January 7, 2016 (CardinalNewmanSociety) -- Responding to a list of “demands” by student groups focused on racial and LGBTQ issues, a University of San Diego (USD) official told The Cardinal Newman Society there are items on the list “that are inconsistent with our Catholic identity,” and that such proposals would be vetted through a process of working with students to initiate change “in a constructive and respectful fashion.”
“In this process,” said Peter Marlow, associate vice president of communications at USD, “any fringe ideas that may be contrary to our Catholic identity would be vetted by a broad audience and even broader perspectives and priorities.”
Marlow told the Newman Society that the newly installed University president, Dr. James Harris, who began his tenure this past August, recently met with four of the students involved with publishing the demands “to help steer them toward submitting their ideas via the strategic planning process” currently underway at the University. The process, scheduled for completion by early fall, is collecting “ideas for the future” from USD student groups, faculty, alumni, administrators, trustees, community members and other friends of USD.
The list of 22 demands made by “concerned students” focuses mainly on racial issues “in solidarity with the Black student activists of [University of Missouri],” and a similar list of demands by USD students appears on the website of the Black Liberation Collective. But there are also several LGBT and gender identity issues listed among the demands, including calls to have:
-The installation of gender-neutral bathrooms in every building on campus.
-The development of a Gender and Queer Studies department with at least 12 full-time faculty.
-More people of color, queer-identified people and women represented in positions of administrative and student leadership.
-The active inclusion of cultural, LGBT and feminist student organizations in the planning of campus events related to the concerns of these organizations.
-The creation of a comprehensive orientation on racial, gender, and queer inclusion and diversity, mandatory to students, staff, faculty and administration.
-An increase in resources and support groups for queer and trans students of color.
The Newman Society asked Marlow if he could identify the items on the list of student demands that are inconsistent with the University’s Catholic identity. He responded saying “there is not one fixed list of demands” as of yet, and a “more constructive/thoughtful list” could be presented to Harris by the students later this month after they return from break.
One of the demands highlighted in a report by The College Fix was that the University change the name of Serra Hall after the administration acknowledged “the colonialist legacy” of Saint Junípero Serra, who according to the students “massacred the vast majority of native peoples in California.”
“The University is not going to change the name of Serra Hall based on the rationale presented” by the students, Marlow told the Newman Society. He added that Harris sees the entire situation as “a teaching moment for the students.”
“Dr. Harris prefers to meet face-to-face with students and explain how best to go about initiating change in a constructive and respectful fashion,” said Marlow. “He wants to advise them how to channel their energy in ways that appeal to broad audiences and to understand the trade-offs that would have to be made with various ideas, and most importantly, to understand how to approach these topics at a Catholic University and within the context of Catholic intellectual tradition, which has always encouraged, embraced and debated the diversity of ideas.”
Charles LiMandri, founder of the group Alumni for a Catholic USD, told the Newman Society that the nature of the students' demands “are probably reflective of much of what they’re being taught by a secular and anti-Catholic faculty.”
“There are so many secular faculty there now and people hostile towards the magisterial teaching of the Catholic Church,” he said. LiMandri, who used to run USD’s alumni program, has been critical of the University’s commitment to defending its Catholic identity in recent years, calling specific attention to an annual “drag queen show” sponsored by USD since 2012.
LiMandri told the Newman Society he’s “cautiously optimistic” that USD’s new president can effect positive change at the University, saying, from what he knows about Harris and the limited interaction LiMandri has had with Harris thus far, he expects “more of a positive response” than what his group received working with the prior administration.
“I want to give this new president the benefit of the doubt and all the support I can because if he can bring about some positive change, God bless him,” he said, “and people need to stand behind him because he does have a very difficult job.”
But LiMandri added that he’s realistic about the amount of change than can take place. “I know what Harris is up against,” LiMandri said, telling the Newman Society that a number of professors have complained to him about the lack of tolerance for Catholic orthodoxy on campus. “He’s going to meet a lot of resistance.”
