discarded in the trash, LGBTQ students at the Catholic school, along with their allies, rallied to ensure their campus remains a safe, welcoming home.
The Dayton Daily News reported that in mid-September a Pride flag was pulled off the Spectrum Ally House in the south student neighborhood of the Marianist-run school. Flyer News, the university’s student-run newspaper, reports that in addition to the pride flag, a banner reading “Welcome to Spectrum” was ripped down and placed in the trash. Spectrum is a student-led group that promotes an “attitude of respect for the dignity of” LGBTQ+ students. Plants on the house’s porch were also vandalized.
The University is responding to the vandalism as a bias-related incident, one that impedes its ability to become a safe and inclusive community. University President Eric Spina condemned the incident “as incompatible with our Catholic, Marianist values and our commitment to create an environment where all feel safe, supported, valued and respected… And our commitment to community calls us to support each other, not tear each other down.”
Chloe Massie-Costales, president of Spectrum, acknowledged that for students in Spectrum, this incident hurt. She said it also made her angry and scared.
This incident is not the first time the University of Dayton (UD) LGBTQ students have been made to feel unwelcome or unsafe, according to Mary McCloughlin, the Opinions Editor of Flyer News. They live with this feeling, despite the progress made on campus over the past few years, she said, and that she is not only used to this feeling, but is also used to overcoming it–through protest.
The most powerful form of protest to this feeling of being unwelcome in any place is to create a space for yourself and for your community, says McCloughlin. That is what the Spectrum Ally House is all about:
“By placing a rainbow flag outside their home, the Spectrum Ally house carved out a space that LGBTQ individuals could come home to.
“Taking down Spectrum’s flag was an attempt to send a message to members of the LGBTQ community that there was no place left for them to feel human, no place left for them to return home to, no place left to be safe.”
That attempt has appeared to have the opposite effect on the UD LGBTQ community. The community stands boldly and bravely together, committed now more than ever to carve its own safe spaces. McCloughlin wrote:
“Taking down our flags will not take away our safety or our humanity because our safe spaces are not limited to houses or buildings. I have found places to come home to again and again within this community among friends, classmates, faculty, and staff who have made room for me as I am and have loved me where I was.”
Massie-Costales sent a letter to Spectrum members that the organization will continue its bold act of protest: assuring LGBTQ students that they have a place in the UD community by keeping the North and South Ally houses open to “offer support, and safety for LGBTQ students and work as safe spaces for LGBTQ students.”
“When someone takes down a pride flag, we put more. When intolerance happens, we come together.”
Put more up they did. The cover of the weekly Flyer News bears this quote imposed on a bright Rainbow background, circulated throughout the whole community as a message that UD’s LGBTQ students are not only safe there, but also welcome.
Our Catholic colleges and universities are meant to be institutions of formation. Campus personnel are charged with leading young people through a formational process. The hope is these students will graduate as responsibly educated adults who work for the common good, work grounded in respect for the inherent dignity of all people. Our church can and must do more to ensure our LGBTQ students feel safe, affirmed, and welcome. At educational institutions, all faculty, staff, and administrators are teachers, and they should not be guided by fear of difference. Instead, they should teach hospitality and love, not only in word, but in deed–as the words of one of our popular hymns states:
“Let us build a house where all are named,
Their songs and visions heard
And loved and treasured, taught and claimed
As words within the Word.
Built of tears and cries and laughter,
Prayers of faith and song of grace,
Let this house proclaim from floor to rafter,
All are welcome, all are welcome,
All are welcome in this place.”
-Marty Haugen, All Are Welcome!
—Kevin Molloy, October 4, 2019