Open Letter to President John Garvey

Open Letter to President John Garvey Regarding Princeton Review’s Designation of CUA as the Sixth Least LGBTQ Friendly College or University in the United States

from The Fifth General Assembly of the Student Association at The Catholic University of America

Monday October 15, 2012

cc: Provost Dr. James Brennan; Director Kathryn Jennings; Dean Jonathan Sawyer

Dear President Garvey–

In a September issue of The Tower, an article and student editorial appeared regarding Princeton Review’s 2013 rankings that were released on August 21st for purchase at bookstores across the country and online in digital format. While I understand that outside organizations, pundits, and analyses should not dictate or flex policy at our University, I am discouraged by the rankings as they relate to LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender questioning) students on campus and those considering attendance at our University. Prospective students from across the country will see this ranking that distinguishes The Catholic University of America as the sixth least LGBTQ- friendly college or university. I strongly believe that our University stands stagnant on addressing the campus climate for LGBTQ students.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has not been silent regarding homosexual persons. They made clear in their pastoral letter from 1997, Always Our Children, and the 2006 guidelines titled, Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination, that not recognizing this community causes more harm than good.

The purpose of my statement this afternoon is not, just as the USCCB said in that 1997 pastoral letter, “intended for advocacy purposes or to serve a particular agenda.” It does not service a larger national movement or public agenda. This is a focus on our campus, our community, and our CUA. I am calling upon administrators and our community at-large to recognize the LGBTQ community at CUA. I understand that a gap may exist in the language that I use and the language that you use. I understand that barriers may exist that challenge the means to addressing my concerns. I understand that this undertaking is wholly unique on our campus. I understand. But it must be said that all that separates us should not prevent all that joins us as one community at The Catholic University of America.

In the pastoral letter Always Our Children, the USCCB says, “Some homosexual persons want to be known publicly as gay or lesbian. These terms often express a person’s level of self-awareness and self-acceptance within society. Though you might find the terms offensive because of political or social connotations, it is necessary to be sensitive to how your son or daughter is using them. Language should not be a barrier to building trust and honest communication.” It is in that very spirit that we should address the LGBTQ students on our campus. The language that I use should not bankrupt the deserved consideration of how the LGBTQ community and the entire CUA community interact and embrace one another––not as an affirmation of the ‘homosexual lifestyle’ but as respect for the dignity of all God’s children.

I am calling upon our community to realize the acceptance and love of homosexuals as gifts of God––just as any other person. I pose the question, “Are we, the community of CUA, comfortable in being recognized in any capacity as un-friendly to LGBTQ students?” I am quick to answer, “No.” If you share my discouragement with such recognition, it is now––not tomorrow––that we must open a steady stream of dialogue and action. It is now that we share with all people at our University a deep compassion and love for everyone without exclusion. It is now that we embody the courage required to ensure that our University never appears in a national ranking publication for being un-friendly in any shape or form.

Marianne Downes, a graduate student at CUA, puts it well in an e-mail to me this summer, “President Garvey is quoted as saying, ‘We engaged the whole person and point him or her toward knowledge and true happiness. The two lie along the same axis and are best sought in concert.’ The truth is that non-heterosexual persons are a legitimate part of our population both on campus and throughout the world. The Catholic Church as a whole acknowledges and engages the non-heterosexual person with love, just as Jesus embraced every person, regardless of background, in order to guide them to truth.” I think that we are called to this very message of guiding all students at CUA to knowledge and true happiness; we cannot forget the latter.

I assert that this attunes itself well with the message of the US bishops in their 1991 publication entitled, Human Sexuality: A Catholic Perspective for Education and Lifelong Learning. It says, “Educationally, homosexuality cannot and ought not be skirted or ignored. . . First and foremost, we support modeling and teaching respect for every human person, regardless of sexual orientation… parents and educators must remain open to the possibility that particular person, whether adolescent or adult, may be struggling to accept his or her own sexual orientation.” With this in mind, we must ask ourselves, “Why CUA has received recognition for its unfriendliness towards LGBTQ students?” Moreover, we must reconcile the voids that have led to such a shameful designation. This is our call as Catholics, as scholars, and as one community.

I am gay and many other students who serve in leadership roles on our campus are also LGBTQ. It is in our capacity as leaders that we have promises to ourselves, to friends, to those standing in solidarity with LGBTQ students on campus, to the inspiration of Catholic teaching, to those in silence, and to those that inspire when it seems our University has forgotten us, that we will stand when they cannot stand; we will speak when they are mute; we will be there in the absence of representation. We do this aimed towards a realization. It is towards a realization of inclusion––not exclusion; a realization of love––not hate; a realization of forgiveness––not grudge; a realization of one image and likeness––not duplicity; a realization of friendliness––not unfriendliness. It is a realization that we are one community of brothers and sisters.

In fact, this past weekend at the leadership training S.O.A.R., a student leader raised the notion of a failure to embrace LGBTQ students on campus. During an exercise at S.O.A.R., the moderator asked us “If you or someone you know is LGBTQ, please step forward.”––What she called “crossing the line.” I can say with certainty that nearly every student stepped forward.

