A conflict is growing between the University of North Dakota and the states’ two Catholic bishops over the school’s proposed policy to help protect and support transgender and non-binary students.
The university’s leadership is holding consultations about a proposal that would include such policies as respecting a person’s correct pronouns, using gender-inclusive language and imagery in materials, and supporting transgender students when it comes to gender-segregated spaces.
But the North Dakota Catholic Conference has been criticizing such plans since at least last October. According to a statement from the Conference and its executive director, Christopher Dodson, the gender policy would impose gender ideology, infringe free speech and religious liberty, and violate other laws.
Dodson made similar claims in a recent letter to parents of students at the state’s Catholic high schools. He said he was writing on behalf of Bishop David D. Kagan and Bishop John T. Folda, the leaders of the states two dioceses, Bismarck and Fargo, respectively. Dodson cautioned parents against sending their children to the University of North Dakota. This letter escalated the situation, generating news coverage and a university response.
Andrew Armacost, the University of North Dakota’s president, held a press conference on January 14th in which he responded to the Catholic leaders’ concerns, according to The Jamestown Sun. One concern was a policy which was open to assigning housing based on a student’s stated gender.
In response, Dodson released a statement that continued to criticize the policy and its housing provisions in particular, saying they were “over broad.” The Jamestown Sun reported further on developments:
“Dodson also offered a clarification of his own. At the conference, Armacost said he was confused by the timing of the Catholic Conference’s letter, saying it creates an unnecessary sense of urgency, since there is no immediate intention to adopt the policy, and that it is still being worked on.
“The letter, Dodson wrote, was not sent to parents of UND students, but to students in Catholic high schools, and some parishioners with high school-aged children, to make them aware of a possible policy at UND, as they get set to decide where they want to go to college.
“‘Its “urgency,” as President Armacost put it, was related to the fact that Catholic high school students and parents will soon be making decisions about college plans and the bishops felt that they should be aware of possible policy,’ he wrote. ‘It was not directed at the university, its students, or those students’ parents.’
“Armacost said he reached out to Dodson and assured him that his concerns are being taken seriously. He noted that while they disagree about the policy, they both agree that the campus should be free of harassment.
The University’s president did not state when a decision on the proposed policy would be made, though he did say it would take months and “we’re in no hurry,” out of concern to develop a good policy.
Oftentimes, Bondings 2.0 contributors affirm dialogue when it occurs. And in North Dakota, it does seem there is constructive dialogue happening which can be affirmed, which is due mostly to the efforts of President Armacost. Another issue in this case is whether it was appropriate for Catholic leaders to have raised the issue in such an alarmist way. Extreme reactions only serve to confuse and create division, not dialogue.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 19, 2022