Villanova University Issues New Guide on Being Transgender and Nonbinary Inclusive

Villanova University has issued new guidance to faculty and staff aimed at providing more gender-inclusive language and curricula.

At just two pages long, the list of suggestions to faculty and staff is brief, but includes valuable best practices which could be applied to all Catholic institutions of higher learning.

The “Gender Inclusive Practices Guide” was published by Villanova’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion along with the school’s Department Gender and Women’s Studies. The document intends to create a more inclusive atmosphere for students of all genders at the Augustinian-run school in suburban Philadelphia. The introduction of the Guide states:

“Especially for those who identify within transgender, nonbinary, gender nonconforming, and/or gender questioning communities. How can we cultivate gender-inclusive teaching and work environments? How can we invite full participation from people of all genders and respond to the harmful effects of gender stereotyping or misgendering?”

The Guide is just one component of a larger effort to foster inclusivity at Villanova. Students can now input their chosen names and pronouns into their academic accounts, which will allow transgender students the ability to avoid difficult or costly processes to change university documentation.

Paired with the ability to easily change chosen name and pronoun information are Villanova’s gender identification markers for its online academic systems. Students can state what form of identification works for them, rather than picking from strict binary categories.

The document also affirms gender inclusivity as an indispensable component of the university’s mission:

“Gender inclusivity is crucial within our diversity mission to ‘commit ourselves to cultivating an academic environment marked by genuine curiosity about different perspectives, ardent receptivity to knowledge generated through intercultural connections and a genuine sensitivity to the variety of human experiences marked by domestic and global differences.’”

Villanova professors are encouraged to integrate gender-diverse perspectives into their curricula where appropriate, ensuring that a wide array of viewpoints are made accessible in the classroom. Instructors are encouraged to add inclusionary language to their syllabi, including resources for gender-diverse students. To create an atmosphere of respect, the guide also suggests that professors practice proper pronoun usage, and correct themselves or others when someone’s chosen pronouns are not observed.

Some conservative critics were not impressed with the new guidelines. A spokesperson for the university released a statement reaffirming the university’s Catholic understanding of gender inclusion to the Washington Examiner:

“Villanova upholds and maintains the Catholic Church’s teaching that all people are accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. As part of our Augustinian values of Veritas, Unitas, Caritas — Truth, Unity and Love — Villanova seeks to be a welcoming and inclusive community that respects members of all backgrounds and faiths. Calling someone by their name and pronouns is a show of respect for them as a person and fellow Villanovan.”

The changes Villanova seeks are very helpful. A faster and easier way to change the chosen name and pronouns displayed on documents seen by professors and administrators is a step forward for young people seeking a welcoming study environment. This small change will protect the dignity of gender-diverse students and create a more welcoming campus for queer students.

Villanova University has taken a bold step to ensure that students of all genders are treated with equal dignity and respect as individuals made in the image of God. Other Catholic universities and ministries can learn from the work Villanova has undertaken to ensure that all students are welcome in a community of truth, unity and love. 

Andru Zodrow (he/him), New Ways Ministry, September 12, 2022

3 replies
  1. Richard Rosendall
    Richard Rosendall says:

    Bravo to my alma mater. It has come a long way since I organized a gay rights debate there in 1978 under the auspices of the Villanova Political Union, when I had to battle the dean of student activities. He had said, “I will not allow the devil a forum in my home,” referring to our invited guest speaker Frank Kameny. I replied, “Pardon me, Father, but we are not inviting him to your private rooms.”

    I cannot believe I summoned the nerve to say that to Fr. Byrne. I was 21. I pointed out that Villanova was a place of higher learning and that he himself had encouraged us to debate current issues.

    The compromise reached was that VPU invited a second speaker to counter Frank. A priest who taught moral theology at the university agreed to fill that role. As it turned out, he provided a perfect foil for Frank by demonstrating the bigotry that gay people were up against. I had stressed from the outset that we were holding a political debate and not a theological one. At the end of the debate, the students present voted by a wide majority in favor of our resolution opposing discrimination based on sexual orientation.

    At that point I had not yet come out. I was in my senior year as an Augustinian-related scholar (through my uncle, Fr. Joseph J. Gildea OSA, who was enraged at me for organizing the debate and writing about it in the student newspaper afterwards).

    But we pulled the event off, which included taking Frank to dinner beforehand at the Conestoga Mill restaurant—the opposing speaker did not join us—and giving him a $100 honorarium at the expense of the university.

    I won that battle, and graduated two months later without incident.

    I am so proud of the progress the university has made all these years later. I expect that many brave people had to summon their own courage and faithful witness to get the university to take this step. Bless them.


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