Some St. Scholastica employees take stand against marriage amendmentA bubble of neutrality on the campus of the College of St. Scholastica was popped this week when it comes to Tuesday’s vote on the marriage amendment.
By: Mike Creger , Duluth News Tribune
A bubble of neutrality on the campus of the College of St. Scholastica was popped this week when it comes to Tuesday’s vote on the marriage amendment.
Faculty and staff at the Catholic college are speaking out against the amendment after students grumbled about an event on campus last weekend led by the Duluth Diocese. The annual assembly focused on marriage and featured a speaker on the “promotion and defense of marriage.”
Students took exception to the event and considered it a breach of the college’s preference that no formal campus groups sponsor events on either side of the marriage amendment question — which is asking Minnesotans to define marriage in the constitution as a union of one man and one woman.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students were especially feeling marginalized after the diocese event, said Gary Boelhower, a professor of theology and religious studies at Scholastica.
He and 191 other faculty and staff signed a letter saying they were not in support of the amendment, and it was printed in a paid advertisement in the student newspaper Friday.
“We want those students to know they are supported,” Boelhower said.
“We speak only for our own consciences and do not represent the college or any departments/units within the college,” the letter read. “We recognize that the Catholic Church in Minnesota is taking a clear position in favor of the amendment, while the college itself remains neutral. As educators, we believe we have a responsibility to add our voices to a debate that is often misleading and based on fear.”
The letter ended with: “We are voting ‘no’ to stand in solidarity with all our LGBT brothers and sisters whose fundamental freedoms are presently compromised in our state and country.”
St. Scholastica President Larry Goodwin said he was made aware of the letter before it was printed and said that as long as it was clear that the signers were speaking for themselves and not the college, he was OK with it.
“We sponsor respectful discussion and debate,” he said. “And this is one of those cases.”
The college is allowing a “Vote No” rally on campus today at noon. It’s sponsored by the Center for Just Living and Queer-Straight Alliance.
The staff members who signed the letter represent about 38 percent of the 500 employees at Scholastica.
Kyle Eller, director of communications for the Diocese of Duluth, issued a statement from the diocese Friday after the letter was received there.
“We are shocked and saddened to see people at a Catholic college, even speaking only for themselves, argue against not merely the marriage amendment but against clear Catholic teaching on the nature of marriage itself,” the statement began. “Catholic colleges are and should be places of academic inquiry into the issues of the day, but also places that propose with clarity and depth the truths known by faith and reason through the teaching of the Catholic faith, rooted in a rich Catholic intellectual tradition that spans 2,000 years of thought.”
The letter printed Friday at St. Scholastica was similar to one printed in the student paper serving the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University, two Catholic colleges in central Minnesota near St. Cloud.
The editor of the campus newspaper, the Cable, said students have been discouraged from organizing events around the marriage amendment because St. Scholastica has taken a neutral stance.
“That was the last straw for people,” Fatima Alwan said of the diocese event.
There has been little debate on her editorial pages about the amendment, a source of frustration but also a sign that people were trying to keep opinions to themselves on campus.
She said she had no qualms about accepting the letter as an advertisement and would have accepted an opposing ad as well. She said administration does a good job of staying out of the newspaper’s way on controversial issues.
“They’re really accepting about different viewpoints,” Alwan said.
The letter found a hungry audience on the St. Scholastica campus. Alwan said the newspaper was on racks at 11 a.m. Friday and those racks were empty by 2 p.m. People flocked to the Cable office for copies as well.
“The college should be about open dialogue,” President Goodwin said. “It should be a place where people feel safe to do that. That’s a good thing.”
Minnesotans United For All Families, the group making the statewide push to “Vote No” on the amendment, posted the letter from the St. Scholastica staff on its Facebook page. It soon was deluged with comments from like supporters and proud alumni.
Chris Dolan was among them. The 2001 graduate is an attorney in Minneapolis who credits the culture at St. Scholastica for helping him in a struggle with his sexuality. He is gay and married his partner in Toronto. They have a 4-year-old child.
“The St. Scholastica experience was instrumental to me in coming out,” he said. The sisters at the college helped him in coming to an understanding that “God made me who I am.”
Dolan is on the board of trustees at the college and said the efforts of the “Vote No” campaign and especially the faculty letter “sends my family a powerful message.”