VIEWPOINT University Offers New Initiatives to LGBT Students By Juan Gonzalez

During this academic year, many members of our community have engaged in productive dialogue regarding the support services the university provides to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.

These conversations have been candid and robust – representing many, and, at times, differing viewpoints. Indeed, this discussion has involved members of our community in substantive ways, reflecting our mission statement, which eloquently says, “that serious and sustained discourse among people of different faiths, cultures and beliefs promotes intellectual, ethical and spiritual understanding.”

That dynamic, reflective inquiry among all on Georgetown’s campus animates the spirit of inclusion and respect that we hold central to our educational and extracurricular pursuits at Georgetown. My primary responsibility, as an educator and student affairs professional is to ensure that the emotional, intellectual and spiritual needs of all students are met in ways that are effective, comprehensive and consistent with our Catholic, Jesuit identity.

Within that framework, I have been meeting regularly with a number of students to discuss their proposals to better serve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students here on campus. I thank these students for their commitment. Some of their recommendations made immediate sense to implement, and, as a result, I have begun moving forward on a number of them, including both the enhancement of our New Student Orientation program and the specific training for our Residence Life Staff to promote understanding and inclusion.

One recommendation that I did not accept was the creation of a formal, university-sponsored resource center. In my letter of response to these proposals, I explained that I could not endorse a university center due to the risk that such a center could not avoid advocating positions or practices that run counter to our Catholic identity. Further, I believe that coordinating and integrating current campus services, while also looking into ways to bolster these services, can best achieve such support for our students.

Let me be clear: Georgetown University, as a Catholic, Jesuit institution, is committed to upholding the dignity and worth of each and every member of our campus community, including students who are dealing with issues of sexual identity. These issues must be faced, not skirted or ignored, in all objectivity, as part of our mission to promote the development of the whole person, which includes intellectual, personal, moral, spiritual and emotional development. I recognize that college is a time for growth, often filled with questions and uncertainties. From my years working with students, I know that this period can be difficult and unsettling. Following our distinctive Jesuit tradition of cura personalis, I remain committed to supporting the development of the “whole person” so that we may, as a community, benefit from one another’s God-given, unique talents.

To that end, I will charge a new working group of students, faculty and staff to review the current level of services provided to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students on campus. The group will analyze current services and programming efforts, ranging from counseling to pastoral work to student events, and will develop ideas for enhancing these services.

In addition, I’m pleased to announce that I will hire a new staff member whose duties will include supporting and coordinating services for students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender or who have questions about these issues. This person, whose recruitment begins immediately, will report directly to me. He or she will be expected to advise Student Affairs and assist the university on how best to support and further dialogue around the topic of sexual identity for all students within the context of Georgetown’s Catholic, Jesuit identity. This person will provide assistance to students as they attempt to clarify issues related to sexual orientation, personal growth and related psychological and developmental issues.

This staff member will also work with Campus Ministry to assist students with questions about their religious beliefs arising from questions of sexual identity. When appropriate, the position will coordinate with other campus resources, such as Student Programs, Counseling and Psychiatric Service, the Department of Public Safety and Residence Life.

Equally important, this staff member will also work with our campus community to affirm the dignity and rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students; help prevent issues of intolerance, rejection or isolation experienced by these students; assist the university in responding to their developmental needs and facilitate communication and dialogue on issues of sexual orientation.

In the weeks and months to come, I look forward to further dialogue about how best we – as a Catholic, Jesuit university – meet the needs of all students and all in our community. Again let me be clear: the care for each and every member of the Georgetown community is the responsibility of our entire campus. Together, we can and must support one another and, in the words of the Student Affairs ethos statement, “exercise mutual care and responsibility in all relationships.”

We deserve no less.

Juan C. Gonzalez is vice president for Student Affairs.

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