Earlier this semester the Office of Equity and Inclusion engaged the Transgender Training Institute to conduct an LGBTQ+ climate assessment. As I read the survey results, I was disheartened to learn about the many negative experiences of our LGBTQ+ students, employees, and alumni: a lack of support, neglect, ignorance, bias, and prejudice. As the report indicates, our non-binary and transgender members have experienced acute distress, and the lack of BIPOC participants leaves gaps in our knowledge of the oppression experienced by those who hold multiple minoritized social identities. It is clear, both from the climate survey and my own observations, that much work needs to be done to transform St. John’s into a place that is equitable and inclusive for LGBTQ+ people.
As the new president of St. John’s, I want everyone to know that I embrace the LGBTQ+ members of our community and that I am committed to leadership that will help to create a climate that realizes our mission to love and respect every individual as made in the image and likeness of God. Our LGBTQ+ members have enriched our community in many ways. We are grateful for the contributions you have made to shape St. John’s for generations, nearly always without proper recognition and at great personal risk. We must all work together to create a campus that is more inclusive, respectful, affirming, and loving. This work must go beyond training and professional development, and beyond public statements. Evidence of our commitment to include our LGBTQ+ community members must be reflected within our practices, policies, and norms. And as the survey rightfully highlights, this work must be done in a larger context of anti-oppression work.
Part of this work will be breaking the culture of silence described in the survey. While we were the first university to sign onto “God Is On Your Side: A Statement from Catholic Bishops on Protecting LGBT Youth,” it is clear from the report that we are failing to communicate love and acceptance in ways that appropriately counteract decades of very different messages, and that are meaningful to our community. I have learned that this culture of silence extends beyond affirmation of LGBTQ+ community members, and it is a culture I am actively working to disrupt. Some of the tenets of Catholic moral teaching create challenges for making LGBTQ+ people feel fully included and embraced. This is a difficult and painful reality. We gain nothing by ignoring that reality. In fact, by ignoring the reality, we lose the opportunity to engage in respectful conversation that might bring about greater understanding and connection in our community.
I will ask the senior management team, others campus leaders, and the Strategic Planning Committee to give careful attention to the Transgender Training Institute’s Climate Assessment. The report’s recommendations, and those emerging from ongoing community feedback, will be taken seriously. I am confident that our strategic plan will be responsive to the concerns highlighted in the climate survey.
Finally, I want to thank Monique Jernigan, the Executive Director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs and the Director of the Inclusivity Resource Center, who on behalf of the Office of Equity and Inclusion engaged the Transgender Training Institute to conduct this climate assessment for St. John’s.