Drag Show ‘Scandal’ at USD
Previous administration actions and statements reported on by the Newman Society raised a number of Catholic identity concerns.
For the past four years, USD has hosted and promoted a “drag queen show” featuring students dressed up as members of the opposite sex. These events were organized by the LGBTQ student organization Pride at USD with the help of openly lesbian USD theology professor Evelyn Kirkley. LiMandri said the shows push agendas contradictory to Church teaching.
In 2014, the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education issued a letter about the drag shows at USD stating that the performances have caused “scandal.”
“n view of the gravity of the case, it is worth mentioning that in light of the show and the scandal that it caused, this congregation intends to act through administrative channels to the competent ecclesiastical authority in San Diego,” the Congregation wrote, responding to a petition to review the situation filed by LiMandri and Thomas McKenna, founder and president of Catholic Action for Faith and Family.
USD defended the drag show performances in the past, stating in 2013, “The show as scheduled violates neither the university’s mission nor any university policies. The Celebration of Gender Expression supports the Church’s teaching on the dignity of the human person and does not promote either behavior or lifestyle that is contrary to the teachings of the Church.” In 2012, then-USDPresident Mary Lyons stated the event is “intended to foster students’ understanding of, and empathy for, the complexities of gender non-conformity.”
And despite the Vatican Congregation’s statement, USD held the drag show again in April 2015, hosted by same-sex marriage advocate “Tootie Nefertootie,” who also emceed the performance in 2014.
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USD also promotes the controversial “Vagina Monologues.” The performance has been criticized by several bishops for its positive portrayal of distorted human sexuality and promotion of immoral behaviors, such as lesbian sexual activity and masturbation.
The USD Women’s Center states that the performance “invites students to explore sexuality,” and is representative of “USD’s core values.”
The Newman Society asked USD’s Marlow if President Harris considers the promotion and support of the drag show and “Monologues” performances to be consistent with the University’s Catholic identity, or if he plans to take any action or make any statements indicating that these performances are inappropriate for USD to support. No response was received by the time of publication.
Planned Parenthood Links
The Newman Society has also reported on controversial links between USD and the abortion giant Planned Parenthood.
In the August 2015 special report “A More Scandalous Relationship: Catholic Colleges and Planned Parenthood,” the Newman Society found:
-The University of San Diego (CA) recommends potential careers at Planned Parenthood for students who have majored in women’s studies. (Update September 10, 2015: Page removed from site.)
-The University of San Diego (CA) employs Bob Beatty, an instructor in the School of Leadership and Education Sciences whose faculty profile touts his past work for Planned Parenthood San Diego.
-The University of San Diego (CA) employs Kathy James, associate professor of nursing, and notes in her “biographical sketch” that she studied under Planned Parenthood and UCSF for a certificate in “Obstetric/Gynecological Nursing.”
-In November 2014, the University of San Diego School of Law (CA) hosted a reproductive rights discussion, “Burwell v. Hobby Lobby: The Decision and its Impact on Reproductive Rights,” including panelist Tracy Skaddan, whom the University identifies as general counsel of Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest. According to the clinic’s LinkedIn page, its services include “contraception, STD testing and treatment, sterilization, and safe and legal abortion.”
-The University of San Diego (CA) Department of Political Science and International Relations praises a recent graduate for her contributions in the sexual health field and work with Planned Parenthood Mar Monte. (Update September 10, 2015: Planned Parenthood mention removed from alumna profile.)
With the many Catholic identity issues on campus that need to be addressed, LiMandri said he’s looking forward to working with the new University administration.
“I’ve got no illusions about how hard it will be for President Harris,” he said. “I’m cautiously optimistic he’ll do what he can when he can, and hopefully that will mean at least cancelling the drag queen contest.”
Reprinted with permission from The Cardinal Newman Society.