By Nora McCaughey, Marquette University ’22
The Jesuit phrase, cura personalis, or care for the whole person, is an integral part of life at all Jesuit institutions. As a student at Marquette University, I’ve seen this implemented in myriad ways: Snacks and therapy dogs on campus during midterms to help students relax; a counseling center that students can utilize free of charge; and events for relaxation, such as yoga and group journaling. Caring for the whole person means going beyond academics and catering to all needs, not just those that will result in good grades. Minority groups in particular may find themselves in need of more assistance in caring for the whole person, especially if the environment they live in does not support them.
In accordance with cura personalis, Jesuit colleges and universities across the nation have adapted and made clear that students struggling with their sexuality or gender are welcome at multicultural resource centers, counseling centers, and other spaces on campus. But some universities have gone even farther, implementing LGBTQ+ Resource Centers to give students exclusive and fully-sexuality oriented staff and peers.
Over the summer, I interviewed Emma Wuetrich, the assistant director of the Marquette LGBTQ+ Resource Center. She said, “Marquette students utilize the LGBTQ+ Resource Center services by attending our campus-wide educational programs, attending our allyship-building workshops, and engaging with us on social media.”
While all of these could be achieved without an entire center dedicated to LGBTQ+ students, Wuetrich explained that resource centers need to be created individually rather than simply being lumped in with other agencies.
The lack of equity in society has led some to require more support than others, and the Marquette LGBTQ+ Resource Center is a great example of that. But students don’t just go to the center when they are in trouble or need counseling. They stop in between classes, to take breaks, chat with friends, or use the queer literature lending library.
The center hosts campus-wide educational programs, such as allyship-building workshops and other events. Some are aimed at students across campus regardless of sexuality or gender, to educate the student body and increase the culture of inclusion. But there are also events for students who feel they need a safe space with other LGBTQ+ people in which to talk or be themselves. “When students feel safe, protected, and valid, they are better equipped to learn, perform, and succeed,” said Wuetrich.
But things still aren’t perfect on Jesuit campuses. When I asked Alex Wagner, an LGBTQ+ student at Marquette, if he’d ever visited the LGBTQ+ Center, he said that he has only attended one event because he didn’t think the environment was very welcoming. “I went with my friend for an arts and crafts event, which was fun, but I didn’t feel comfortable sharing my story as a gay man, and [others in attendance] kind of seemed upset about that.”
In fact, Wagner has some ideas about how to make the Resource Center even better. At Marquette, a lot of groups holding events will incentivize students to come with prizes — a gift card, free food, etc. (NB: I personally have attended a lot of events for organizations I’m not a part of because of these prizes.) Wagner thinks this model could serve the university well. He suggested, “Maybe a coupon, or refreshments, just to get more allies in and make the group more inclusive.”
Despite Wagner’s less-than-ideal experience, he still sees value in the Center. He said, “I’m glad it exists, in case I need it.”
It makes Wagner feel more comfortable to know that Marquette isn’t ignoring their LGBTQ+ students, or even lumping them into the counseling center or multicultural center, by dedicating an entire office to their needs. Even though Wagner doesn’t think he personally will utilize the center, he said it was great to see so many LGBTQ+ students be proud in a safe environment at a popular place on campus to tell their stories and meet new people.
Georgetown University is another Jesuit institution that has made their acceptance of LGBTQ+ students clear. In addition to a Resource Center, Georgetown has created a blog, LGBTQ Histories at Georgetown, showcasing a timeline of events, archives, and interviews with staff, faculty, and alumni who were present during the 2007 Out for Change campaign, which led to the creation of the Center. Georgetown’s implementation of an LBGTQ+ Center almost a decade before the legalization of gay marriage shows a true devotion to students at a time even before it became widely normalized. A center retreat, called Journeys, is a time for LGBTQ+ community members and cis or straight allies to come together in a non-campus location and reflect and learn about each other. Being able to speak outside of a stressful school campus environment allows for more openness and a true sense of retreating from everyday life, instead of gathering once a week inside of a classroom.
While Jesuit colleges and universities provide support for LGBTQ+ students on their campuses in different ways, more could be done; not all Catholic students feel accepted because of the rocky history of Christianity and Catholicism with homosexuality. Schools are continuing to improve upon their programs and include as many students as possible, which I’ve been fortunate enough to see firsthand at Marquette. LGBTQ+ students deserve the same right to be themselves on campus as everyone else, and having more centers at Jesuit schools would help ensure this is possible.
Nora McCaughey served as an intern at AJCU in Summer 2021.