Students at Saint Joseph’s University, Philadelphia, are beginning to question the university’s support of the LGBTQ community after a campus minister sued the university for sexual orientation-based harassment and discrimination.
In a number of opinion columns in the student-run newspaper, The Hawk, students have expressed their doubts that St. Joe’s University (SJU), and Campus Ministry in particular, are supportive of the LGBTQ community.
SJU student Jess Arends writes that the news of the lawsuit reminded her of the exclusion she has faced as a queer Catholic. Hearing that the alleged discrimination and harassment happened in Campus Ministry called into question her collaboration with Campus Ministry’s “Coming Out, Spiritually.” Instead of feeling supported, she says the lawsuit “resurfaced the question, ‘Are we loved here?’”
Both the University Student Senate and the Campus Ministry Peer Ministers have called on St. Joe’s to live out its stated mission to pursue justice and find God in all things. The Senate suggested the university choose to prioritize its commitment to caring for the whole person over the current interpretation of the Civil Rights Act, which does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The reported harassment of Noel Koenke shows that the university does not care for the whole person, says the Senate:
“We are not caring for the whole person if we dictate who it is acceptable to love. We are not caring for the whole person if we ask people to hide a part of their identity from the world.”
The Campus Ministry Peer Ministers reminded the university that actions speak louder than words, and while they are constantly telling their marginalized peers that “All are welcome” in Campus Ministry, the recent lawsuit communicates the exact opposite. They recognize that the LGBTQ community “has been excluded from the safety others know by name” on campus. The peer ministers reaffirmed their own support of and solidarity with the LGBTQ community, reminding queer students, “you are welcomed, celebrate and accepted by us with no exceptions.”
The Peer Ministers resolved to change the culture of Campus Ministry by demanding actions that include the implementation of diversity, equity, and inclusion training for all leaders, a rebranding of their slogans, and a more comprehensive application process for student leaders. The Student Senate is also working on “a number of projects to address homophobia and discrimination on campus.”
Students at our Catholic colleges and universities should not have to wonder whether or not support for the LGBTQ community is performative or real. LGBTQ students who choose to attend Catholic colleges should know that they are welcomed and affirmed the same as any of their peers. Stated embrace for LGBTQ students that is not accompanied by definitive action in support of the wider LGBTQ community is purely performative. Directly contradicting that stated support by harassing and discriminating LGBTQ employees and defending that harassment in court requires serious contrition from the university to work toward reconciliation with the LGBTQ community.
—Kevin Molloy, New Ways Ministry, February 24, 2020