- Ashley Torkornoo & Joanna Kreke
Do "You Belong Here?"
In Phillip’s Library and Lower McGowan, posters advertising the Sociology Department’s speaker laid crumpled and destroyed in the face of bigotry. On April 4, Mount St. Mary’s announced the rescinding of Dr. Simone Kolysh’s invitation to speak at the induction of Sociology honors students. This sparked conversation around the treatment of LGBTQ+ students on campus.
Though honoring the human dignity of every human being is a core value of Catholic social teaching, many LGBTQ+ people have experienced marginalization and hostility from believers. Actions such as these being brought to light after Kolysh’s presentation was canceled are contradictory to the Mount’s statement “You Belong Here.” But one may dare to ask who belongs here?
Dean of Student Life, Levi Esses, claimed that the decision to rescind Kolysh’s invitation was not in relation to the professor's sexuality or gender. “It was not homophobic,” he stated in an interview with the Mountain Echo.
“Our speakers policy formalizes some plain common sense, that the appropriateness of a speaking event depends not only on the topic but on the context,” Hochschild stated in an email exchange. The topic of the event was the public harassment that women and LGBTQ+ people face on a daily basis. The context of the event was Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
Many may wonder why Kolysh’s Twitter was investigated by a third party after the university already approved the event. Some may ask what were the motivations of The Browson Record? Have previous guest speakers received social media background checks? Is this standard practice or an isolated event because of the speaker’s identity? Some students believe the cherry-picking of the tweets and cancellation of the event was fueled by the professor’s gender identity and sexuality.
“I think despite the school trying to paint it as a non-homophobic way of canceling the event, it very much is,” said senior Madelin Sagastume. “The school likes to talk about how we’re open to diversity… but when you have a queer person who is going to present about catcalling and [the sexual harassment of] women and LGBTQ people, and as soon as white Catholic students are against it, they cancel it.”
The rescinding of Kolysh’s invitation disappointed many students and felt counteractive to the Mount’s diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. One student anonymously expressed, “As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, the cancellation of the speaker did affect me. I felt that the actions that the administration took were very homophobic due to the university’s policies within the past when it came to speakers.”
Dean of Student Life Levi Esse met with True Colors, the LGBTQ2S+ club on campus, on April 4 to allow students to express their concerns but also to justify the university’s decision. “I told them exactly the decision of President Tim Trainor that the speaker was not rescinded because of how they identify, but because of the contents of the tweets,” he recapped. When asked if he knew of any other speaker who had their tweets exposed, Esses stated “I don’t know.”
But some students were suspicious of The Brownson Record’s motives and the lack of standardization of the guest speaker policy.
“In all the speakers I brought in, I’ve never once looked at their social media… I look at their qualifications,” Erica Rousseau, Director of the Center for Student Diversity, stated. “What’s the harm in listening to a speaker whom you don’t agree with?”
Trainer stressed that the tweets demonstrated that the speaker does not respect the Mount’s values. But has the Mount respected the values of the speaker and their marginalized community? As a Catholic higher education institution, it is the Mount’s job to respect all people.
Chapter six of “Catholic Higher Education,” written by Melanie M. Morey and John J. Piderit, S.J., states “administrators agreed that Catholic institutions are uniquely welcoming communities that respect all people.”
LGBTQ+ Mount students have voiced how unwelcomed they have felt at the institution, but their voices continue to be unheard. “The Mount portrays that they are welcoming of all identities, races, genders and religions, but myself and other students believe that is a false statement. To answer in short is no, the Mount does not welcome the LGBT community,” another student anonymously said.
“I think that the Mount has had issues… of canceling stuff when the Catholic identity is being questioned… but if they were to look at it through the eyes of Jesus, [He] was with people that were not the best in society. How come now when we’re trying to be equal and diverse, these views cannot be stated on campus?” As an ally to the LGBTQ+ community, this is what Graduate Assistant Jonathan Aciego stated in an interview. “It’s sad seeing the Mount take away the very little that these diverse students have. We get a little bit and it gets taken away just like that,” he lamented.
Another anonymous student explained that it’s not only hostility felt from the student body, but certain faulty members. “In class, a couple professors have said things about the LGBTQ+ community that definitely didn’t sit right with me. I had written my first-year symposium final paper on something that brought up trans people, and my professor outright said he would not accept if his son were trans.”
When incidents like these happen, there are limited resources for LGBTQ+ students to allow them to address it. When faced with homophobia and transphobia, many LGBTQ+ students are reluctant to go to faculty members out of fear the faculty may overlook it due to their own prejudice. Many students also express their concern in regards to the number of resources and safe spaces.
True Colors is the only established safe space at the Mount where members of the LGBTQ+ have been welcomed and celebrated for their identity. Despite this being the only formal resource, True Colors is not yet a registered student organization. Instituting safe spaces for the LGBTQ+ community at the Mount is vital in having its voice be heard and respected. Messages of “You Belong Here” decorating the campus while incidents like this continue to occur are not only contradictory but are harmful to the health and wellbeing of LGBTQ+ students.
The lack of support and respect given to the LGBTQ+ community can make students question if the institution has lived up to its own mission. “Mount St. Mary’s strives to graduate men and women [...] who respect the dignity of other persons, who see and seek to resolve the problems facing humanity, and who commit themselves to live as responsible citizens.”