The Rapidian

Aquinas College and the need for more LGBTQIA inclusivity

Last month at Aquinas College, there was a viewing of the film Desire of the Everlasting Hills: an anti-LGBTQIA movie which highlights celibacy as the only appropriate lifestyle for LGBTQIA identifying individuals. This is part 1 of 2 articles on this topic.
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Aquinas College, like many private colleges across the United States, has to take further steps in not only recognizing the inclusivity of its student body but also what is being shown on campus and it’s effects on the community. Wonsil shared the process of having events on campus with me which has not been updated since 2011, making Aquinas long overdue for updated policies and procedures.

/Allison Garstecki

/Lauren Gerich

Last month at Aquinas College, there was a viewing of the film "Desire of the Everlasting Hills:" an anti-LGBTQIA movie which highlights celibacy as the only appropriate lifestyle for LGBTQIA identifying individuals. I interviewed Emma Wonsil, Aquinas Senior who is involved in the Social Action Committee and the LGBTQIA Resistance group on campus, to share her input and experiences on campus as an involved student.

Aquinas College, like many private colleges across the United States, has to take further steps in not only recognizing the inclusivity of its student body but also what is being shown on campus and its effects on the community. Wonsil shared the process of having events on campus with me which has not been updated since 2011, making Aquinas long overdue for updated policies and procedures.

How was "Desire of the Everlasting Hills" able to be shown on campus?

"So the "Desire of the Everlasting Hills" was posted on the Moose (student event page) at the end of February, and a friend actually sent me a screenshot of it. I didn't really know a lot about it, but then I saw it had to do with the Church's teaching homosexuality, looked it up, watched it and was pretty confused. I am one of two student representatives on the Speaker & Events Committee and the movie was not on the agenda for our March 1 meeting. Myself and a couple of friends started to reach out to friends and have them express their concern about the movie to Student Senate, the Provost, and the Dean of Students and ask that it be brought to the Speaker & Events Committee. The movie was then put on the agenda for that meeting. However, at the meeting, we discovered that the head of the Catholic Studies Department, Dr. John Pinheiro, simply asked our Provost, Dr. Stephen Barrows, to show the movie and the Provost, who said he saw the movie when it first came out, said it was fine. He later said that was unaware it would be so such a sensitive topic on campus. There was a fairly intense discussion at the meeting, and I was the only representative of the LGBTQ community. We even suggested that we have another viewpoint presented, such as someone who was both Catholic and embracing their identity as person with that community, because this movie presents celibacy as the only option. Dr. Pinheiro rejected that idea immediately, and as the meeting time wound down, the event was only changed to have counseling and pastoral care available. There was no vote taken.”

Is our process for movies and activities on campus out of date?

"I am probably fairly biased, but I do think that our process is out of date. Our bylaws for this committee were last updated in 2011. Sadly, what we have seen with this is that the only things that have been brought to the committee (which is at the department head or advisor of the group's discretion) are things that are deemed contrary to Catholic moral teaching - not sensitive. This meant that the Saints for Life Club last year did not have to go through the committee to have an outside presence on campus challenging students on their views on abortion, which many students complained about. However, AQ Pride was required to go to the committee for a pronoun awareness day, and only if they had an article present at the table with the materials to remind students that the Catholic Church does not acknowledge transgender persons. It also allows for a subjective interpretation of what is sensitive - Dr. Barrows did not think this movie would be a sensitive topic, so it was not brought to the committee.

Many of us understand this is a Catholic college. The school has the right to present the Catholic viewpoint. However, it does not mean that the school has the right to silence every other position."

What was the response of the students on campus in relation to this movie showing?

