UD and LGBT: exploring student experiences

This is an extended, online-exclusive version of this article.

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Last week, The University News covered the Title IX exemptions the University of Dallas has applied for, as well as the reputation the request has given UD.

Campus Pride placed UD on its “Shame List,” labelling it as bad for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer or Questioning (LGBTQ) students, on Aug. 29.

This listing was a direct result of the requested exemptions.

“The Dallas Morning News” reported on the Shame List, which includes eight other Texas colleges.

This most recent news story, coupled with this weekend’s Dallas Pride and this summer’s deadly attack in Orlando, has given UD an opportunity to examine its longstanding reputation as unfriendly to LGBTQ students.

Campus Pride is the not the first to label UD in such a manner.

UD has routinely been placed on a similar list by The Princeton Review, with UD currently sitting at number 12 on the “LGBTQ-Unfriendly” list.

President Thomas Keefe stood by the decision to request Title IX exemptions for situations involving gender identity.

“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.

He also did not believe that this decision warrants labelling UD as discriminatory or hateful toward LGBTQ students or otherwise.

“No one has ever been treated, in the nearly seven years I’ve been here … has been treated differently because of their gender identity … everyone is treated fairly and equally,” Keefe said. “Love is the predominant value of the gospel.”

“[In freshman orientation] I stood on the floor of the gym … I promised I would return you to your parents in relatively the same condition they gave you to me. That didn’t mean only if you’re white or only if you’re Catholic or only if you’re heterosexual. It means if you’re anything, I’ll protect you like you’re my own child … There’s ways that we can live together without making each other uncomfortable or being hateful toward each other.”

However, accounts from LGBTQ students indicate that this ideal is not being fully lived out at UD.

A student spoke with The University News on behalf of all our own experience as well as other LGBTQ students.

All potentially identifying information has been removed from the accounts in order to protect the identities of the students.

The student reported incidents of homophobic slurs being called out by other students, sometimes in contexts involving alcohol and occurring off campus.

“It was like, ‘what, we can’t even go to a party with our friends, we can’t walk through Old Mill, we can’t do anything?’”

The violence associated with such language evokes fear in targeted students.

“[My friend] told me that he was scared that one day, when there aren’t people around, that he’s going to have an arm broken or … be shoved up against some bricks [because] maybe some drunk jock guy decides that he doesn’t like how he looks,” the student said.

Additionally, more insidious incidents of pranks directed at LGBTQ students have occurred.

These incidents also create a sense of fear, sometimes simply due to the fact that students feel powerless to contain them.

“There’s that feeling you get that’s very disturbed and unnerving, not because what’s happening is necessarily that bad, but because you don’t understand what’s happening. That’s more frightening than anything. It creates this creepy, ‘I don’t understand what’s happening or why it’s happening or how I can stop it.’”

The overall effect, said the student, is one of discrimination, not simply a difference of moral opinion.

“It’s the kind of prejudice that’s, ‘I don’t like you. I don’t like who you are, and I don’t want you to be here,” the student said.

However, the student insisted that Catholicism does not need to diminish at UD in order to solve the problem.

“I can’t tell anyone to stop being Catholic as much as I don’t want any Catholic to tell me to stop being LGBTQ,” the student said.

However, the student does not believe that UD’s general environment has done enough to bridge the gap between Catholic theology and a respect for LGBTQ individuals.

“I really just want the university to be able to say, ‘you cannot be aggressive and hateful toward people who are living a lifestyle you don’t agree with.’ And I don’t even care if, in the middle of the seminar, they specifically said, ‘we do not support LGBTQ in any way.’ I would be fine with that. But you need to be able to say that we as a campus, we are reiterating our policy [of zero tolerance for violence and discrimination].”

The consequences for not adequately doing so, the student said, are already apparent.

“I know these people, the people who said this stuff like f—– … I have seen [them] walk out of church on a Sunday,” the student said.

In addition, the student said that they believe having a Gay-Straight Alliance at UD is both necessary and reasonable.

This facet of the discussion has caused some friction between LGBTQ students and the UD administration.

Keefe said he has been approached by students about forming such a club, but he refused.

“Some students came to me and asked if they could form one,” Keefe said. “I said no. And they said, ‘oh, well you’re anti-gay.’ I said, ‘no I’m not. It’s just that an LGBT’s clubs goals are different than the goals of the Catholic church.’ I’m not going to use the resources of the University to create a club whose goal flies in the face of the Catholic values of the institution.”

