PA Catholic College Will Not Approve GSA

DeSales University has opted not to approve the formation of a student gay-straight alliance (GSA) leading to a petition on Change.Org. 

DeSales is a Catholic University and Dr. Jerry Joyce, Vice President for Student Affairs had the following to say on the matter:

The request for an LGBT club stemmed from a 2010 incident where a student found their dorm room door vandalized with the word “Fag”. Joyce confirmed the incident. 

“I can confirm that a word was written on a student’s door,” said Joyce. Gallagher claims he was told that the lack of a non-discrimination policy at DeSales that included sexual orientation meant no action could be taken against the vandals. Joyce stated the reason no action was taken was because no students were caught. 

“We would have taken disciplinary action against the students if they had been caught,” said Joyce.  

Joyce also confirmed a meeting with a member of the student body about forming a LGBT club, and again cited the exclusive nature of the club as the reason the student was denied. 

“The way [the group] was presenting themselves was as an exclusive club, and we don’t do exclusive groups at DeSales. We use student activity fees to fund [student organizations], which would mean students wouldn’t be able to get into a club they were paying for.”

Joyce refutes the claim that students approached him about an on-campus organization that would celebrate all diversity on campus, not just an LGBT club. “I remember the conversation being positive, and reminding [the group] that there is an office within student affairs committed to community justice they could work with.”

The petition also describes the 2010 incident, reiterating that a lack of non-discrimination policy hamstrung the school’s ability to respond. I would suggest that the truth lies somewhere in the middle – certainly a policy would have strengthened the grounds to discipline the culprits, but one can’t help wonder how diligent the investigation would be when the University clearly doesn’t value LGBT students enough to have the policy in the first place.

DeSales is located in the Lehigh Valley region of Eastern Pennsylvania. The university strives to adhere to a humanistic approach to education, fostering a respectful relationship and dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church.

Frankly, I think Dr. Joyce is being ridiculous. How is a gay-straight alliance exclusive? Anyone can be an ally, that’s the whole point. And I’m sure lots of clubs would turn away someone who came with the intent of being disruptive and defiant – to cause trouble. That would hold true whether it were theater club or a knitting circle.

A community justice office is not the same thing as a student-led organization focusing on the experiences of LGBTQ students and their allies. If it *were* — we’d have a better follow up to the hate crime incident in 2010 as well as some recognition of how awful that was for the students targeted.

According to the haters, as of 2008 45% of Catholic affiliated post-secondary institutions have “pro-homosexual” clubs. Some like Georgetown even offer domestic partner benefits and have non-discrimination policies to protect all students. Our own Duquesne University has a GSA. As of 2010, the percentage was down to 41% – here’s a complete list.

My Catholic affiliated alma mater, Marymount University, does not – to my knowledge – have a GSA. I’m not particularly surprised. But let me share this with you. My advisor and trusted college mentor, Dr. Smith, was a devout Catholic and kind, loving man.  I looked up to him and trusted him and it meant the world to me that he simply believed in me.

We kept in touch for well over a decade until I came out to him. I never heard from him again. He just stopped responding to my letters or my email. Nothing. He stood by me when I struggled with health problems, with decisions about my future, when I dropped out of graduate school, when I wrestled with demons from my childhood. He was always there and he seemed to really care about me.

So, Dr. Joyce, please don’t so coyly dismiss the impact it can have when someone rejects part of your identity. One job of your university is to ensure that LGBTQ students are treated with dignity and respect by all other members of the campus body – and creating a safe space for those students to explore their identity in the context of their faith — that’s a reasonable request.

DeSales is on the wrong side of history on this matter, but sadly – they are also on the wrong side of social justice.



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