By Linda Smith
Senior Jerick Johnson is neither embarrassed nor ashamed of who he truly is. He is a black, “flamboyantly” – as he puts it sarcastically – gay man at a university with mostly white, straight students and staff. Yet not all University of Dallas students are as comfortable sharing their sexuality. Two females and two males agreed to speak with me about their sexuality on the condition that they remain anonymous. Citing different reasons, they said they too are neither embarrassed nor ashamed of themselves, but that they believe that UD is not an environment in which they can “come out.”
While Johnson said he has had a mostly good experience at UD, he also said that he would never wish for anyone to go through what he has experienced over his four years here.
“Honestly, when I tell people about this school, I tell them if they’re gay, that it’s just not worth it,” Johnson said. “It’s not worth the four years of agony that you spend over the fact that you’re underrepresented, you’re under-cared for here. It’s just not worth it.”
Approximately 84 percent of undergraduates are Catholic, according to the University of Dallas website. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “[T]radition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.’… Under no circumstances can they be approved… men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies…must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” (2357-8)
This nuanced understanding of homosexuality can cause some students to feel uncomfortable or unsure of how to react toward those who are not heterosexual. Similarly, students who are not straight report feeling overwhelmed by the number of students who are religiously opposed to their lifestyles.
Johnson has been out since his freshman year of high school, and considered going back in the closet when coming to UD. While he could not keep it from people, he did find friends who accepted him. However, he also dealt with two incidents in which he felt threatened. The first involved a Facebook group, which claimed to be satirical, called “Make UD the Most Unfriendly to LGBT Organizations.” The second involved a comment on the Class of 2015 Facebook page using a derogatory slur against gay people. In both instances, university employees were quick to shut down these aggressions and help Johnson.
“I remember [members of the office of] Student Life coming to me afterwards and saying that, ‘We want you to know this discrimination is unacceptable. This is not accepted at the University of Dallas,’” Johnson said. “Things have gotten progressively ‘better.’”
Johnson elaborated, saying that he is still approached with questions that seem well-meaning, but are usually micro-aggressions, or things that people say or do that are “unintentionally homophobic, unintentionally racist, unintentionally sexist.” These include overly personal questions about his sexual preferences.
Johnson said his experiences with staff and professors have been largely positive. In fact, in 2011, UD was No. 9 on an annual list published by The Princeton Review of universities most unfriendly to LGBT people and organizations. The ranking went down to No. 14 in 2012. President Thomas Keefe spoke with Johnson and told him that he did not want the school on that list by the end of Johnson’s college career. Johnson also counts Associate Provost Dr. John Norris and Director of Campus Ministry Denise Phillips as accepting, positive people.
“The teachers I’ve had have never made [my orientation] an issue in my education,” Johnson said. “I’ve had really good interactions with professors about me being gay, me being black and me being here. It’s good having people you can talk to.”
A bisexual sophomore who wished to remain anonymous spoke of her experience of biased language in the classroom. She recalled a philosophy professor talking about Plato and bringing up homosexuality in a “negative tone.” While she has not come out to non-friends at the university, she feels like she has been able to find an accepting friend group.
“You still have to be careful what you say,” she said. “But you gravitate towards people of your own kind.”
While that can be the case, some feel that others’ beliefs often prove to be an obstacle to friendship. Junior Kristina Matias, who is physically attracted to both sexes, but only emotionally attracted to males, feels that the smallness of the school makes it difficult to know whether those who identify as LGBT can come out or not.
“There are so many people who I could see being really good friends with, but they’ve become so closed to everything that you say or do, and all of a sudden, they’re going to associate you with that thing and you’re forever going to be held to that,” Matias said. “It’s a small school too, so if you come out to somebody and it’s the wrong person, they could tell a bunch of people. And no one will walk up to you and say, ‘Oh, that’s disgusting’ if you’re gay, or whatever you happen to be, but they’ll look at you and say things. It’s definitely uncomfortable.”
Junior Gabriela Brown believes students could spend their time on better things than judging others. Brown is asexual, meaning that, while she is capable of desire, she does not have sexual desire, and that being physically affectionate with anyone makes her uncomfortable. Like many other UD students, she comes from a Catholic background.
“A lot of people are ignorant as to what [being Catholic] actually entails,” Brown said. “They see it as what they’ve been taught, their parents’ bias. They grow at this school, but they don’t grow past the things they were born and raised into. The word itself — catholic — means universal diversified. If you’re closing out people who are in this universal space that we’re constantly talking about in basically every class of the Core at UD, how can you really call yourself a Catholic?”
Senior Maxwell Frazier said he sees the problem of intolerance not in intolerant people themselves, but rather in the fact that their intolerance goes unchallenged. He said he believes blatantly homophobic people are still accepted by the majority of UD students.
“The tolerant people don’t really have a problem with the intolerant people,” Frazier said. “It’s easy enough to find people that [sic] are cool about it. But people who are viciously and blatantly homophobic still are [finding it easy to be] friends with all these people.”
Some students, including a freshman who wished to remain anonymous, said they have not been personally challenged, but have caught small undercurrents of homophobic language. The student referred to hearing derogatory slurs in the dorm, saying that, “you hear that anywhere, but it sounds like they mean it here.”
“I notice friends getting hate,” he said. “Just because I haven’t received any doesn’t mean my friends don’t. I’ve noticed that, and it does occur on campus. And I notice our lack of groups or organizations. We have nothing pertaining to [LGBT rights] at all.”
Multiple students interviewed agreed that an increase in diversity both at UD and in the world today have led to more acceptance overall.
“I have noticed that they’re incorporating people into the school who are a little less mainstream, traditional students,” Matias said. “So I am noticing just a lot more intrigue in general, people who are a little different than just the straight-out opposition and I do like that.”
Another homosexual senior who wished to remain anonymous said that he has had a good experience at UD, and had not personally experienced any negativity. However, he said he does not believe that the majority of UD students will change their ideas on sexuality.
“It’s good to have differences of ideas because you can learn from every way,” he said. “It’s important to have this conversation … but I don’t think it’ll ever be fully accepted.”
While the students interviewed noted an increase in acceptance, they said that it needs to grow. Johnson spoke of groups in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, including DFW Fuse, which invites gay and bisexual men between the ages of 18 and 29 to hang out in Dallas and have a support group. Several students proposed forming a Gay-Straight Alliance.
“We need to have an actual LGBT group on campus because we know these people exist,” a freshman who wished to remain anonymous said. “It’s just kept hush-hush, it’s like the elephant in the room. But they do exist, and they need an organization to sit, talk and get through it. Otherwise you’re alone, and the isolation is what kills you.”