Boston College Gala Dispute, 2005

Home to Jesuit Values or Strict Catholic Doctrine?

Copyright (c) by Erica Davies, 2008. All rights reserved.

When it comes to religious universities that adopt church teachings and abide by Catholic doctrine, the question arises: do we promote gay friendly non-discrimination or enforce censorship regarding sexual orientation? Boston College, a private Jesuit university and home to a very large Jesuit community in the Chestnut Hill area, issued an abrupt ban on the GLBT student community's planned "AIDS Benefit Gala: A Celebration of Diversity" on November 22nd, 2005 after months of planning. The event, which was to be held on December 9th, 2005, was created as a "GLBT safe zone" for students but deemed too "exclusive" and "a violation of church teachings." University spokesman Jack Dunn defended Dean for Student Development Robert Sherwood and assistant dean Christopher Darcy's decision to cancel the gala despite the outcry from the GLBT community and many outraged Faculty and Staff members. "What we're doing is what all 238 Catholic universities in the United States would do," continued Dunn. "As a Catholic university, we cannot sanction an event that promotes a lifestyle that is in conflict with church teaching." [2]

Originally the title of the dance, "The GLC Diversity Ball: A Night in Gay Paris: A Safe Zone Event," was thought to be too explicit despite intentions to promote community outreach and draw a diverse crowd. However, many BC student groups including the GLBT Leadership Council (GLC), the Boston College Democrats, and the GLBT allies were convinced that the cancellation of the dance was solely due to the organizers' sexual orientation - and their openness about it.[3]The mounting frustrations revolved especially around the expected proceeds - to be donated to different organizations, namely the Boston Living Center - which were no longer a possibility because of the Administration's intervention. Disappointment also stemmed from the fact that BC had previously stated its hard-fought mission of becoming the "Best Catholic University in the World", even though its Jesuit values of acceptance and respect were quickly abandoned to censor the expression of its own students.[4]The inclusion of student wishes were clearly ignored, which was felt as a betrayal to the entire school community following the previous year's "Strike and Rally for Equality" campaign.

A gay rights protest ensued to contest the decision by Administration, and boasted a 500-person attendance comprised of Boston College students, faculty, and staff in the cold and inclement weather. The gathering consisted of student speakers voicing their complaints, two minutes of silence, dancing, chanting, and signs reading "Homophobia Devalues Your Degree." Senior Sasha Westerman, Vice President of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Leadership Council (GLC) at the time, was outraged by school officials asking the community to be "less gay" in their meetings and recruitment for ally membership. "[I thought] we would actually be able to have some social events that are open to everyone but targeted to the GLBT community," said Westerman. "Those words [in the nondiscrimination policy] do not ring true anymore, and I felt very different at the end of last semester."[5]

Instead of Boston College's usual class slogan "Eagles on the warpath", they are now challenged with "What [war]path do we take?"