BC SealBoston College Magazine Spring 2005
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Reorientation

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University revises public notice to include welcome for gay members of community

After months of discussion, students from the undergraduate government of Boston College (UGBC) and a campus group called Movement for Equality have agreed with University administrators on a new "nondiscrimination statement." The rendering, according to its developers, sets a more welcoming tone for gay and lesbian employees and students than had the previous version, but also continues to reserve the University's right, under federal and state laws, to act in the interests of Catholic religious values.

Various federal and state laws require Boston College to make a public statement regarding its commitment to nondiscrimination in employment and educational programs. While the preface to a previous statement, which has been in use for six years, referred to the importance of "a diverse community," the new declaration references homosexuals among other groups, citing Boston College's commitment to "maintaining a welcoming environment for all people and extend[ing] its welcome in particular to those who may be vulnerable to discrimination on the basis of their race, ethnic or national origin, religion, color, age, gender, marital or parental status, veteran status, disabilities, or sexual orientation." The statement also continues to note that the University will comply with Massachusetts laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation "while reserving its lawful rights where appropriate to take actions designed to promote the Jesuit, Catholic principles that sustain its mission and heritage." Federal law does not require inclusion of "sexual orientation" as a protected category, and Massachusetts law allows an exception for religiously affiliated institutions.

The student leaders had been talking with University officials, including President William P. Leahy, SJ, since September and had met regularly in recent months with a team led by the University's general counsel. The new statement was accepted on May 5.

In a letter in the student newspaper, the Heights, UGBC President Grace Simmons and Vice President Burnell Holland, both seniors, said that the statement "appropriately reflected the wishes of students, faculty, and staff while respecting the demands upon the University as a Jesuit, Catholic institution." Calling the new statement "vastly improved" and "more welcoming and affirming to all communities," they also said they were disappointed that the revised version "does not equally include sexual orientation in every facet of the clause."

Michael Yaksich '05, the UGBC cabinet secretary for gay issues and a member of the negotiating team, agreed on both counts, saying, "Boston College is a welcoming place for all members of its community, and this is a step forward in matching policy with the reality of student life." He added, however, that students remain committed to working "toward the equal standing of 'sexual orientation' in the entire policy."

Director of Public Affairs Jack Dunn '83 commended the students for their work and said "this new statement will help to project an image of inclusiveness that better reflects the reality of this campus, while enabling the University to maintain its rights under state law to uphold its religious convictions."

The agreement followed a student nonbinding referendum in March, in which 84 percent of 4,053 undergraduates voted to add "sexual orientation" to the nondiscrimination statement; a faculty petition in support of the change that garnered more than 200 signatures and was published on the back page of the Heights; and a noontime rally on April 15 that drew 1,000 students, faculty, and staff to hear speeches on the Dustbowl and then process through the campus and along Commonwealth Avenue behind a banner reading "Marching for Equality."

"For too long, Boston College has been labeled as homophobic. We want a policy that reflects the welcoming and inclusive attitudes on this campus," junior Gabriela Suau told the Boston Herald at the rally, reflecting a theme voiced by many students. Particularly irksome to some has been the Princeton Review's rating of BC twice in the past three years as an institution where "alternative lifestyles [are] not an alternative."

For some students, therefore, the rally had deep, visible, and symbolic meaning. "The best thing that happened wasn't the language change," said Nick Salter, a sophomore member of the negotiating team, "but the rally and march, where students and faculty, almost all of them straight, came together to support friends who are gay."

Holland said that while the negotiations were rigorous, the way in which they were handled by University personnel "restored trust among students that their voice does mean something, and that the administration, when asked, will take a time-out to look around."

Two years ago, a similar set of discussions among students and University administrators resulted in the founding of Allies, a support group for gay and lesbian students.

Ben Birnbaum

 

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