Drag Show at Saint Joseph’s University? Catholic Education Expert Sounds Alarm
‘It's akin to giving cotton candy when real food is needed.’
PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — How does a drag show fit the mission of a Catholic university? That is what a Catholic education expert asked when hearing about such a performance, which took place at the Jesuit university in Philadelphia last Friday.
A drag show, listed as an event of Saint Joseph’s Univerity’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion office, was held April 22 at the student center, The Perch.
Dr. Denise Donohue, Vice President for Educator Resources at the Cardinal Newman Society — an organization which promotes and defends faithful Catholic education — told CNA April 27 that “the mission of Catholic education is to evangelize and witness to the truth of God and the world through complete integral human formation.”
“How do these types of shows do that?”
CNA asked officials at Saint Joseph’s University if they thought hosting a drag show was consistent with Catholic teaching, but received no response.
Donohue said that “while there might certainly be aspects of artistic merit in these types of performances it's akin to giving cotton candy when real food is needed.”
“When worldly views that counter Church teaching are given ‘center stage’ by a Catholic institution, whether just for entertainment or political positioning, Catholic identity is harmed, thus requiring reinforcement of authentic Church teaching for the sake of the souls of students in its care,” she said.
“College students are ripe for an authentic formation of the human person as presented by St. John Paul II in his Wednesday addresses traditionally known as Theology of the Body,” she said. “They are hungering for the truth and integrity of their own sexuality.”
Donohue added that “authentic accompaniment demands that the truth of the human person, in all its beauty and complexity, be taught from a Catholic worldview.”
The university’s student newspaper, The Hawk, called the show an annual event at the school.
The university’s inclusion and diversity office has encouraged students to dress up in drag and participate in the show in past years.
In a 2017 Facebook post, the school’s Office for Inclusion and Diversity said, “We still need student performers! Here is your chance to perform alongside RuPaul‘s Drag Race’s very own Peppermint.”
A 2019 tweet from the same office said, “Come watch SJU student performers as drag queens and kings and learn about drag culture and history.”
There were no social media posts from the OID this year encouraging students to participate in the event. However, the office hasn’t posted on its Facebook or Twitter accounts in about a year. CNA asked the school if they encouraged students to participate this year, but received no response.
The OID event was run by two university-sponsored student groups: SJUPride and Hawk Hill Productions. SJU Pride is a student-led group that aims to build an “accepting space for all sexual orientations and gender identities to gather and express themselves.” Hawk Hill Productions is a student-run group that plans events.
SJU Pride did not respond to CNA’s inquiry asking whether drag shows are consistent with Catholic teaching.
Founded in 1851, the Jesuit university says it guides students “on the path to seeking the greater good, living [their] purpose and finding God in all things.”
The school’s mission statement says it provides a “rigorous, student-centered education rooted in the liberal arts” while preparing its students “for personal excellence, professional success and engaged citizenship.”
Donohue commented: “Understanding our body, and our sexuality, as a gift from God; how it is designed to externally manifest the beauty of the spiritual and divine life within us as either male or female, as Catholic education teaches, makes a presentation of this sort confusing to faithful Catholics.”