A Catholic university has implemented a plan to create a more inclusive campus, but LGBTQ students say the inclusion plan does not satisfy them.
The Canton Repository reported that Walsh University, Ohio, sent an email to the school community sharing its eight-step, year-long initiative “to foster an even more inclusive Walsh University community of belonging.”
Prior to the email, four months ago Walsh University made headlines after gay performer Daniel Franzese alleged that the school cancelled his contract to emcee a campus event over his sexual orientation. The situation sparked debate about how Walsh treats its LGBTQ students. The university’s president, Tim Collins, disputed Franzese’s allegation and claimed the cancellation was due to the cost and Franzese’s “sexually suggestive podcast.”
Walsh’s new inclusion plan does address LGBTQ students. Among the eight steps listed are two which mention LGBTQ students:
“Establish a Diversity and Inclusion Committee with representation from all affinity groups, such as Hispanic/Latina students, non-Catholic international students, Black students and LGBTQIA+ students. The committee will be part of the expanding ‘Walsh United” initiative, which began in fall 2020 as the Walsh United Against Racism initiatives with a goal to strengthen culture and bridge racial divides and other divisions that might exist.
“Identify and meet with students of all of the affinity groups, including LGBTQIA+ students, to examine additional support needed, including improved ways to meet and connect.”
But The Canton Repository noted, “. . . students seeking a campus-approved club to support LGBTQIA+ students and their allies say the steps aren’t enough.” The plan is silent about any recognized student organization for LGBTQ students.
In May, students submitted an application in hopes to create a club called Oasis that would “serve as a safe space where members could discuss issues, services initiatives and advocate for an elevated quality of life for students with intersectional identities relating to race, gender, sex, age, or sexual orientation.” The application has yet to be approved.
Hannah McFeteers, a senior student who submitted the application, believes it will be “under review” indefinitely. She said:
“‘To me, this is what’s happening: They don’t want to give a “yes” or “no” because if they give a “no,” that’s bad press and if they give a “yes,” they’re going to have stakeholders probably upset that there’s now an LGBT-representative club on campus.
“‘The fact that they are placating the student body with these initiatives that we didn’t ask for is not satisfying to any of us. With no updates about the club application, it just shows that the university is not willing to work for its students but is willing to work for whatever stakeholders are telling them they don’t want a club on campus.'”
McFeeters added that most LGBTQ students at Walsh stated their desire for a university-sponsored club. A petition was created to support the effort in advocating for a safe space recognized by the university. The petition states:
“For years students have advocated to have an LGBTQ+ club or organization that shows students there is a place for them at every table. With pushback and ‘maybes’ there has been little to no success. If Walsh University does not want to admit to their discriminatory actions, they need to at least be open and honest about the lack of resources their LGBTQ+ students have.
“The aim of this petition is to call on Walsh University to allow and accept an LGBTQ+ club on their campus and to give such club the support, both emotionally and financially, that all the other clubs on campus have access to. Without this support students find themselves lost, excluded and unaccepted.”
Walsh University’s steps towards inclusivity appear to be well intended. However, there is only so much conversation can do. Eventually, action is needed for inclusivity to be recognized, lived, and experienced. LGBTQ students at Walsh have clearly stated their desires and needs to feel included. Other Catholic universities throughout the country provide resources for their LGBTQ students. Walsh University should follow such examples if it hopes to truly be an inclusive campus.
—Elise Dubravec, New Ways Ministry, September 24, 2021