Ann Hendershott - Status Envy - The Politics of Catholic Higher Education

used with the permission of the author
Copyright © 2009 by Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick, New Jersey.
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Secularizing the Mission 51

Indeed, the values and goals statements of Catholic colleges are especially revealing as many have revised them to delete any mention of valuing a Catholic identity. While the University of San Diego's newly revised mission statement continues to describe the university itself unambiguously as a "Roman Catholic institution," two years ago the faculty and administrators made a conscious decision to delete "Catholicity" from its listing of the university's five major core values. Replacing the core value of Catholicity with the values of "Community, Ethical Conduct, and Compassionate Service," the revised mission statement also contains a revised core values statement on academic excellence to proclaim that in its pursuit of academic excellence, "The University promotes the institutional autonomy and integrity necessary to uphold the highest standards of intellectual inquiry and academic freedom .1121 In other words, although the university continues to ac­knowledge that it was founded as a Roman Catholic institution, the newly revised statement of core values claims "autonomy" as one of its most important core values. One can only surmise that autonomy from the Church may have been what the authors had in mind. Also omitted from the San Diego mission statement were any references to God, Christ, or faith—all included in the mission statements of the past. And like Holy Cross's highly ideological mission statement, San Diego's mission statement contains the inherently subjective but increasingly obligatory Catholic mission statement promise to "foster peace and to work for jutice."2'

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Like Notre Dame, Gay Awareness Month at the University of San Di­ego encourages students to show support for gays and lesbians by wearing PRIDE T-shirts with the USD crucifix logo imprinted on them—imply­ing the support of the university and the Church itself. Encouraged to celebrate the accomplishments of "famous gay historical figures" from Socrates to Shakespeare, students view exhibits of the contributions of gays throughout history in the student center. Advertising the gay and

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lesbian themed events a few years ago, there was a twelve-foot banner placed on the outside of Serra Hall, an academic building in the heart of the campus which read: "Stop Heterosexism." The San Diego campus has also hosted James Dale, the former Eagle Scout who has done tremen­dous damage to the Boy Scouts because of the scouting organization's unwillingness to allow openly gay men to serve as troop leaders; lesbian comedian Margaret Cho; as well as Betty DeGeneres, the mother of ce­lebrity-lesbian Ellen DeGeneres; and the mother of Matthew Shepard, the young gay icon who was brutally murdered in Laramie, Wyoming.

Beyond Gay Awareness Month, the University of San Diego has man­aged to couple advocacy for the gay and lesbian community with support for people of color during African American History Month by inviting African American gay and lesbian speakers to campus. A few years ago, former Black Panther and longtime Communist Angela Davis was invited to campus to talk about the ways in which her lesbian identity and African American heritage have shaped her political ideology. Likewise, Sabrina Sojourner, the first open lesbian to be elected to Congress as the US representative from the District of Columbia, gave a lecture on campus that tied her perceived oppression as a woman of color to her oppression as a lesbian. Attendance is always strong at these lectures as students are often required to attend these lectures as part of a class assignment, or they are given extra class credit simply for their presence.

Indeed, it is difficult to avoid participating in these types of activities as the re-education of students begins as soon as they arrive on campus. At the start of the 2006 school year, the University of San Diego of­fered a walking tour of Hillcrest, San Diego's gay community as one of several orientation activities for incoming first-year students. The event was advertised as "a walking tour with a history of the area, a restaurant and business guide as well as an open discussion of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered and Queer community that lives there." 6

Beyond these optional activities, there is often pressure placed on students to visibly show their support for the gay and lesbian community on campus. In fact, during the first day of San Diego's freshman orien­tation a few years ago, incoming students received "welcome packs" containing pink "gay pride" triangles to display in their dormitory rooms that proclaim the students' room to be an "Open Zone" for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered students. During the university's orientation week, upper-division students functioning as orientation leaders and role models for the first-year students are instructed to proudly display the


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pink triangles on their orientation-team folders and encourage freshmen students to display their triangles also.

