New Georgetown ‘Gender and Sexuality’ Housing Plan Sparks Questions

Proposal raises concern university may miss an opportunity to provide students who identify as ‘LGBTQ’ with a supportive community that integrates Catholic teaching.

Georgetown University campus
Georgetown University campus (photo: Shutterstock)

WASHINGTON — Georgetown University has approved a new living and learning community for the upcoming academic year that is geared toward young adults who self-identify as part of the “LGBTQ” community, as well as friends and supporters.

But others are questioning whether the “Crossroads” living and learning community (LLC), focused on the exploration of gender and sexuality, will make any effort to engage students with Catholic formation and teaching.

Living and learning communities are housing arrangements for small groups of students dedicated to a particular focus within a college or university’s residence halls. At Georgetown, approximately 500 students (less than 10% of the student body) live in 13 LLCs, according to a university spokesman.

After rejecting previous proposals for Crossroads over concerns for Georgetown’s “Catholic and Jesuit mission,” the university changed course and its Office of Residential Living approved the latest living and learning community.

“This is a major and unprecedented accomplishment for a Catholic university,” Gracie Smith, co-chairwoman of the Georgetown University Student Association’s LGBTQ+ Advocacy and Policy coalition, told The Hoya, the university’s student-run newspaper.

“It makes a profound and radical statement that religion does not have to be mutually exclusive with the freedom to understand, challenge and grow through and with expressions of and reflection on gender and sexuality,” she said. “It says: Come as you are; be who you are; love how you do; and we’ll make a home for you.”

LLCs at Georgetown are dedicated to an array of themes. There is the French Floor, Explore D.C. (for first-year students), and Entrepreneurship. Magis Row has smaller themed communities for approximately 60 juniors and seniors, such as Sustainability in Dress and Gratia Plena (for women seeking to live out the Catholic faith).

Georgetown confirmed that Crossroads will be offered in 2018-2019. The university explained Crossroads will follow Georgetown’s current housing policies, but did not explain why it changed course on approving the living and learning community after rejecting it for the 2017-2018 academic year.

“Crossroads will provide a community space for discussion on gender and inclusion, while upholding the Jesuit values of community in diversity and educating the whole person,” Todd Olson, vice president for student affairs, told the Register in a statement.

“Our Catholic and Jesuit values call on us to engage with ‘respect, compassion and sensitivity’ with our LGBTQ community.”

The Crossroads LLC webpage explains it will help provide students with a safe, affirming space for all students, where they can reflect, grow and form a “deeper connection to Jesuit values, especially cura personalis [care for the entire person] and identity formation.” The learning goals include education on both “the history, culture and politics of gender and sexuality” and the importance of “allyship,” as well as a focus on service opportunities.

Georgetown’s decision to approve the Crossroads LLC did not come as a surprise to Amelia Irvine, president of Love Saxa, the student club that had been at the center of a public battle with the Student Activities Commission last fall over its constitution affirming the Church’s teaching on marriage and healthy relationships.

Irvine said Love Saxa did not receive support from Georgetown’s administration when the club had to defend beliefs “that are in line with Georgetown’s Catholic values” in front of a hearing board. She did not believe that the LLC would involve Catholic formation on gender and sexuality.

“Georgetown’s Office of Residential Living, which will oversee the program, is perhaps the most liberal and progressive office at Georgetown,” she said.

“The Office of Residential Living cannot provide robust, Catholic programming in its Jesuit Values LLC in which I live.”

“If they cannot do so there, I can imagine that the new ‘Gender and Sexuality’ LLC will encourage students to ‘explore’ their gender and sexuality in a way that is contrary to Church teachings,” she said.

The Register reached out to campus ministry for questions about whether it would have any role in Crossroads LLC’s programming, but was unable to obtain a response.

Patrick Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society, an organization that seeks to promote the religious identity of Catholic institutions of higher education, expressed dismay and told the Register the university is promoting confusion “instead of truth about the human person and sexuality.”

“The distinct advantage of a Catholic university is that it rests upon the truths of our faith, yet Georgetown keeps acting like that truth doesn’t exist and that Catholic moral teaching is just plain wrong,” he said.

Joseph (real name withheld by request), a recent graduate of Georgetown who identifies as “part of the LGBT community” but also tries to faithfully live Church teaching on sex, marriage and chastity, told the Register that most LLCs are “not visible presences on campus.” At most, he said, they comprise fewer than 50 students on a dormitory floor.

He said Crossroads would probably appeal to students that are already active members of the Georgetown “LGBT” community, but not students “experiencing loneliness, isolation, alienation or pain in trying to abide by the Church’s positions on gender and sexuality while also grappling with their own personal questions about gender and sexual orientation.”

Joseph knows these struggles personally and came out publicly as same-sex-attracted during his junior year. He received a lot of counseling and help from campus ministry and student health services, but never from Georgetown’s LGBT Resource Center.

Since he is committed to the Church’s teaching, Joseph said he has “found friends, community and spiritual guides in Georgetown’s campus-ministry groups and in off-campus religious groups.”

However, Joseph indicated he would have appreciated, as a student, the opportunities of a community of “LGBT” students trying to faithfully live out the Church’s teaching that the LLC concept might have provided.

“I would have loved to have found a place at Georgetown where I would feel welcome to talk about both my personal experience with same-sex sexual desires and my love for Christ and his Church — and all its teachings — in the confidence that I would be received with compassionate and Christ-centered love and patience, without fear of demonization from either the doctrine-suspicious or the gay-suspicious,” he said.

Whether Crossroads will be such a place, Joseph added, will “depend almost entirely on the individual students who lead it and apply to live in it.”

He said, “Short of knowing how involved campus ministry has been or will be with this LLC, I am not confident that Christ will intentionally be made the focus of many, if any, conversations fostered by members of this community.”


Peter Jesserer Smith is a Register staff writer.

Editor's Note: Updated on Feb. 8, 2018.

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