The University of Dallas has yet again been ranked among the worst colleges in Texas for LGBT students, according to a Campus Pride list released last Monday. The new ranking follows an open-records request from the federal government which led to the release of letters from the heads of schools seeking Title IX exemptions on the basis of religious liberty. President Thomas Keefe was among those whose letter was released.
Keefe, on behalf of UD, requested a religious liberty exemption from Title IX’s housing policy with regard to transgender students. In the letter, he explained that the university’s Catholic identity, and the Catholic Church’s stance on gender, are incompatible with a recent ruling which requires universities to provide housing according to a student’s gender identity.
The request has been processed but not yet granted, as the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights first requires proof that the university is truly governed by a religious body.
“If a transgender student wants to attend the University of Dallas — and we’ve had transgender students — then we will make accommodations to make sure that they are comfortable and so that they can exist here and so that they can receive an education,” Keefe said. “We’ve never had a transgender student live in a communal housing environment where they shared showers or they shared bathrooms … But I don’t know what the government’s going to require of me next.”
President Keefe said that the school does not have a policy regarding housing for trans students; he handles applications from transgender students on a case-by-case basis, consulting with both the board and the bishop.
“There are ways to make accommodations that are not going to disrupt the life of the university,” Keefe said. “We won’t let someone be hung out there and not know what they’re going to do. 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.”
This is perfectly understandable. I would imagine the number of prospective trans students is relatively low, and that a portion of these ultimately decide not to attend UD. More importantly, it’s imperative that these students be given the chance to hold a personal dialogue about their specific needs within the school, whether that encompasses housing, athletics or healthcare.
To institute a rigid yet detailed policy regarding any one of these things would likely prevent necessary conversations, and perhaps inhibit students in need from seeking accomodations within the university.
However, I am not convinced that the current lack of information is particularly good for students and prospective students either.
The process of seeking out and choosing colleges is probably the most difficult decision most students make in high school. I’m sure most students here have memories of hunting through list after list of schools, weighing the pros and cons of each. Cost and career opportunities were no doubt huge factors, but so too is the school’s student life.
Some of these things are easily identifiable from the outside. Any curious person can find statistics regarding the ethnic diversity of the UD student body, how many students identify as Catholic or what counseling opportunities and community groups are available on campus. Other things, such as accessibility for students with disabilities, are more difficult to find but still available.
A student seeking information about what accommodations could be made for them in regard to gendered housing would be hard-pressed to find them without having a substantial number of conversations with university administration early in their college search process. UD’s single-sex freshman dorms are particularly prohibitive, but Clark Hall and the student apartments are also segregated by gender.
President Keefe mentioned truth in advertising when speaking of the university’s public Catholic identity and the effect this has on policies, saying anybody who reads a UD brochure should be aware of and prepared for the school’s environment. I think most students would consider this a valid point.
However, one must wonder how this philosophy applies to other aspects of the university’s ideals and policies. Why does the administration not make clear its policies and ideas in regard to issues such as this?
This lack of information might be well-intentioned, but it is in itself a deterrent to those students who need it most. For a prospective student already swimming in a sea of application essays and high school resumes, this might be enough to move a school from the ‘maybe’ list to the ‘not worth the trouble’ list.
Some might say that this is not necessarily a bad thing, that only those who are truly passionate about some aspect of the school will thrive in UD’s Catholic student body and intense education anyway. Maybe they’re right about that. But I think that’s a decision that should be made with full knowledge of the school’s standards on every front, for all students.