Students at St. Edward’s University Protest Removal of Pride Flag on Campus

After a Pride flag in a Catholic university’s campus coffeehouse was removed by school administrators, students are calling for changes to increase inclusivity at the institution.

Students at St. Edward’s University, Austin, Texas, recently held an all-day peaceful protest and celebration, which event organizer Zachary Benoit said was to be an example of the kind of LGBTQ+ support and representation on campus that students want to see. Benoit told The Statesman:

“‘It’s very important that people are able to see that we exist here, and we exist in every space and that our school is proud of that. When they take it (the flag) down, it gives the impression that they want us to live in the shadows.'”

Meadows Coffeehouse on campus went through renovations over the summer. During that time, the Pride flag, which had been there since 2018, was removed. Although the university has instead put up a Pride flag in the campus’ Equity Hall, students feel that the new location is distant from student life.

In addition to the protest and celebration, a petition urging the administration to bring back the Pride flag has been started. So far, the petition has over 900 signatures from students and affiliates of the school.

The Statesman also reported that university administrators have attempted to suppress news coverage of the Pride flag incident. At the protest, the newspaper was denied access to the event by school officials, even though students had invited journalists to attend. Additionally, the university president and vice president did not allow student journalists to cover a discussion on the Pride flag removal during a meeting of the Student Government Association’s Senate.

When asked by The Statesman why St. Edward’s students could not cover the meeting, the university stated that media was banned to ensure that participants could have a “vulnerable conversation.”  The explanation continued:

“‘The meeting was an authentic conversation to be together within our own community with the purpose of offering support and listening to students. The university prioritized psychological safety so that those who may feel vulnerable could participate fully.'”

Mackenna Bierschenk, a student who participated in the recent meeting, said the gathering was “charged.” Mackenna continued, “I saw people break down; I saw people scream. It was just so much frustration and anger from the lack of transparency, the lack of communication, the lack of really a story that they stuck to.”

The Office of Student Affairs sent an email acknowledging “the hurt some have felt by the flag’s removal” and promises “to work with students to create a central space with ‘inclusive symbols.’”

But for many students, the coffeehouse Pride flag symbolized safety and acceptance on campus. Louie Moore, a transgneder student, decided to attend St. Edward’s because the school had showcased the Pride flag. He explained:

“‘This is a Catholic institution. I came here and I felt comfortable being myself as a trans man. And now the administration is shushing LGBTQ students and our representation. That’s how I view it. That’s how I feel.'”

Some faculty were also surprised and upset about the Pride flag’s removal. Professor Alex Barron, who oversees the student groups PRIDE and the Trans Wellness Org, commented:

“‘I just really assumed once the university heard that the pride flag really meant a lot to the students, they would change their minds. . .I was really shocked when they didn’t.'”

For attendee Luis Rios, the the protest and celebration had the dual purpose of supporting LGBTQ+ people, but also wanting, out of love, to help the school grow:

“‘It’s important, especially in marginalized groups, to show that you’re represented, especially at a Catholic university. We’re doing this because we love the campus, and we love the students here at St Edward’s. And we want everyone to feel welcome.'”

Sarah Cassidy (she/her), New Ways Ministry, March 13, 2024

1 reply

    It’s good to see students, faculty and associates standing up.

    I wonder, however, who decided without explanation to not replace the Pride flag after the coffee house was renovated. I know the atmosphere in the Texas State Legislature and Executive has become markedly anti-Queer in recent years. Was that a factor for removing a flag that had been in place for five years? Or has there been a change in the university’s administration, or in the administration of the Austin Diocese?

    With the demonization of Queer people on the state level, now is the time when the Church and its related institutions need to stand up strongly for the Queer community, and against the forces of hate and discrimination.

    Hopefully the movement – to return the flag to the place where it has been a powerful symbol of support for people who are under attack – will be successful.


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