Images courtesy of CUAllies (left) and The Student Government Association (right)
By Noelia Veras
On Monday night, up to 170 students attended The Catholic University of America’s Student Government Association’s (SGA) Senate meeting via Zoom, where a resolution was proposed to recognize CUAllies, the university’s unofficial LGBTQ+ organization, as an official student organization.
CUAllies is a group on campus that promotes equal representation and treatment for LGBTQ+ individuals at Catholic University. Associate Vice President for Student Engagement Kathryn Jennings has worked to advise and regulate the organization. Although the organization was formally established in 2009, CUAllies claims that there has been a tradition of LGBTQ+ groups on campus dating back to the 1970s.
Senator Sophia Marsden, junior politics and anthropology double major, spearheaded Resolution 016 to recognize CUAllies as an official campus organization. Senators Philip Ahearn, Jamie Besendorfer, Grace Birth, Cecilia Bracey, Dominic Decker, Kyle Holcomb, and Allison Sijgers co-sponsored the bill. According to Emily D’Antonio, current president of CUAllies, Senator Marsden has been working on this piece of legislation since as early as October.
The meeting began with a roll call, the Pledge of Allegiance, and a prayer. Before Vice President Gemma Del Carmen opened the meeting up for public comment, she warned that comments were limited to one minute per person, which was ignored on multiple occasions. Vice President Del Carmen also made a disclaimer that, according to the SGA bylaws, she can prohibit comment if the content is irrelevant or if the comment is willfully disruptive, slanderous, offensive, inflammatory, irrational, or mounting a personal attack. She instructed the public to ask for permission to speak in the Zoom chat.
The public comment portion of the meeting lasted about an hour. D’Antonio was one of the first people to speak and shared some statistics in regards to LGBTQ+ students on college campuses.
“LGBTQ+ individuals are three times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight counterparts,” D’Antonio said. “They are more likely to be bullied for longer periods of time, and are more likely to experience homelessness, truancy, and eating disorders than their straight counterparts. A mitigating factor against this is the existence of a recognized LGBTQ+ organization or safe space at their school. Schools with inclusive policies and safe spaces for their queer students report less suicides, less depressive symptoms, and overall happier students.”
D’Antonio made it clear that, especially during the coronavirus pandemic, recognizing CUAllies as an organization on campus could be incredibly helpful for students at home with potentially unsupportive parents.
CUAllies Vice President Marina Massaroni followed D’Antonio’s public comments.
“We are tired of asking and pleading with the administration for the same basic rights everyone else gets,” Massaroni said. “So we aren’t asking and we aren’t pleading anymore. We are demanding.”
Associate Director of SGA’s Catholic Values Initiative William Schulz was the first to speak out against the legislation.
“The Catholic University of American prides itself on upholding the church’s values, student organizations are no exception,” Schulz said. “CUAllies has not been considered as a student organization for this reason, its values explicitly oppose that of the Church.”
Catholic University class of 2014 alumni and Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives Ryan Fecteau spoke up during public comment as well, recounting his experience as speaker of the former iteration of student government at Catholic University called The Student Association General Assembly (SAGA).
“I find it quite interesting that on February 22 of 2012, exactly nine years ago today, [The Student Association General Assembly] passed a similar resolution in support of CUAllies being officially recognized by a vote of 20 to 3,” Fecteau said. “I hope and anticipate the same result tonight from this new student government that will show support to CUAllies and its official recognition.”
Noah Sell, a student from the School of Theology, opposed the legislation.
“If the members of the Senate actually wanted to uphold human dignity, they would want the salvation of every soul here and this is not done by approving an organization that damns souls to hell,” Sell said. “I will leave you with this: a vote to approve CUAllies is a vote to reject your Catholic faith.”
Junior John Kosylo from the School of Arts and Sciences shared a statement from Professor Guthrie of the modern languages department in favor of passing the legislation. In her statement, Professor Guthrie shared how while attending club fairs she has seen CUAllies not be treated fairly. She recounted how once CUAllies was not even provided with a table to sit at, so the club that she supervised decided to help the organization by sharing its table.
Vice President Del Carmen stopped public comment at 9:05 p.m. in order to proceed with the rest of the evening, and the agenda was approved by the Senate. Committee members then moved to give their committee reports.
Senator Ally Kilgore announced that the Rules and Regulation Committee was working on bylaw changes regarding Senate vacancy filling procedures and the procedures for accepting new legislation. Senator Melissa Zentz with Academic Affairs discussed the possibility of legislation regarding the library and sign language counting as a language credit for students. Senator Maura Schlee discussed the University Services Committee and its focus on financial aid, study abroad scholarships, and sophomore housing. Senator Jonathan Harisson with the Student Resources Committee discussed plans regarding Spanish tutoring, the Dean of Students, Learning Community curriculum, and campus resources for the pandemic when the weather is warmer and more students are outdoors. Senator Bracey with the Campus Life Committee discussed plans of a future resolution to move the counseling center into the Pryzbyla Center when the new dining hall is opened.
Victoria Roscoe, junior civil engineering and architecture dual degree major from Honey Brook, Pennsylvania was then confirmed as a new senator for the School of Engineering.
Afterwards, the meeting moved to the second item of the agenda, Resolution 016, to recognize CUAllies as an official organization at Catholic University. After Vice President Del Carmen did the read-through of the legislation and Senator Marsden gave some background on Resolution 016, the Senate opened for debate.
Senator Zentz opposed the resolution based on what she heard from her constituents in the School of Philosophy. She said that as it stands, CUAllies does not align with the Catholic Church and its teaching.
“In order for the university to recognize an LGBTQ+ club,” Senator Zentz said, “this club would have to actively promote chastity and a call to live a virtuous and moral life.”
Senator Marsden responded to Senator Zentz point of promoting chastity by emphasizing the focus of the resolution at hand.
“I strongly encourage all of us to stay very on point with debate,” Senator Marsden said. “Talking about gay sexual intercourse distracts from the bill. Other organizations do not have to explicitly stress their compliance with the Catholic Church in this way.”
Senator Marsden also emphasized that LGBTQ+ individuals do have a space in the Church. In response to Senator Zentz, she reaffirmed that the purpose of CUAllies is to serve as a safe space for people and double as a place for education. Senator Marsden said that the club can exist in alignment with the Catholic Church without having to stress chastity.
“I think that’s inappropriate and also brings up a lot of things that are really uncomfortable for a lot of LGBTQ+ kids for a lot of different reasons,” Senator Marsden said. “They do work really closely with Dean Jennings to make sure that they stay in line with Catholic’s mission and values and to provide that space to educate.”
Senator Kilgore addressed her support of Resolution 016 while making it clear that she is a very devout Byzantine Catholic and considers herself very liturgically traditional.
“I have read the bylaws written by CUAllies,” Senator Kilgore said. “There is nothing in the text of these bylaws which contradicts the official stances of the Church. In the bylaws, CUAllies have not made any statements on matters of faith and morals as regards gay marriage or any other issues so as those are the prerogative of the Church and the magisterium, not student orgs including SGA.”
Senator Schlee thanked Senator Marsden for all her hard work on the resolution but brought up her disappointment in the rhetoric used during the meeting.
“Just because someone comes forward in opposition of a resolution does not mean that they somehow are trying to disregard someone’s existence,” Senator Schlee said. “…There have been so many comments that I’m just very disappointed in that were disrespectful and I do love this body for being a place that we can have civil discourse and unfortunately sometimes we fail to do so and I just urge everyone to continue to try to be as respectful as possible.”
Ultimately, Resolution 016 passed with 20 yeas, 4 nays, and 2 abstain.