Broncos examine the queer experience at Catholic universities
Edie Solis Jr.
THE SANTA CLARA
April 2, 2014
Over spring break, several LGBTQ students from Santa Clara visited Georgetown University to attend the second annual IgnatianQ, a conference that brings together representatives from dozens of universities to talk about sexual identity in a Jesuit context.
“Being visible and vocal and a part of the (equality) conversation, not only on our campuses but in the greater Church, is our right,” said Esteban García, a Georgetown senior and vice president of community affairs for Georgetown Pride. “And as LGBTQ people who have had the privilege of attending university and having opportunities before us, it is also our responsibility to bring that right to others.”
The two-day conference offered a range of programs for participants. Each event asked what it means to be a member of the queer community and a student at a Jesuit university. Workshops, lecture sessions and panels offered thought-provoking discussions about the intersections of sexual identity and religious beliefs.
The conference brought engaging speakers such as Dan Cardinali, president of Communities in School, an organization aimed at tackling the dropout epidemic. His experiences as a gay man shaped by Jesuit spirituality inspired his commitment to social justice.
Students had the opportunity to collaborate and brainstorm ways to get more support, resources, visibility and acceptance for LGBTQ groups at their respective schools. This allowed representatives to network and share strategies for improving student engagement.
“It was cool to see how progressive some universities are and how some universities didn’t have any resources at all,” said sophomore Adrian Chavez. “Santa Clara seemed to fall more in the middle of it, leaning progressive.”
Georgetown set the bar for other Jesuit universities, as it was the first to establish a center for LGBTQ students.
The queer community at Santa Clara has faced obstacles in gaining the sort of visibility that Georgetown enjoys. Last year’s Drag Show was restricted by administration’s Expressive Activity policy.
“The whole sentiment was if you want these events, you will be fighting the Jesuit identity or Catholic identity,” said junior Glen Bradley, who wears both pink hair and a wooden cross. “The issue we’re having now is a misperception of what it means to be a Jesuit institution. For the LGBTQ community to not get support, services and acceptance is a blatant disregard for Ignatian identity.”
Bradley believes this resistance comes from a fundamental misunderstanding of the overarching goal of Jesuit education to teach the whole person.
“We are not solely defined by our LGBTQ identities,” said García. “Our Catholic identity or our experiences as LGBTQ people at Catholic universities are also deep parts of who we are.”
Santa Clara finds itself in a prime location to foster a change toward accepting and understanding LGBTQ people. Santa Clara County is among the first regional governments to set up a unique department to handle the needs of queer citizens. And, of course, nearby San Francisco is known as the “Gay Mecca.”
“We have a (school) community that is generally accepting. I’m just confused as to why the (LGBTQ) community hasn’t been thriving for a while, why it’s still in the building process of getting there,” said Chavez.
The issue is not one that easily addressed.
“It’s a chicken or the egg debate,” said Jade Agua, program director for the Rainbow Resources Center. “Would (Santa Clara) be more accepting if more LGBTQ students were out, or would there be more LGBTQ students who were out if (Santa Clara) was more accepting?”
The Center resides in Benson’s basement and offers a range of services to students, like counseling and activism opportunities. But with an unideal location and low funding, it lacks the presence of centers on other campuses.
“When I was a freshman, I didn’t know about the Rainbow Resource Center or any of the groups until I came out and started asking about it,” said Bradley.
At the moment, the center is managed by overlapping organizations.
“I paint a picture of the hopeful future, where the Rainbow Resource Center is given funding, a dedicated faculty member and a full-time staff,” said Bradley. “We would have all the queer student groups on campus organized through the Resource Center, then advertised and structured as different services the center offered.”
Bradley envisions a LGBTQ center that offers services backed by other organizations. An example of this potential system at work is an LGBTQ faith group that could be housed and operated through the center, but co-sponsored by Campus Ministry.
“That would be the ideal situation for prospective students: (seeing) the whole campus is accepting, not just the Rainbow Resource Center,” he said. “It needs to start with someone. I would like it to start with the queer community. But it needs to come from people working together towards progress. Our identity is part of Ignatian identity.”