Title IX exemptions raising questions about UD’s reputation

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The University of Dallas has requested a Title IX exemption in an attempt to uphold the teachings of the Catholic Church. Photo by Anthony Garnier.

The University of Dallas holds a great many enviable titles.

One of its more recent titles, proclaiming the university “One of the Absolute Worst Campuses for LGBTQ Youth,” might inspire more controversy than envy.

LGBTQ is the common acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning individuals.

Campus Pride, which promotes LGBTQ-friendly campuses, recently updated their “Shame List” on Aug. 29.

The list includes 102 colleges and universities across the United States, many of which have sought or obtained Title IX exemptions in order to forgo compliance with federal regulations regarding gender identity.

According to Campus Pride’s executive director, Shane Windmeyer, the act of seeking such an exemption is a dire warning sign to any and all LGBTQ youth.

Further, it is a warning sign universities often neglect to distribute themselves.

“These religious campuses need to come out and say, ‘Yes, we discriminate. We don’t want LGBT people to come to our campus,’” said Windmeyer, as reported by the Dallas News.

One of these religious campuses is UD, which sought a Title IX exemption in July of 2015.

In the letter requesting the exemption, President Thomas Keefe explained that the exemption from complying with the federal standards regarding gender identity is necessary for the university to act in a manner consistent with its religious tenets.

According to Keefe, Catholicism teaches that sexual identity cannot be understood as a social construct, but as an objective fact.

As such, Keefe believes compliance with the concept of gender identity will inevitably lead to predicaments which could force the administration to make decisions contrary to the teachings of the church.

Currently, the request for the exemption is still pending.

A response from the U.S. Department of Education, dated Jan. 8, 2016, stated that the department needed further information before granting or denying the request.

This required information will determine whether or not UD is truly controlled by the Catholic Church in any explicit way.

One determining situation would be if all students were required to be practicing Catholics.

UD, though predominantly Catholic, has no such restrictions regarding student beliefs or practices.

As such, the university must present proof that any of its official publications state that it is controlled by a religious organization or is committed to the doctrines of a particular religion.

Regardless of how the matter is resolved, UD will likely soon have an answer regarding whether or not it will receive the desired Title IX exemption,

However, the question of whether UD is bad for LGBTQ students is one that will not be answered in a short form letter.

President Keefe insisted that the decision is not one based in discrimination or hate, but rather one of belief and religion.

“We asked for an exemption from Title IX so as to be able to continue to follow the teachings of the Catholic Church,” Keefe said. “We didn’t ask for any exemptions…so we could treat somebody inferior, marginalize them or create an environment that was disrespectful.”

Keefe clarified that certain exemptions are still possible for transgender students who request them.

Though he would not delve into specific detail, Keefe asserted that no transgender students have ever been required to live in campus settings that would necessitate them sharing bathroom or shower facilities with other students.

Keefe insisted that all accommodations will be made to make a student comfortable, so long as those accommodations do not include placing a student in a dorm inconsistent with the gender they were assigned at birth.

“We will make the accommodations as quietly and respectfully as possible, because everybody deserves to be able to live their life with as little drama as possible,” Keefe said.

“Love is the predominant value of the gospel,” Keefe added, emphasizing that all actions taken by the administration toward any students, regardless of gender identity, are motivated by that principle.

“But it’s a very difficult world,” Keefe said, referring to the shifting cultural views regarding sexuality and gender.

In light of that changing world, Keefe and the rest of administration continue to look for ways to ensure that the Catholicism of UD is not compromised by federal regulations.

“As a Catholic institution, we have a right under the Constitution to be able to exercise our religion and the values of our religion in a secure and safe way,” Keefe said.

As to whether UD is bad for LGBTQ students, Keefe insisted that overt discrimination is a relative non-issue.

“We’ve had any number of gay students attend the University of Dallas, and I don’t believe that they’ve been treated disrespectfully or that they’ve … been discriminated against,” Keefe said.

However, Keefe did cite a specific incident where several freshmen teased a young man in their dorm for being gay, which required Keefe to “raise hell” on the students. The administration, he said, has a zero tolerance policy for any discrimination or hatred based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

However, Keefe said that he will not apologize for UD being a Catholic institution.

“We are what we are,” Keefe stated.

While Campus Pride may be the most recent organization to place UD on a list designating the university as hostile to LGBTQ students, it is by no means the first.

The Princeton Review has consistently placed the UD on its “LGBTQ-Unfriendly” list, which is compiled based on answers from students attending their respective universities.

The survey is expansive, delving into nearly every facet of campus life, and is taken by a wide number of students from each university so as to provide as accurate a picture of a campus as possible.

The survey sample is largely self-selected, as students can now take the survey online at the Princeton Review website.

The question used by the Princeton Review to determine whether or not a school is LGBT-friendly is as follows:

“Do students, faculty and administrators at your college treat all persons equally regardless of their sexual orientations and gender identity/expression?”

Students can then rate the statement based on their agreement of it, from strongly agree to strongly disagree.

The top 20 schools in either extreme are placed on a list.

The University of Dallas currently ranks 12th on the “LGBTQ-Unfriendly List.”

This creates a question, if not an outright problem.

Why does the University of Dallas have a reputation for being distinctly unfriendly in regards to LGBTQ matters?

If such an issue exists, what, if anything, can be done to fix it?

Though administrative decisions are highly influential in establishing a campus environment, many other facets of campus life play an integral role in this process.

Further, despite administrative intentions, LGBTQ students can and will harbor their own feelings regarding whether UD has earned its reputation.

Next week, The University News will continue this story by exploring how LBGTQ matters are perceived and handled at UD outside of an administrative context.

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