Catholic University of America announced last week it would not officially recognize an LGBT student organization.
Ryan Fecteau, a junior who is the first openly gay speaker of the D.C. campus’ Student Association General Assembly, told the Washington Blade that CUAllies submitted its proposal for formal recognition to administrators on Feb. 21. Dean of Students Jonathan Sawyer and Katie Jennings, director of campus activities, told Fecteau, who spearheaded the effort, in a Dec. 6 meeting the university had denied CUAllies’ request “out of fear that they would become an advocacy organization.”
“It is unfortunate the Catholic University of America is not providing space for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning of whatever to feel they are welcomed into the faith community on campus,” Fecteau said.
The university, which denied to officially recognize the group after it formed in 2009, told the Blade in a statement the two administrators who met with Fecteau “expressed their appreciation for the thoughtful and respectful way in which CUAllies had pursued its request for recognition.” According to the statement, the goal “articulated by CUAllies of fostering a safe and welcoming environment for all students is shared by the university.”
Catholic University President John Garvey on Dec. 6 met with 15 student leaders and seven administrators to “engage in dialogue with them on that topic and to share ideas about how the university can better demonstrate its support for all students, whether they identify themselves as heterosexual, gay or lesbian.” Fecteau stressed to the Blade that CUAllies did not discuss marriage rights for same-sex couples in their petition for formal recognition.
“In declining the request for official university recognition of CUAllies, the administrators indicated their belief that, in spite of the group’s stated intent to uphold Catholic Church teachings, it would be extremely difficult for that pledge to be honored over time,” the university’s statement read. “They pointed out that there is a fine line, easily crossed, between a group dedicated to education and support of individuals who identify themselves as homosexuals and one that engages in advocacy on behalf of a homosexual lifestyle.”
Catholic University’s decision to not recognize CUAllies came 24 hours after University of Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins accepted recommendations from the school’s Office of Student Affairs to expand support to LGBT and questioning students. This decision will include formally recognizing an LGBT student group as an on-campus organization.
“A lot of people were very, very shocked and I think that’s a very good thing,” Alex Coccia, a junior Africana and peace studies major at Notre Dame who prompted the effort, told the Blade. “It was definitely something that not many people were expecting.”
A handful of other Catholic universities have LGBT-specific clubs, student affairs offices and even resource centers. These include Georgetown University in D.C. and Loyola and DePaul Universities in Chicago.
“Despite the contradictory decisions announced last week, it is undeniable that progress is being made on religiously affiliated campuses across the country,” Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride, said in a statement released after Catholic University administrators announced they would not formally recognize CUAllies. “Students at the University of Notre Dame and the Catholic University of America, among others, are doing incredible work to make higher education a more inclusive place for all. Campus Pride has worked over the years to assist these students and alumni to continually push forward and we are very proud to support them. We call on the Catholic University of America to recognize the value of these students’ efforts and the importance of ensuring their academic success, support, and safety on campus.”
Coccia also criticized the D.C. university’s decision.
“It’s really disappointing,” he said. “[CUAllies] essentially has the same purpose as what our group was and what the organization will be.”
As for CUAllies, Fecteau said the group and university officials have agreed to continue to discuss the possibility of formal recognition.
“We’re going to continue to have these conversations,” he said.