OSD denies human rights group’s constitution

The Office of Student Development has recently denied official recognition of a proposed student organization that would advocate gay and lesbian issues.

The decision sparked an emotional backlash from the group's organizer, Tanya Willmsen, a College of Arts & Sciences sophomore and transfer student.

"I will not be told I will have to sit on the back of the bus," she said.

Willmsen's proposed organization, the Human Rights Campaign of Marquette, was an attempt to "provide a national voice on gay and lesbian issues" and "mobilize grassroots action," according to the constitution she drafted.

Willmsen submitted the constitution and a Request to Organize form to the office at the end of November and received a written response Jan. 27 from Pamela Peters, OSD coordinator for student organizations and leadership.

The organization's request for recognition was rejected because parts of it did not reflect Marquette's mission statement, said Jon Dooley, assistant dean of Student Development.

"While some of the activities and causes of the Human Rights Campaign are certainly worthy and are compatible with Marquette's own statement on human dignity and diversity, other issues, for example equal marriage rights, are inimical to Catholic teaching," he said.

Willmsen viewed the rejection as politely saying homosexuals are not as good as other people and are unwanted.

"Now we're being persecuted for a different reason," she said.

Dooley said the decision was made after consulting with several university offices, including University Ministry and the executive director of University Mission and Identity.

However, Dan Maguire, a theology professor with whom Willmsen spoke, said the consultation process was not extensive enough.

"They should get a true theological picture," he said. "The administrator who wrote that (letter) is simply uninformed. It is, unfortunately, common for administrators to make pronouncements on Catholic teaching without consulting Catholic theologians on campus."

The final decision to reject the organization's recognition request came after assessing what would best consistently represent the university and its religious ideals, Dooley said.

"To provide university resources or direct sponsorship to an organization that promotes ideals contradictory to the Catholic faith would compromise our integrity as a Jesuit institution," Dooley read from Peters' letter. "The university must take a moral stand on certain issues to defend its own identity and must display truth in advertising by standing by its mission."

However, Willmsen said there are other Jesuit university organizations fighting for advocacy causes, like GU Pride, a Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Transgender group at Georgetown University with which Willmsen is working closely.

On Feb. 12 and 13, Willmsen and about eight other Marquette students attended the Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Transgender Allied College Conference, which brought together about 1,000 people from 10 states.

While at the gathering, Willmsen said many students from other schools "wanted to help but weren't sure how because Marquette has a reputation of not being GLBT-friendly."

But not all GLBT organizations are advocacy groups. For example, Loyola Maryland's Spectrum and Marquette's Gay-Straight Alliance seek to educate and spread awareness on campus and not take a political stance.

According to the student handbook, at Marquette, groups seeking university recognition must go through an approval process. They must submit a Request to Organize form with at least five interested members to OSD. After initial approval, organizers submit a constitution and letters of support, if needed. After those items pass through OSD and the Marquette Student Government Senate, the organizers finalize procedures and policies with OSD officials.

This article appeared in The Marquette Tribune on Mar. 1 2005.