The student interviewed said that the rejection involved Keefe saying he would no sooner support a swingers’ club.

This comparison, the student claimed, is a misrepresentation of the club’s would-be aims.

“We weren’t even asking for a ‘gay club,’” the student said. “We were asking for a Gay-Straight Alliance, for a support group. And that’s really what it would be.”

However, the student acknowledged the difficulty facing the administration on this matter.

“I understand that that constitutes an issue of morals, that you feel like the support of that thing qualifies as a sin,” the student said.

However, the student also believes a solution can be found.

“Then don’t fund us,” the student said. “We should be able to be on campus and be recognized as a club on this campus and do fundraisers that students, of their own volition, can choose to pay for.”

The matter of whether to have an LGBTQ-focused club on a Catholic campus is one that has no specific precedent to follow.

Some Catholic universities do have LGBTQ organizations.

Others, such as UD, have maintained strict policies against them.

Dr. Mike Brock, director of UD’s counseling center, cites this contradiction as a way to indicate the difficulty facing the administration in making a decision.

“I was an administrator for 28 years of my life…and I know what it’s like to have to make administrative decisions…it’s much different from a therapeutic situation,” Brock said.

He does not believe that the decision not to have a club is based in hatred.

“[The administrators] are open-minded people who want to do right by people and want to do right within the wonderful tradition of our Catholicity, which is fundamentally a tradition of love,” Brock said.

Existing UD clubs which speak about sex and sexuality are fundamentally conservative.

The Anscombe Society, though not affiliated with any particular religious creed, advocates  for “principles of sexual integrity, traditional marriage and the centrality of healthy, stable families for a healthy society,” values which are shared by the Catholic church.

The club does not hold a particular position regarding whether or not a pro-LGBTQ club ought to be on campus.

“Should such a club be allowed, we [would] look forward to a friendly exchange of ideas about what kind of sexual ethics are best for society,” Peter Hasson said on behalf of the Anscombe Society.

This exchange of ideas is precisely what the interviewed LGBT student believes is lacking.

“I think it just should say something that when I have a conversation with my friends, that I have to pick a certain part of the cafeteria, or I have to go outside, or that when I speak I have to suddenly drop volume and clearly mouth the word I want to say,” the student said.

This effective silencing creates an isolation, the student said, and it is one that students struggle to break through, even to meet each other.

One place LGBTQ students go to speak about their sexuality and gain clarity and support regarding it is UD’s counseling services.

“I came to [Brock] freshman year,” the interviewed student said, adding that the visit followed a period of distress over confusion regarding new awareness of their sexuality.

The student said that the counseling experience was enormously positive.

Brock said he has had LGBTQ students come into his office each of the 12 years he has worked at UD, and he approaches them in the same way he would any other student.

“The role of a therapist is to listen as deeply as possible in order to really understand what are the concerns … to be able to reflect back an understanding of what’s being said, and a respect for the struggle, and an awareness of what it’s like to experience that and feel that,” Brock said.

For LGBTQ students specifically, Brock makes sure that students feel secure in his office.

“What I always do is try as best I can to make it clear that this is a safe space to talk about these things, and I’m not going to judge,” Brock said. “Pope Francis was very clear on that, he’s been very clear on a number of things related to this, and I deeply respect the direction he’s taking on these kinds of things. I do see it as somewhat of a change in direction, and I’m very excited about that and I’m very hopeful around that.”

Brock clarified that the change has not been doctrinal but, rather, pastoral.

Counselor Doug Scott prioritizes making sure students feel safe and validated while in his office as well, and he also brought up Pope Francis when discussing how he believes such matters should be discussed, not just therapeutically, but for Catholics generally.

“Following the model of Pope Francis, one is to embody mercy and compassion,” Scott said. “And this is not an abnegation of one’s own beliefs. But, when we encounter the person, it is much more compassionate and merciful to view that person in the gray spectrum, not black and white.”

“At the end of the day, when they look in the mirror, my great desire is that they see that they are loved,” Scott said. “That what they see in the mirror is the embodiment of love, and that God loves them just as they are.”

This final bit is particularly important, Brock said, because Catholicism influences many of these students greatly.

