Aaron Warga (SFS ’18) was tabling in Red Square for Transgender Day of Visibility when an admitted student asked about Georgetown’s housing process for gender-nonconforming students. Warga was at a loss for what to say.

“They said ‘I am nonbinary, I identify as they/them/theirs. What are the housing policies here?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, it’s a pretty binary, gendered housing policy,’” Warga said. “There’s no gender-neutral housing or mixed-gender housing. That was clearly something that was very important to them and I don’t know if they’re here now.”

While Georgetown remains the first Jesuit university in the United States to have an LGBTQ Resource Center, student leaders and LGBTQ-identified students on campus have said the university does not offer enough spaces for the LGBTQ community.

The rejection of a proposed living and learning community for the 2017-18 school year called “Crossroads: Gender and Sexuality” by the Office of Residential Life symbolized the tension between Catholic identity and inclusion of queer students, according to the Georgetown University Student Association LGBTQ Inclusivity policy team Chair Grace Smith (COL ’18).

A Place to Call Home

Smith joined the LGBTQ Inclusivity team in the fall of 2016 within the administration of then-Georgetown University Student Association President Enushe Khan (MSB ’17) and Vice President Chris Fisk (COL ’17) with the goal of creating a community designated for students whom the current housing protocol does not accommodate.

Georgetown’s housing policy currently allows for students to live with other students who share their same gender identity, as long as those students identify as one of two binary genders — that is, as male or female.

Students currently have the option to change their names in MyAccess to reflect their chosen names. But when a student identifies as gender-nonconforming, they must choose to live with either men or women, even if they identify as neither.

“I imagine it to be very toxic to be placed in a living situation where, by being in that space, it’s implied that you’re a gender you don’t identify with,” said Warga, who planned to be the resident assistant for Crossroads LLC.

The LLC, though not explicitly proposed for gender-nonconforming students, was planned as a space where those students could find the appropriate housing and a sense of community.

Additionally, the space would have been a place to “promote knowledge, critical conversation and a deeper understanding of LGBTQ histories, cultures, and social and political movements,” according to LGBTQ Resource Center Director Shiva Subbaraman, who helped advise the students involved in the proposal, though the center itself was not involved in the initiative.

“Unlike some other identities, since this is an invisible identity, it is not often easy to find one another in safe ways,” Subbaraman wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Most important, it was hoped that the LLC would provide a way to start critical thinking and conversations on LGBTQ communities, and how it connects to our broader mission on campus.”

Grappling With Catholic Identity

When Smith met with representatives from the Office of Residential Living, she felt the decision not to approve Crossroads was not solely in the hands of university administrators like Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson.

“I think this is a much larger fight over how Georgetown wants to live its Catholic values and what those Catholic values are,” Smith said.

Olson cited the LGBTQ Resource Center, the Women’s Center and Campus Ministry as examples of Georgetown’s commitment to support students “in exploring their spiritual and personal identities and interests,” though he also noted the LLC proposal could not be approved.

“The proposal did raise concerns about how our housing arrangements align with our Catholic and Jesuit mission,” Olson wrote in an email to The Hoya.

Georgetown has previously come under scrutiny for its alignment with Catholic values. In 2013, the late “The Exorcist” author William Peter Blatty (CAS ’50) filed a petition to the Vatican to strip Georgetown of its Catholic and Jesuit labels for not adhering to Catholic values. In January 2016, the Cardinal Newman Society published a 124-page dossier that has been cited by more recent versions of Blatty’s petition. Included in the report is 18 pages on “homosexuality” on campus.

“What’s really at contention is how progressive Georgetown wants to be and how radical they want to be, but also how Catholic they want to be,” Smith said. “And I think they’re seeing those as mutually exclusive in specific instances like this.”

LGBTQ Life on Campus in the Current Moment

The LGBTQ Inclusivity policy team has made progress in the last year to implement changes on campus for LGBTQ students, however. In March, the university began the process of making single-stall restrooms in public buildings both gender-inclusive and accessible.

Additionally, according to Executive Director for Residential Services Patrick Killilee, the team and the LGBTQ Resource Center succeeded in adding a statement to the first page of housing applications with contact information for transgender and nonconforming students to request “safe, comfortable and appropriate housing.”

However, even as the resource center approaches its 10th anniversary this fall, the university is not always a welcoming space for LGBTQ students, Warga said.

“During my freshman year alone I knew a gay student whose roommate immediately switched rooms after finding out he was gay, another gay student who was chased and called homophobic slurs outside his dorm, another whose floor mates banged on his door repeatedly calling him a faggot,” Warga said. “It should never be the case that someone feels unsafe or that they have to police the way they express themselves in their own living space, which is often their most personal and intimate environment.”

An Unwavering Effort

Smith said her ultimate goal is to see the approval of Crossroads before she graduates next year. The LGBTQ Inclusivity policy team plans to resubmit the housing proposal next semester and continue collaborating with Georgetown administration to “hold the university accountable to its commitment to queer students,” according to Smith.

“The LLC would have played a huge part in creating a space that normalized queerness, affirmed gender identity and made students feel safe,” Warga said. “Given the current political climate and rise in bias-related incidents on campus, I think there is clearly a need to create living spaces like these for LGBTQ students and other students with targeted identities.”

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2 Comments

  1. Sherman Roberts says:

    As an alumnus of the College (c ’65), I find this whole issue of homosexuality (and abortion rights) on/off campus highly offensive, scandalous, and political.

    Fifty years ago, the Land ‘O Lakes Conference of 1967 never should have happened. Because it did, the dire consequences of its vision of “modern” Catholic education have been appalling and devastating, and only God knows how many souls have been destroyed by the actions and behavior of Catholic universities (especially GU) who have adhered to (or modified) its bad philosophy.

    Catholic faith and morals (and values) are not negotiable. They are eternal and unchanging because they come directly from God, who revealed them through Natural Moral Law, Sacred Apostolic Tradition, Sacred Scripture, and the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.

    I would be surprised if the Jesuits and faculty at GU ever teach what’s in the Holy Scriptures, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, on moral behavior, e.g., Chastity and homosexuality.

    For the benefit of all reading this I include the Catechism’s three paragraphs here:

    Chastity and homosexuality

    2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,140 tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”141 They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

    2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

    2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

    Sacred Scripture is Divinely inspired, and the Catechism is God’s authority. Neither are negotiable. GU may be striving to live up to its Jesuit identity, but it is not living up to its Catholic identity as a true, faithful Catholic university ought to be doing.

    I wonder how many Catholic parents of existing (and prospective) students are aware of what’s going on at GU. William Peter Blatty is a hero in making his appeal based on his due diligence, as is The Cardinal Newman Society, and other unsung heroes.

    Will GU continue following the ways of the world (lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the pride of life), or will it repent, amend its ways, and return to its true God-given Catholic identity? That remains to be seen.

  2. Pingback: LGBT advocates at private colleges vow to stand strong after DeVos wavers on protections

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