Earlier this year, graduate students David J. Leonard and Kathleen Mackin and undergraduate Ryan J. Brady, representing the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Community at Boston College, petitioned the University for formal registration as a student organization.
In a June 15 letter to the applicants, University President J. Donald Monan, SJ, denied the application, noting that a similar application was reviewed extensively by the University three years ago prior to being denied.
The president's position was announced following review of the application by senior administrators during the spring. Fr. Monan outlined his thoughts on the matter to members of the Board of Trustees at a meeting on campus June 2, though the board did not take a formal vote.
The following is the complete text of Fr. Monan's letter.
Dear David, Kathy and Ryan:
I am writing in response to your request for registration of a student organization under the title of the Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Community at Boston College. Since, at your request, I have met and discussed the matter with some of you and have personally heard from a number of other members of the University community, I have chosen to convey a decision on your application in my own name.
On the part of the Board of Trustees I would like to acknowledge the very carefully prepared material you provided them so that they might be fully informed of your application. All of the members of the board, including myself, recognize the serious thought, the personal candor and the sincerity of your concern for the best interests of members of your group that have characterized both your discussions of this topic and the composition of your application document.
Your request for registration of a gay, lesbian group did not arise within a cultural vacuum. Three years ago the University received a request for registration of an almost identical constitution. At that time we devoted very extensive study and consultation to ascertain what means would educationally and developmentally best serve the University and all of our undergraduate students in better understanding the role and importance of their individual sexuality and successfully integrating it within their total personal development. That study resulted in the formation of a creative organization that had the challenging task of promoting educational programs to assist in the successful formation of individual personality for all students during the transitional years of undergraduate education.
The College did not believe at that time that the formal registration of a student organization of gay, lesbian and bisexual persons was in the best interests of the College or individual undergraduate students and therefore declined formal registration. The College continues in that belief.
The reason for this position in no way reflects an obligation stemming from the Catholic character of Boston College. The background materials you provided in your request for registration indicate you are already aware of our own clear understanding that the University is under no religious obligation as a Catholic institution to refuse registration to every form of gay, lesbian organization. Both the Catholic Church and most religious traditions recognize that sexual orientation, whether homosexual or heterosexual, is in no way morally blameworthy or sinful. Though constitutions of gay, lesbian student groups differ significantly from institution to institution, a number of Catholic colleges and universities have recognized some form of student organization based on sexual orientation.
This is precisely the course, however, that Boston College chooses not to follow. Sexual orientation is perhaps one of the most personal and private elements of an individual's personality. The full achievement of one's sexual identity and its integration within total personality is a complex developmental process whose stages are markedly different for entering first year college students and for advanced graduate students. If students wish to communicate their orientation to others, and there is today an increasing willingness to do so, they should enjoy complete freedom to do so. On the other hand, whatever the practice at other universities, Boston College does not consider it to be in the best interest of our students or of our community to establish structures that categorize students on the basis of characteristics as personal and private as their sexual orientation.
The categories we use to define each other are always in some sense self-defining and limiting. They in some sense reduce what we are to one aspect of our personhood. While the use of categories in self description is a necessity of language, Boston College considers it singularly reductionist to create institutionally recognized structures that categorize students according to their sexual orientation.
Finally, I wish to reflect briefly on the observation contained both in our conversation and in your document to the effect that registration would add nothing substantive to the understanding and support the University already provides to our gay and lesbian students, but that it would be symbolically important as proof of their acceptance as students and as persons by the College. On the contrary, the University's policies and unambiguous actions carry the implicit and more powerful message that, no matter whether students are heterosexual, homosexual or as yet struggling with ambiguity, each is fully accepted as a person and a valued Boston College student.
There are forms of conduct, however, which Boston College does not consider acceptable and therefore sanctions. Whether or not they were critical to your application for registration, there were three clear lines of reasoning in your documents that raised serious concerns as to how far you intended the symbolic acceptance contained in registration to extend.
Admittedly, the more visibly the University establishes formal structures for students as gays, lesbians, straights or bisexuals, the more effort is needed to sustain a meaningful distinction between gay orientation on the one hand and gay conduct in a community on the other. On page 15 of your application document you deny to any human organization the ability to make judgments, and presumably to sanction, any forms of human conduct other than to ensure stability within a society and resolve civil conflict. On page 17 the document affirms that, with particular significance to gays, lesbians and bisexuals, any affirmation of their dignity as persons without affirming whatever they believe necessary to express themselves as full human beings is either invalid or inconsistent. Perhaps of even greater importance, on page 13 you argue that religious diversity among a student body - atheist, Catholic, Jewish, Protestant - requires that any responsibilities the University has as a Catholic institution must be "ove rridden" in its decision-making and setting of policy.
These lines of reasoning are far from the tradition of Boston College and the long history of Jesuit and other private universities. As a private institution Boston College does frame its policies and expectations regarding student conduct on the basis of moral values, some of which derive from its Catholic character. As noted, it has long been the position of the Church, that since homosexual orientation is not a freely chosen human act, it is no way blameworthy; together with many other religious groups, however, the Church's consistent position has been that homogenital acts are morally wrong. While respecting the diversity of religious and philosophical belief among the student body, there are nonetheless a number of University policies regarding conduct that reflect the University's distinctive moral values. I have already discussed these lines of reasoning with the graduate students who, I understand, originally drafted them. Given the document's fairly wide circulation, however, I want to avoid any mi sunderstanding others may have with regard to the College's prerogatives in establishing standards of campus conduct.
The fact that you have attached a particular symbolic meaning to the process of registering student organizations, will, I recognize, make this response to your request a greater disappointment than it otherwise might have been. I can assure you, however, of Boston College's continued uncompromising dealing with any form of harassment or intolerance based on sexual orientation. More importantly, the University will seek your continued assistance in providing its many substantive forms of educational and social support to all of our students through the critical intellectual and personal development of their undergraduate years.
J. Donald Monan, SJ
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