NORTH CANTON, Ohio — Walsh University LGBTQ+ students and their allies are still in limbo 200 days later. They have not yet received an answer on whether their proposed “Oasis Club” will be recognized by the university.
“I think that the Walsh University administration has left out the people that feel left out on-campus in all these processes and all these initiatives,” said Hannah McFeeters, a co-author of the club and a senior at Walsh University who identifies as an ally to the LGBTQ+ community.
The proposed “Oasis Club” is designed to be a safe place for LGBTQ+ students and their allies to meet, discuss issues and talk about service initiatives.
Without a yes or no answer on whether the school will recognize the club, alumni are now joining the conversation.
“If you don't want to recognize it as a club, because of this being a Catholic institution, and that's totally understandable by a lot of people. I at least think this group deserves a safe place to meet,” said Michael Reed, a 1987 graduate of Walsh University. “I don't see this any different than you know, there are several Muslim students on-campus. And I know at one point, they were told you can have a safe place to meet and pray. But this is a Catholic university, and we will not build a mosque. Totally understandable.”
Reed served on the Walsh University Alumni board for 10 years, three years as the president. Now he is on the presidential advisory board.
“Understand, whatever answer is given is not going to satisfy you know, every person,” said Reed. “There's people out there that believe no, there should not be a club at all. This is a Catholic university. But if that's the case, you know, then do you put in the rules that you know, if you're an LGBTQ student coming to Walsh we're not going to recognize you? I don't think that's the answer. Everybody's welcome here.”
It’s been 61 years since Walsh University was founded by the Brothers of Christian Instruction. Walsh University President Tim Collins, launched the Presidential Thought Leadership Series on Founders’ Day. The first topic was “Understanding Human Sex and Intimacy with Faith and Reason.”
World-renowned theologian and biologist Rev. Nicanor Austriaco delivered the keynote address, which centered on "hookup culture vs Catholic culture". Those who support recognizing the Oasis Club question why he was chosen, pointing to essays he's published that describe homosexuality as being “intrinsically disordered."
“In researching different essays and things that the father that came tonight to speak has written one of them was titled 'The Myth of the Gay Gene.' And it talks about how being gay is a disorder. It's something that conversion therapy can fix. And it also made some really disorderly comparisons of an LGBT person and really invalidated the feelings of the LGBT person,” said McFeeters.
The university said Collins collaborated with Nicanor to land on the topic of sex and intimacy to illustrate the differences between the secular “hook up” culture of casual sex without intimacy versus the Catholic perspective of sex and intimacy. As a Catholic university, they said it is a very important and relevant topic especially when considering mental well-being.
Homosexuality wasn’t brought up until the question and answer portion of the presentation. When referencing a student who came out as gay to him, Austriaco said the words “you are loved.”
“I found that the priest was more agreeable and more open to understanding that LGBT students have questions and they have thoughts and they have feelings and they have complexities that are so uniquely theirs because of who they are and how society views them. They deserve answers and I don't think any student has felt that way due to the administration's actions or their words thus far,” said McFeeters.
When asked if the university agrees with Austriaco’s statement “you are loved,” Walsh University said “Absolutely, the University agrees. Of particular note was when Father Nicanor mentioned talking to a member of the LGBTQ community, he said you could be talking to a Saint. We all need to remain humble and have grace, sensitivity and respect for each other and know that we are all loved.”
The university’s guidelines call for club applications to be processed within 10 days. The university said the application has been processed, but is still being reviewed. The university said the president is continuing to meet with students from the LGBTQ+ community to gather input and discuss pathways of support and understanding.
McFeeters and Reed said they are disappointed in the process, but they are not giving up.
“I consider all these students the same. We're all children of God. We're all created in the likeness and image of God. And I think these students deserve an answer. I think they deserve to be treated fairly like everybody else,” said Reed. “I'm alumni. I'm proud of my school. And I know the brothers of Christian instruction would have a problem with this going on for so long.”
“I have hope in this because of the community that has been built,” said McFeeters. “We continue to show up for one another, and to me like that's what I'll remember about being a Cavalier at Walsh University.”
The university said Collins has not defined a particular date when the university will be ready with an answer, as this issue is complex. For more information on Walsh University visit here.