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Outing DePaul

Taking a close look at the LGBTQA community on campus

Published: Monday, October 18, 2010

Updated: Monday, August 27, 2012 16:08

National Coming Out day was celebrated on Oct.11, a day dedicated to gay pride and the LGBT community. That celebration came approximately three weeks after a Rutgers University freshman student, Tyler Clementi, committed suicide after his roommate posted a video of him online having intimate relations with another man.Swift reaction arose from the Rutgers University incident, including many schools implementing anti-bullying and harassment programs. DePaul, which boasts of a diverse student population and initiatives on campus in response to world events, reacted in a different way.

"Whatever the world is fighting about shows up on a campus too," said Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, C.M., President of DePaul University. "The U.S. is in a transition place of incorporating gay and lesbian people."

Fr. Holtschneider believes it is DePaul's job to take outside energy over the homosexuality debate and bring it to the level of the university- an intelligent thoughtful conversation as well as civil.

Fr. Holtschneider said with a grin that while St. Vincent de Paul never dealt with the gay issue, he did deal with people on the margins.

And thus, at DePaul, we have developed a "culture of empathy" based on the saint's teachings.

Fr. Holtschneider said that as a community we ask, "Who is not being treated well and what can we do to help?"

"This is a pretty welcoming place for gay lesbian bisexual transgender [people]," Fr. Holtschneider said.

DePaul students collaborated with people across Chicago to put together the candlelight vigil on Friday, Oct. 8, and, of all the places in the city it could have been hosted, the location chosen was DePaul's quad.

"I organized the vigil for Tyler Clementi and the other students because I felt it was such a tragedy, and a preventable one at that," said sophomore philosophy student Jeremy Kauffman. "I was hoping that students would realize how much of an impact hateful words can have, and realize that everything we do or say in our society has consequences. It is the society we live in that pushed these kids towards suicide, so through the vigil I hope that students see that it is their civil and moral duty to stand up against hate where they see it, so that we don't have to hear more stories about innocent kids taking their own lives."

In Fr. Holtschneider's mind it would never have been a question; of course the vigil would be welcome on DePaul's campus. "I was proud when all these groups were deciding on a place to do it and they said let's do it at DePaul," Fr. Holtschneider said. "We chose that moment to reinforce our values."

In the letter that Jim Doyle, the Vice President for Student Affairs, sent to students and staff, he states, "As a Vincentian institution, DePaul has a strong commitment to honoring the dignity of each and every person. We affirm that every student should have the right to a safe campus climate void of intimidation and harassment in which all can learn, grow and flourish."

"People should take this as a wakeup call," said Joe Marnen, co-president of the student organization Spectrum. "Bullying, especially of LGBTQA youth, has become an epidemic in this country." Spectrum is the social LGBTQA group on campus.

Marnen said that no one has the right to torture another, and that the bullying of someone because of their sexuality is as silly as bullying them for the color of his or her hair.

"I can't speak for lesbians, bi, transgender, or queer students because I'm only gay, but in terms of being gay, it is a relatively good environment," Kauffman said. "When I consider other schools or my high school and compare it to the attitudes at DePaul I realize how progressive DePaul can be in terms of accepting it. The only problem is it's hard to determine whether it's DePaul that's accepting, or the people who I chose to surround myself with. I'm sure there are homophobes at DePaul because there are homophobes everywhere. It might just be that I haven't had too much contact with them yet."

Fr. Holtschneider attributes DePaul's accepting climate of sexual diversity to a variety of sources including student initiatives that have helped define and bring to light the community at DePaul and past and present faculty.

In 2003, a student ran a survey to help clarify who exactly was part of the DePaul community and to point to the fact that DePaul needed to have services for this community.

According to the survey parameters, "the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Resource Center Survey was a 33-point questionnaire designed to assess the overall campus climate of DePaul University in terms of its tolerance towards LGBT students, faculty, and staff. It was also designed specifically to measure the level of support felt at DePaul for the LGBT community and to measure the level of awareness of support services, resources, and information that DePaul provides to its LGBT population and to the broader community." In the original survey, 995 were completed and 9.2 percent of the students surveyed identified as LGBT. There was a second survey done in 2004 of 362 students that estimated the number of LGBT at 19.2 percent.

"That survey became a little bit of a roadmap for programming," Fr. Holtschneider said. One such addition was the office of LGBTQA Student Services developed by a committee in 2003 in response to addressing the needs of this community.

Another such group credited with DePaul's acceptance of the LGBT community was gay faculty in the 90s who wanted to make DePaul a welcoming place. They started by being open out about their sexuality. "I give these faculty a lot of credit," Fr. Holtschneider said.

As a publicly professed lesbian, Dr. Beth Kelly of the women's and gender studies program knows first hand how accepting DePaul is of its staff.

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