OPINION: We are asking for safety

By Reid Colkitt | April 8, 2022 8:07pm

Photo courtesy of Reid Colkitt.

What makes someone a good Christian? The answer to this question is rather subjective due to a number of aspects: what you consider sin, how often you must go to church, and so on. One trait of a good Christian that remains true and known is that they love their neighbors — or at least they’re supposed to (Matthew 22:39). Unfortunately, as we see the world progressing, the Catholic church falls further behind. Many Christians seem to use religion as a shield to hide behind instead of adapting to our changing society. They see religion as an excuse to discriminate against their very own neighbors, because of race, gender, and sexuality. 

Somewhere along the line, the idea came about that queer members of our society are not welcome within Catholicism. In modern day, there is absolutely no room to discriminate against people and exclude them from religion for not fitting a definition of Christianity that is never stated in the Bible to begin with. Simply because they follow ideas that are proven mistranslations of the book they claim to base their lives around, some Christians feel the need to spread hate to people unlike themselves.

In reality, there is not much difference between these two supposed sides: both live in the same society, share similar joys and losses, and some even practice the same religion — yet there remains such a divide. And why is this? It seems reasonable that students who feel that their own identity is being disrespected and threatened will choose not to associate with those who cause these feelings to arise. 

The University of Portland is a Holy Cross Catholic university. Even as someone who does not practice a religion, attending a Catholic school has immense positives, which our student body is grateful for. However, with religion comes turmoil, which has arisen on multiple accounts in the past academic year. Students at this university have struggled to find support due to the school’s failure to uphold both their mission statement and inclusion statement. At the University of Portland, the priests have promised that “as disciples of Jesus [they] stand side by side with all people.” This promise has been blatantly broken by the very person who should be leading us in our religious endeavors. 

They continue on to say, “like them we are burdened by the same struggles and beset by the same weaknesses,” but clearly this cannot be further from the truth. They do not struggle to find safety in their own home. They do not struggle to gain access to resources. They do not struggle to find someone to confide in or have to keep pieces of themselves a secret. They do not have to struggle solely based on their sexuality. In a student survey regarding the Pastoral Resident in Lund, 95% of students polled do not feel that the mission statement is upheld in our community. Clearly, the mission statement is not being upheld within certain aspects of our community. 

As for University of Portland’s statement of inclusion, our school mandates that “every person, regardless or race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, social or economic class, age, or disability shall be treated with respect and dignity.” Of the students polled in the survey, 95% believe that the UP inclusion statement is not accurately represented, with one student sharing that “the residents and RA/CA community do support the diversity and inclusion statement, but rez life in general does not”. Yet again, this promise has been broken. We have not been shown respect by those who are meant to support us through the process of making a home here in Portland. Respect for people with identities other than one’s own is simple, we ask to be treated with equity. We ask to be treated as humans, fairly and kindly despite so called “differences”. 

These poor representations of the Holy Cross within the University of Portland community cause damage to the student body. Unfortunately, the disrespectful actions on part of specific members of the pastoral community do not just reflect badly on them; they negatively impact the lives and well-being of LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC students in the hall. One of the most important aspects of enjoying time at school is making it a home. Because of the disrespect students feel from these poor representations of Catholicism, we are unable to feel safe in our home. Simply existing in this environment leads to a level of stress that no student should ever have to feel. 

On top of that, students have been given absolutely no resources to debrief the pressure of this situation. The typical resources are simply not equipped to handle the number of students who have been harmed by living with someone who makes them feel unsafe and unwelcome. Yet again, RAs have been asked to step into the position of therapist, something they should not have to do when they are directly impacted by this situation too. Here in Lund Family Hall, we have been asked to face our Pastoral Resident, to have a “community conversation,” in essence asking queer residents to out ourselves to someone who has proven on multiple occasions to be a threat to our well-being. 

With this occurrence, students have come together to share their opinions on the situation. One student states in the survey that they can only feel comfortable in Lund if we are not forced “…to live in the midst of outward homophobia and hostility under the guise of ‘faith’ or ‘religion’”. The opinions of students should be held most highly, as we make up the largest part of the community and deserve to be valued.  

In light of all that has emerged recently, it is important to remember that so much support has been shown for the safety and wellbeing of LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC students for which we are beyond grateful for. However, having people in a position of power who have repeatedly proven to be ill-fit for their jobs and continue to have concerns raised about them is entirely unacceptable. 

Overwhelmingly, Lund Family Hall residents and other community members are calling for respect. We feel invalidated, hurt, threatened, and ignored by the current senior staff in our hall. As concluded from the survey, we feel that “Fr. Dan’s presence in Lund Family Hall is a danger to queer students. His ignorance and bigotry regarding the experiences of marginalized communities makes him unfit to live in a dorm”. Students of all backgrounds are hurting over the lack of justice we are receiving, with theology students sharing “as a Christian myself, I am deeply hurt and upset that this is how Fr. Dan is choosing to represent religion. This is a position of power and authority and he is abusing it” and “as a Catholic, I believe in Jesus’s message of love for all above all else. I do not think that the current pastoral resident loves all people equally like Christ did,” (Survey). 

Fr. Dan’s opinions harm others, and this is something we cannot change. However, his outlook proves that this job is not suitable for him as he has signed up to work justly with all students — something he clearly cannot do. In the survey, 100% of students polled expressed discomfort with Fr. Dan continuing in his role in the same manner he does now. In the role of pastoral resident, love thy neighbor is taken quite literally, as we live side by side, and that love has not been shown. 

We are deserving of love and respect from our senior hall staff. There is no room in our beautiful community for people who do not support all students. As we near the end of the year, let this serve as a reminder that we will not be silenced. We will continue the conversation until our rights are respected. Our sexualities, races, and genders are not up for discussion. This is who we are and we deserve to feel safe in our homes. 

If you would like to view the results of the survey, you can find the link in my Instagram bio (@reid.k.c).

Reid Colkitt is a freshman at UP. They can be reached at colkitt25@up.edu.

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