“When [Catholic students] come in and they talk about same sex orientation or feeling gay, being gay … they very readily will bring into it the Catholic perspective, they have some concerns about it, what’s right and what’s not right,” Brock said. “Typical situation might be, ‘this is how I see myself, I’ve always seen myself this way, and yet I understand the church says such and such about this, and I’m fearful that I will be lonely in life’ … that is a response I sometimes hear.”

Other students, though no less religious, are less anxious about uniting the two.

“I meet other students who are more at peace with everything, they say, ‘this is the way I am, this is how God made me, somehow, someway I’m going to find a way to be gay in the world and I’m hopeful I can do that in way that will fit with my belief system.’”

The commonality amongst students, Brock said, is a general thoughtfulness.
“Most students who come to me, almost all, they’re very serious. This is a big issue for them … the student is very concerned, wants to do right.”

Both Scott and Brock made it clear that they are not concerned with enforcing any particular beliefs or behaviors on students.

“My biggest goal as a counselor is to help the person become as life-giving for themselves as possible,” Scott said. “And what I would like as a counselor and how I understand counseling is, counseling is about helping a person become whole. Because in being whole, we are holy. So the more whole a person can be, the more holy they can be. And the more holy they can be, the more they are living out God’s plan for them.”

Consistently, students, administration and staff at UD speak with great concern for the values of love and acceptance, though they may not see eye-to-eye on how to achieve that for LGBTQ students.

This concern, as the Anscombe Society wrote to The University News, is what might unify otherwise disparate belief systems.

“Like the LGBTQ community, we believe every person is worthy of respect and dignity,” Hasson said.

3 COMMENTS

  1. This is one of the many reasons that I left UD. So many of the students and professors are close minded and unwilling to listen to opposing opinions. Many students claim to want to discuss opinions with others, but as soon as opinions conflict, someone is basically put in confinement. When my freshman dorm found out that I had a very unpopular “political” opinion, most of the girls wouldn’t look at me in the eyes for months. Never did I tell them that their opinion was wrong, nor that mine was right.
    I originally chose UD because of the family feel of the school. I was so disappointed that a student could be outcast because he or she didn’t fit into the typical ideals of the majority of the “family.” It was difficult, but I did eventually find others students who shared similar beliefs with me. This took months to do, because the students with unpopular opinions were afraid of being further outcast by sharing their thoughts. After our freshman year, most of these students transferred out.
    I did find a few fantastic, open minded students and professors during my time at UD. I truly hope that the “family” at UD can become more open minded, because that will allow for better discussions and positive changes. To all of the LBGT friendly students at UD- don’t stop fighting for this club! A club that supports open-mindedness and love for all students is exactly the club that UD needs.

  2. I’m the literal embodiment of what a typical UD student DOES NOT look like, or is like period. I’m politically left-leaning and very much pro-choice, not Catholic (nor Christian), and I’m a definite minority ethnically (I’m also a commuter). My reasons for choosing UD were complex; ultimately in some ways I am grateful to my UD experience. I love the small school vibe; professors who I haven’t seen in over a year still remember my name (or at least my face!) and overall at the basic, everyday level (fluff level, I guess), fellow students are friendly and polite. I’m also grateful because coming to UD has actually intensified my liberal outlook on life (I guess being surrounded by mostly people who preach or believe in the total opposite of you socio-politically will do that to you). I myself am not part of the LGBTQ community BUT I count myself as an ally; and I definitely agree that it would be amazing to get a Gay-Straight Alliance or LGBTQ friendly club started on campus. Honestly – to all of the typical UD’ers out there and the campus administration – the way forward is NOT to ignore or alienate people who are different than you. The way forward is openness and discourse. UD keeps advertising itself on being, yes a Catholic university BUT a Catholic university for INDEPENDENT thinkers…yet I’ve seen very VERY little evidence of the latter during my years here. How can a student body be thinking independently, if contemporary issues like that involving the LGBTQ community aren’t considered (amongst others)???? I agree to the former student who commented above – we shouldn’t stop fighting for a more inclusive campus and preaching true open-mindedness and love (not just selective love for people who fit a UD mold).

  3. It is upsetting and a little shocking to hear president Keefe compare a gay-straight alliance to that of a swingers group. If the president of our school is really preaching love, how could he be so judgmental to a group of students looking for a safe place of acceptance outside the councilors office (since it’s obvious from this article that there is definite discrimination against LBGTQ students). Thank you for this article and shedding some light on the subject.

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