Likewise, for faculty members, there is tremendous pressure to con­form. A few years ago, a non-tenured adjunct San Diego faculty member paid a high price for his reluctance to post the symbolic pink triangle on his office wall. The popular part-time faculty member had taught at the university for several years. He was a strong presence in the classroom, with the highest student evaluations in his department, yet he was not offered a contract to teach again. No explanation was given for this abrupt decision, but those familiar with the case believe that the reason was his unwillingness to display the obligatory pink triangle proclaiming his office "An Open Zone for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered Persons." When asked to post the symbol in the office space he shared with other part-time instructors, he responded in writing that he would do so if requested, but that, "if the space were mine, I would not post such a sign." This response was widely circulated on campus as an example of a violation of one of the most important campus norms—support for the gay community. The part of his response that probably sealed his fate was his assertion that "any institution, especially a Catholic institution, marginalizes itself with such vapid symbolism." One senior professor publicly denounced him as a "homophobe" at an American Association of University Professors faculty meeting for even questioning the ap­propriateness of displaying the pink triangle. Most of those in attendance failed to appreciate the irony of such a violation of a professor's academic freedom at an AAUP faculty meeting.

Beyond extra-curricular initiatives like what has now become the "sacred symbol" of the triangle and university sponsored and organized "walking tours" of the gay community for first-year students during ori­entation week, the University of San Diego offers several gay and lesbian themed courses. A few years ago, an inter-disciplinary theology/sociology course, entitled "Gay and Lesbian Voices," brought negative attention because several of the students enrolled in the course complained to ad­ministrators about the content of the course—and brought their concerns to the chair of the sociology department and to the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. A parent of one of the students enrolled in the course requested a refund of the tuition for the course after his daughter was required to participate in a graphic classroom presentation and discussion on the value of using sexual aids for gays and lesbians. A representative from a San Diego shop that catered to the LGBT community had been



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invited to the class to instruct students on the value of such aids for gay men and lesbian women.

Students were initially attracted to the course because enrollment in the cross-listed theology/sociology course would fulfill one of the three general education theology course requirements students must complete before graduation. For some students, the catalogue description of the course on the history of the gay and lesbian social movement sounded like a more attractive option than the usual theology course offerings on the Old Testament or the Sacraments. But, after a number of complaints from students and their parents, the dean of the college instituted a policy that allowed students to drop the course with a full refund even after the deadline for withdrawal had passed.

This course, like many of the LGBT initiatives on the San Diego campus and on other similar Catholic campuses, has been supported by general academic funds supplemented by generous donations from foundations with interests in bringing diversity or pluralism to the Catho­lic Church. The "Rainbow Visibility Project" at the University of San Diego began in September of 1999 as a result of the Rainbow Visibility Grant funded by the James Irvine Foundation (one of the biggest donors to Planned Parenthood) through San Diego's Cultural Competencies Project. Rainbow Visibility was designed to be a comprehensive plan to "raise the collective awareness of the university community to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender culture and history."7

The Rainbow Visibility Project had five components. First, a confer­ence was organized to launch what the organizers called "the campaign" with Betty DeGeneres. Once the conference was completed, the grant provided funds to assist faculty in revising their existing courses to incor­porate "significant attention to sexual orientation in their course content, pedagogy and interactions with students." Participating faculty received substantial stipends for attending curriculum development workshops where they not only learned about gay and lesbian history, they also learned how to integrate gay and lesbian themes into their existing courses in sociology, theology, psychology, history, and the sciences or to create new courses that explore gay and lesbian issues. At the conclusion of the curriculum workshops, faculty were encouraged (with yet another stipend) to revise their syllabi to include gay and lesbian books, films, and topics for discussion for students. Once the syllabi were revised and the course scheduled, faculty received still another stipend—giving faculty a strong financial incentive to create courses that integrate and



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highlight gay and lesbian issues. The faculty has risen to the challenge—a number of gay and lesbian themed courses have been designed includ­ing, most recently, a school of education designed a course that helps future teachers introduce gay and lesbian themed books for elementary school children.

One component of the Irvine Grant underwrote the creation of a PRIDE Resource Library through the purchase of books and audiovisual materials exploring sexual orientation. And, another funded a university colloquium, which gathered ten representatives from the faculty, staff, student, and administrative communities on campus for monthly dinner meetings throughout a full academic year. At the conclusion of the year, participants in the colloquium voted to encourage the board of trustees to revise the non-discrimination policy on campus to include sexual orientation as a protected group along with race, gender, and age.