“Students were obviously concerned once they heard about the showing. Many of us are members or allies of the LGBTQ community, and so this hit home for a lot of students. Following the announcement that the movie would be shown, an anonymous person painted the Spirit Rock in rainbow with the words "Love is Love" on one side and an equal sign on the other. Students took pictures in front of it and posted to social media with the caption "I am an AQ Saint. I believe that the Catholic Dominican tradition calls us to respect and embrace the inherent dignity of all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. #AQloves". This was really awesome to see, and we began to reach out to students discreetly (either online or in person) to figure out a way to peacefully express dissent. We decided that we would have a silent walkout on the night of the event. A couple days before the event, someone else repainted over the rock with the caption God is Love and a Catholic Catechism citation that reads ""Sexuality, by means of which man and woman give themselves to one another through the acts which are proper and exclusive to spouses, is not something simply biological, but concerns the innermost being of the human person as such. It is realized in a truly human way only if it is an integral part of the love by which a man and woman commit themselves totally to one another until death." Luckily, Campus Life painted over that with a welcome home message, but I know it encouraged a lot of people to come to the event and have their voices heard.”

So on March 14, students wore "AQ Loves" or "I found my pride at AQ" buttons along with a rainbow ribbon around their arm, wrist, or even in their hair. We all arrived at the event, and then all simultaneously got up and left 9:20 into the film. We left this handout in our place:

​We couldn't get an exact count, but we know we had 50-60 students walk out of the event. We then went to the Moose where we had coloring books, pizza and other snacks, Twister, and even two local bands play—Tabula Rasa and Conrad Shock and the Noise. That night, we started requesting signatures for an open letter to be sent to administration. We had less than 24 hours to get the signatures before it was published and we ended up with 350+ students and alumni. Tyler Wayne Clark was absolutely amazing in spreading the word among alum, we had support pouring in from people who graduated in the 70s!”

What are students, alumni, and community members able to do to show support for our LGBTQIA students, staff, and alum? How can we get involved if we already aren't?

“Feel free to call or email your concerns to the Provost, Dr. Barrows (Phone: 616-632-2151, email: [email protected]), the Vice President for Student Affairs, Brian Matzke (Phone: 616-632-2073, e-mail: [email protected]), or the Associate Dean of Mission & Ministry, Robert Gilmore (Phone: 616-632-2489, email: [email protected]). There's also some great events coming up on campus, such as the panel on April 11 on students experiences on the intersections of Christianity and LGBTQ identities and it's free and open to the public!”

I saw President Olivarez's statement about the movie and while it addressed the issue of what we show on campus, it was more vague than what I was expecting.

“We actually didn't have faculty or staff involved before the walkout, it was 100 percent a student movement. Since then, we have had absolutely amazing support pouring in from around campus. They've been getting involved at faculty assembly and some even came to our gathering at the Moose after the protest! I've been working with some other students to compile a resource for LGBTQ students and allies that serves as a "roadmap" to the LGBTQ friendly members on campus.

Conor Ellis, Sophomore, President of AQ Democrats Club and Diversity and Inclusion Center Excel Program Mentor shares his review of the film.

Conor Ellis wrote a review of the film and stayed during the discussion after the viewing with his boyfriend to engage with the viewers. In his review he shares, “'Desire of the Everlasting Hills' actually makes a direct comparison between homosexuality and incest: a dramatic, but weak claim that isn’t backed by any logical arguments. Throughout the film, vague connections between living out a homosexual lifestyle and committing other acts that the church would conceive as sinful are made. Things like being unkind, being promiscuous and feeling lonely or unfulfilled are somehow meant to be connected to homosexuality. 'Desire of the Everlasting Hills' failed to actually make real connections to these ideas however. The film paints openly gay people with a broad brush and heavily suggests that homosexuality is linked to other areas of immorality.”

When asked about inclusion on campus Wonsil shares that, "AQ has a long way to go in terms of inclusion on campus. We are seeing some good first steps, but I think the school has to take an intense look at our mission statement and diversity & inclusion statement, because right now, we do not practice what we preach. Our founding order, the Dominican Sisters, serve as an amazing example of a Catholic community that does not alienate others, but embraces them. Most of all, I want the college to realize that our LGBTQ students exist, and are looking for a home at Aquinas. Our existence, and our experience, is not changed by official Catholic moral teaching, and we deserve to tell our stories.”

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