Seton Hall students, faculty and staff gathered on March 28 to address concerns of the LGBTQ community on campus. The panel featured students Emani Miles, Laura Mendez, Essence Williams and Adam Varoqua and Professors Judith Stark and Richard Blissett.
Peter Savastano, associate professor of the anthropology of religion, consciousness, sexuality and gender, moderated the panel, which was titled “What LGBTQI+ Students Want Their Professors to Know.”
He opened by telling those in attendance that he was “grateful that they were finally being asked who they were, not told.”
Essence Williams, a sophomore history major, was one of the panel members who highlighted some of the issues that members of the LGBTQI community face on campus.
“Some of the struggles LGBTQI+ students face include the subtle but very deadly art of being ignored,” Williams said. “Like I stated before, we exist.
However, I mean the lack of acknowledgement LGBTQI+ students get in public university spaces.”
Williams added that the LGBTQ organization has been on campus for two years, but are now receiving recognition because of administrative obstacles.
“There are no events or announcements honoring our queer student body,” Williams said. “I don’t even feel safe enough to do more besides wear a pride pin attached to my book bag because I don’t feel safe in university spaces. Seton Hall has not, with intent, created spaces safe for queer students.”
Judith Stark, an emeritus professor of philosophy and environmental studies, said she has been involved with Seton Hall for 39 years. She said she believes that a lot of the younger faculty on campus are more aware of the problems that the community faces on campus.
“Newer, younger professors typically are more attuned to these issues on campus,” Stark said. “Not all of them, but most of them are.”
Issues raised by members of the panel included a lack of adequate programming on campus for their community and concern for their safety on campus.
Williams said the education of allies for the LGBTQ community is essential to the group’s comfort on campus. She said that events like the panel are not enough alone.
“It also takes the work of allies and the institution itself to change,” she said.
“Anyone who does not identify as queer but stands in solidarity with the queer community, need to help foster an open community dialogue.”
Williams said that straight people should use their access to audiences that the queer community can’t reach to promote an awareness of their struggles.
Despite the issues raised by the panel, Stark said she realizes that the University has made strides in accepting the community on campus during her 39 years working here.
“We have a whole new group of students who are much more aware of searching for their own identities in intersectional ways than students did even 15 or 20 years ago,” she said.
Williams said that she thinks the key to solving the issue is through “knocking down the wall that divides religion and sexuality.”
She said that there is hesitance over the topic of the queer community in the context of a Catholic university, but that there shouldn’t be.
“Religion and sexuality don’t have to and really shouldn’t exist opposite of each other,” Williams said. “Race, class, religion, sexuality and gender are intersectional identities that cooperate. To sound completely idealist, we need to cooperate.”
Dalton Allison can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @daltonallison4.