It has been more than 200 days of waiting for LGBTQ students and allies at Walsh University, North Canton, Ohio. Spectrum News 1 reports that the administration of the private Roman Catholic school has yet to respond to a proposal for an LGBTQ student group called the “Oasis Club.”
Applications for establishing clubs are typically processed in about ten days according to university guidelines, but the Oasis request remains under review as the president continues to gather input from the LGBTQ community.
Hannah McFeeters, who helped author the proposal says the silence further ostracizes LGBTQ students. “I think the Walsh University administration has left out the people that feel left out on campus in all these processes,” says the senior who identifies as an ally.
The administration’s inaction spurred alumni to get involved, including Michael Reed, a 1987 graduate and former president of the alumni board. “I at least think this group deserves a safe place to meet,” explains Reed, who now serves on the presidential advisory board. “Understand, whatever answer is given is not going to satisfy every person. There’s people out there that believe no, there should be a club at all,” he acknowledged. “But if that’s the case, then do you put in the rules that if you’re an LGBTQ student coming to Walsh we’re not going to recognize you? I don’t think that’s the answer. Everybody’s welcome here.”
One point of contention on campus was the selection of theologian Rev. Nicanor Austraico, OP, to launch a prestigious lecture series. Oasis Club supporters question the choice of Austriaco because of his characterization of homosexuality. McFeeters, the student ally, points to the theologians’s book, The Myth of the Gay Gene, in particular as “it talks about how being gay is a disorder. It’s something that conversion therapy can fix. And it also made some really disorderly comparisons of an LGBT person and really invalidated the feelings of the LGBT person.”
While not a part of his prepared lecture, homosexuality did come up during the question and answer session where Austriaco described a student coming out to him to which he responded, “You are loved.” McFeeters appreciated this response, especially compared to the lack of response from the Walsh administration. “I found that the priest was more agreeable and more open to understanding that LGBT students have questions and they have thoughts and they have feelings and they have complexities that are so uniquely theirs,” she said. “They deserve answers and I don’t think any student has felt that way due to the administration’s actions or their words thus far.”
For its part, Walsh University agreed with Austriaco’s words. “When Fr. Nicanor mentioned talking to a member of the LGBTQ community, he said you could be talking to a saint. We all need to remain humble and have grace, sensitivity, and respect for each other and know that we are all loved,” said a university spokesperson.
And yet, so far, the administration’s actions suggest otherwise with no deadline for resolution. But McFeeters, Reed, and other supporters are not giving up. “We’re all created in the image and likeness of God,” says Reed. “And I think these students deserve an answer. I think they deserve to be treated fairly like everybody else.” With pride in the Catholic roots of Walsh, he also adds: “I know the Brothers of Christian Instruction would have a problem with this going on for so long.”
Despite it all, McFeeters also speaks of her love for the university: “I have hope in this because of the community that has been built. We continue to show up for one another and to me, that’s what I’ll remember about being a Cavalier at Walsh.”
This post is part of Bondings 2.0’s series on LGBTQ issues in Catholic higher education. You can read other stories in this series by clicking here.
—Angela Howard McParland, New Ways Ministry, December 28, 2021