In Spring of 2012, the Student Association voted 20-3 in favor of a resolution expressing support for the official recognition of CUAllies. This vote demonstrated a commitment from the Student Association to LGBTQ students on campus. This vote demonstrated the Student Association’s embrace for one community––an undivided CUA.

In 2011, CUA ranked 15th on Princeton Review’s list of LGBTQ unfriendly schools; we have moved nine spots in the wrong direction. So, today, I offer a challenge that moves our University far and away from a top this list. Let us take those first steps as a community to make official CUAllies on our campus. From there, let us continue to learn, understand, and respond to the concerns of LGBTQ students at our University.

Many faculty and staff members remain uncertain about saying the words “gay” or “lesbian”. They remain uncertain about whether or not they are to offer support and stand-up as a resource for gay and lesbian students. LGBTQ students should not be left abandoned or forgotten by their professors. Mr. President, I ask that you submit a memo to faculty and staff that informs them that using the words “gay” and “lesbian” is not condemned on this campus––let us offer clarity in this way.

I also suggest the idea of allowing faculty and staff to use “SafeZone” stickers as a means of letting LGBTQ students and those of various backgrounds know that their instructors would lend compassion and support in cases of need. This is not an idea that excludes the importance and relevance of Campus Ministry and the Counseling Center. Instead, this suggestion supplements and provides another avenue for support––a way of assuring that no student falls through a crack towards depression or self-harm.

I offer another suggestion that turns us to our brothers and sisters at the University of Notre Dame. Administrators at UND drafted and published a statement titled The Spirit of Inclusion at Notre Dame. The statement says, “We welcome all people, regardless of color, gender, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, social or economic class, and nationality, for example, precisely because of Christ’s calling to treat others as we desire to be treated. We value gay and lesbian members of this community as we value all members of this community.” Such a statement from administrators here at CUA would speak volumes to our same Catholic mission.

In addition, UND has instituted the Core Council for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Questioning Students. Their mission reads, “[Core Council] acts as a resource to the Vice President for Student Affairs in identifying the ongoing needs of gay, lesbian, and bi-sexual students, and assists in implementing campus-wide educational programming on gay and lesbian issues.” Such a council at CUA would open a crucial and significant dialogue between students and administration.

It is also in this spirit of inclusivity and an embrace of diversity that I encourage the University to continue its approach on addressing another discouraging Princeton Review ranking in the category of “Little Race/Class Interaction.” In this category, the University ranks eighth. Hearing speeches and discussions from yourself and other administrators, I know that you and the University remain poised to address the issues that this ranking suggests. I and others applaud these efforts as incredibly important and encouraging! I hope that this same vigor towards embracing and offering support for a minority population on campus will be applied to our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.

These are just some potential considerations and suggestions towards improving student life for LGBTQ students at our University. I hope that this letter will not confine other ideas and suggestions that others may offer. Instead, let this letter be a means towards further dialogue and action on the many ways that CUA can embrace and value the LGBTQ members of our community.

President Garvey, the co-signers of this letter and I look forward to earning your commitment towards addressing these concerns.

Respectfully submitted,

Ryan Fecteau
Speaker of the Student Association

Respectfully co-signed by,

Genevieve McLaughlin
Director of Student Fee Allocation Board

Mary Rita McKenna

President of Program Board
Samantha Cannon
Chief Justice of the Student Court
Kaitlin Schiele
Class of 2013 Delegate
John McCarthy
Class of 2013 Delegate
Chairman of CUA College Democrats
Rebecca Rougier
Class of 2013 Delegate
Vice-Chairwoman of CUA College Democrats
Lisette Pylant
Class of 2013 Delegate
Sebastian Szollos
Class of 2014 Delegate
Alyson Stapleton
Class of 2014 Delegate
Kevin Blais
Class of 2015 Delegate
Events Coordinator CUAllies
Kevin Brunelli
Class of 2015 Delegate
Matt Wagner
Class of 2016 Delegate
Luke McGuire
Class of 2016 Delegate
Davon Lee
Treasurer of Chinese Club
Meghan Crowley
President of Kappa Tau Gamma
Mary Bradway
President of French Club
Madeline Sample
President of Student Nurses Association
Beth Amann
Managing Director Centerstage
Caleb Caudill
Co-Artistic Directors Centerstage
Jimmy Mavrikes
Co-Artistic Directors Centerstage
Sarah Biddle
Co-Marketing Directors Centerstage
Christian Montgomery
Co-Marketing Directors of Centerstage
Isabelle Mullen
President of CU Film Society
Kasey Donahue
Vice President of CU Film Society
Caroline McCarthy
President of Women’s Rugby Club
Grace Xerri
President of Italian Club
Sara Maldonado
President of Latin Alliance
Mary Cecere
Director of CUAllies
Travis Dichoso
Deputy Director of CUAllies
Chelsea Schoen
Communications Director of CUAllies
Jennifer Prescott
Membership Director of CUAllies
Connor Duffy
Resident Assistant 

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