Alverno College Welcomes First Transgender Student; Other Catholic Higher Education News

As the semester winds down, here is a round-up of news stories concerning LGBTQ issues in Catholic higher education.

First Transgender Student at Alverno College Calls It “Ideal” Campus

Alverno College, a Catholic, Franciscan all-women’s school in Milwaukee enrolled its first transgender student this fall. Victoria Garcia, who became the first trans woman to attend the college, says her faith drew her to the school. Garcia hopes to study to become a teacher and a nun while at Alverno.

Administrators were ready to welcome Garcia onto campus. Dean of Students Wendy Powers says Garcia’s enrollment at Alverno “really solidified in [Garcia’s] own heart and mind but in her family’s hearts and minds that she does have a place she can belong.”

To that end, Alverno College has rolled out guidelines for welcoming transgender students. Drawing on its Catholic and Franciscan foundation, the guidelines begin with the acknowledgement that its tradition values diversity that precludes discrimination and harassment of any kind. The policy points to the Catholic tradition of caring and respecting all persons as its basis for not only welcoming, but encouraging trans women to enroll.

The guidelines and statement of services acknowledges that gender identity is fluid and can change over time. Alverno sees itself, as a Catholic and Franciscan college, as an ideal place of safety and support for transgender students on their “journey of self-discovery.” This is true for both those admitted as trans women and for students who transition during the course of their studies. The guidelines give extensive instruction on providing for trans students’ safety, privacy, and comfort. Trans students’ right to use their chosen name and pronouns are also outlined.

Garcia says she is “trying to let other trans people know that Alverno is such an amazing and safe space.”

Georgetown University Celebrates OUTober with Mass of Belonging

Students, faculty, and staff celebrated the 10th annual OUTober at Georgetown University, Washington, DC.  What started as a week-long coming out event in 2009 has grown into a display of the vibrant LGBTQ life on campus. The annual  celebration is a collaboration of offices and clubs that highlight the varied and diverse groups supporting LGBTQ students, including the LGBTQ Resource Center, the Tagliabue Initiative for LGBTQ Life, GU Pride, GU Queer People of Color, and Georgetown LGBTQ Mentors & Resources.

Al Castillo, co-president of GU Pride, told student news magazine, The Georgetown Voice, that the most impactful part of this year’s OUTober was Campus Ministry’s Mass of Belonging, inviting the LGBTQ community to the Dahlgren Chapel of the Sacred Heart, the central sacred space on campus. Recalling his own tension reconciling his identity with his faith, Castillo appreciated that the church was doing the same. By hosting the Mass of Belonging, Campus Ministry showed the LGBTQ community that they are not alone in navigating the complexities of faith and identity.

Castillo believed that this particular Mass reached the LGBTQ community in a way the Church had not yet been able to do:

“Seeing this event take place for students who feel their sexuality or gender conflict with their faith or beliefs is such an inspirational thing to seen on this campus.”

125+ Faculty at University of Notre Dame Issue LGBTQ Supportive Letter

Over 125 faculty members sent a letter to the editor of The Observer, the University of  Notre Dame’s student-run newspaper, promising their support of LGBTQ students on campus. After a semester fraught with tension for the LGBTQ community on the traditionally conservative Catholic campus in Indiana, the faculty members were denouncing a number of recent bias-related incidents on campus, including racial and homophobic slurs directed at Savanna Morgan, a woman of color who identifies as lesbian.

In addition to decrying the treatment of LGBTQ students, female students, students of color, and indigenous people, the Notre Dame faculty members acknowledged that the long-standing parietals policy, which forbids visitors of the opposite sex from being in residence halls between midnight and 9:00am, should be revisited. The faculty signatories ask “what kind of subliminal messages do parietals give our students about who should be ‘us’ and who should be ‘kicked out’ of residence halls as ‘not us,’ night after night?”

The faculty letter assures students, especially marginalized students, that the “burden of changing Notre Dame’s campus” is not theirs alone. They see the growing disconnect between the Notre Dame institutions of student life and their mission as academics at Notre Dame. As such, they promise that they will work to ensure that all students who are “underprivileged and marginalized are powerfully represented in our courses, classrooms, and other Notre Dame activities and events.”

Seattle University Bucks Campus Christian Group’s Ban on LGBTQ Leadership

Seattle University is finding a way to maintain a popular youth ministry program with anti-LGBTQ policies while preserving its inclusive Jesuit Catholic campus.

Young Life, a national parachurch organization that seeks to evangelize and help students grow in Christian faith, bars any LGBTQ person from holding a leadership position in their national organization or local chapters. Queer folks are welcome to participate as Young Life members, but can not hold positions of authority. Additionally, Young Life staff are required to conform to the Young Life morality covenant that excludes people based on sexual identity and gender identity to be employees.

While other universities have either removed or refused to recognize Young Life, Seattle University has allowed the local Young Life chapter to operate on campus. Young Life at Seattle U must abide by Campus Ministry and Student Government policies that foster inclusion for the LGBTQ community, rather than Young Life’s national rules. That means that at Seattle U, any person, regardless of sexuality or gender identity can participate in and hold leadership positions within the Young Life chapter on campus.

Second Annual Drag Show Held at Fordham University

The Rainbow Alliance and the Fashion for Philanthropy Club at Fordham University, New York, hosted their second annual drag show in November at the Lincoln Center campus. The drag show is in part intended to alleviate concerns LGBTQ first year and transfer students might have about attending a Jesuit Catholic university. While showcasing the talents of student performers and fashion designers, as well as raising money for a local LGBTQ center, Rainbow Alliance members hope the event shows members of the LGBTQ community that they can learn how from one another to be both authentically Fordham and authentically queer.

Commentary

All of these institutions, particularly Alverno College, are great examples for other Catholic schools. The most basic Catholic tradition of caring for and respecting all people grounds their acceptance and inclusion of LGBTQ folks. In Alverno’s case, not only did administrators accept trans students, but they were willing to revise a policy to ensure trans students are protected and supported. Every Catholic institution should do likewise, becoming spaces of belonging for all people, no matter where they are on their faith journeys or from what circumstances they come.

Kevin Molloy, New Ways Ministry, December 20, 2019

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