The final, and perhaps most important component of the Irvine Rainbow Visibility Grant used funds to support the Rainbow Educa­tors—a team of students, faculty, staff, administrators, and alumni who are trained to provide presentations to students in dorms and classrooms and lead workshops on sexual orientation as a form of diversity." The Rainbow Educators learn to respond to questions that students might have about Catholic teachings and homosexuality. But, in contradiction to Catholic Church teaching that states that homosexual inclination and acts are disordered, the Rainbow Educators website (and presentations) answers the question, "What Does the Bible Say about Homosexuality?" as follows:

In the past, many have claimed that the Bible's message about homosexuality is un­equivocally negative. Contemporary Bible scholars, however, raise questions about the matter and suggest that biblical texts must be read in their historical and cultural contexts. Read this way, biblical authors do not appear to address issues of lifelong sexual orientation or adult, loving homosexual relationship as we understand them today. '

From the initial award of the Irvine Grant in 1999, the goal of the grant has been "full inclusion of gay and lesbian students, staff and faculty." And, although inclusion is a noble goal in terms of working to ensure that persons of homosexual orientation are not discriminated against, campus activists have redefined Church teachings on homosexuality in an effort to affirm gay and lesbian sexual behavior. The advocacy component of the grant is revealed in subsequent grant applications for additional funding from other foundations to support the campus gay and lesbian initiatives. In an application for funding from the Strauss Foundation, the San Diego

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grant writer showed clearly the advocacy aspect of the earlier grants when he claimed that "each component of the grant aims to create meaningful and long-lasting changes in the attitude of the USD community toward gays and lesbians." As one grant writer claimed, "Rainbow Visibility's objective is to be the spark that moves USD beyond tolerance and toward inclusion of its own gay community.' 2°

Now that the Irvine Grant has become institutionalized on campus, and Rainbow Educators and other gay and lesbian initiatives on campus are supported by campus funds, attention to these issues is integrated into many areas of university life. For example, the 2007 Hate Crimes Awareness Week devoted little time to issues of race or ethnicity and, instead, showed students The Larainie Project, the iconic film about Matthew Shepard, the gay victim of a brutal murder, and invited Shane Windmeyer, the gay author of Advocate College Guide for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans gendered Students, to be the keynote speaker for the week.2' Rather than focusing on hate crimes, Windmeyer's speech focused on the positive aspects of his own coming out as a gay man to his fraternity brothers, Claiming that his coming out experience was "one of the most rewarding undergraduate experiences," Windrneyer told the student audience that his coming out was the inspiration for his books—including Out on Fraternity Row.' Personal Accounts of Being Gay in a College Fraternity, Secret Sisters.' Stories ofBeing Lesbian and Bisexual in a College Sorority, and his most recent release, Brotherhood.' Gay Life in College Fraternities,22

Likewise, at a recent San Diego Faculty and Curriculum Development Workshop, Brent Scarpo was invited to present an interactive session that was advertised as an opportunity to help faculty and staff "learn to examine how student self-hatred contributes to sabotaging their college careers." And, while this innocuous description sounds like it would apply to all students, the reality is that Scarpo is an openly gay motivational speaker who integrates information about his own "coming out" into his presentations. He is best known as the creator and presenter of his first interactive program, "Corning Out—The Never Ending Story," On his website, Scarpo promises that through his seminars, participants will learn that "coming out can be the best experience in your life! 1121

Sometimes such advocacy and integration of gay and lesbian issues has created controversy on campus. In 2004, Jessica Lawless, a Los Angeles based self-described "Queer artist," claimed to have been censored on the University of San Diego campus when a portion of her artwork was



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not included in a campus art exhibit called "The Open Show." Lawless had been invited to display her art by undergraduate student, Jaime Egan, social issues director for the associated students. But, because of complaints from other students and staff on the Catholic campus, Lawless was asked not to exhibit her most suggestive piece—the one entitled "Blue Things That I Love," because it contained a picture of a sexual aid tied with a blue trimmed baseball sock. In an interview for Zen ger's Newsmagazine and posted on the internet, Egan decried what she called the university's "censorship" and claimed to have invited Lawless because "As a bisexual woman on this campus, I'm used to being silenced and having my identity denied, and I thought this would push my agenda in a less frightening way than a speaker or a debate I saw Jessica's pieces and saw the dildos as a statement about gender as a social construct, not sexual .1121

In response to what Lawless and Egan saw as censorship, a forum was held on campus to "provide an opportunity for Lawless to argue for the legitimacy of exhibiting her work ,"25 The two-hour meeting provided the participants an opportunity to describe the campus as "homophobic" for failing to exhibit the lesbian art. And, at the conclusion of the meeting, undergraduate students were served slices of cake that had been decorated with the same image of the blue-ribbon tied sexual aid that matched the artist's censored artwork.25