An anonymous note posted to the Women, Gender and Sexuality (WGSS) bulletin board in Donnarumma Hall reads: “This is a Catholic University. You are teaching doctrine that goes against the Bible, and God’s design for mankind. Shame.” 

The note, posted sometime between Tuesday, Oct. 17 during the day and 8 a.m. on the morning of Wednesday Oct. 18, attacks the teaching of sexuality at Fairfield University. 

In an article published by The Rearview, Vice President of Marketing and Communications Jennifer Anderson ‘97 stated that there is “reason to believe that the person responsible for posting the note is not a member of our campus community.” 

Yet, security camera footage reviewed by The Department of Public Safety (DPS) cannot rule out the possibility that the person responsible for the note is part of the campus community to some extent.

DPS states that the note was left by a male and female white couple who also entered the Egan Chapel on Tuesday. DPS states that the couple’s age looked to be “too young to be parents, but too old to be graduate students.” 

Because the authors of the anonymous note entered the chapel the same day they left their note, it could be surmised that memorabilia posted in the chapel or below in campus ministry may have caused the couple to leave the note in Donnarumma Hall. 

A poster on the announcements board of the chapel advertises Ignatian Q, a “conference creating community, developing spirituality and affirming humanity for LGBTQ+ students at Jesuit schools.” Likewise, in campus ministry, a rainbow flag waves, signifying campus ministry’s respect and acceptance of LGBTQ+ identities in religious life. Either the poster or pride flag could have been the reason they chose to leave their note. 

Still, their choice to leave a hate-filled note is unknown at this time. Yet, their note may speak to a systemic issue of intolerance of LGBTQ+ identities at Fairfield University. 

In 2010, an article published by The Fairfield Mirror titled “Fairfield Not LGBT Friendly” referenced The Princeton Review rankings which positioned the university as 19 on the list of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender unfriendly campuses.

Fairfield’s ranking has not improved. Instead, their 2024 rankings placed the university as the 14th most unfriendly LGBTQ+ university in the United States. 

The company explains that their LGBTQ+ unfriendly rankings are based on “ how strongly students disagree that their fellow students treat all persons equally, regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.”

Faculty members responded quickly, condemning the note as concerns rose over the impacts the note may have on the LGBTQ+ community on campus. 

Because Fairfield University is a Jesuit, Catholic institution, the church’s teachings are at the core of life on campus; Fairfield University’s mission statement holds that it is an institution that is “Catholic in both tradition and spirit and celebrates the God-given dignity of every human person.” 

With the Catholic Church present in the University and University culture, believers in the anonymous notes’ statement may feel as if the University rebels against the Catholic Church and its teachings.  

However, students are speaking out against this “twisted” and “unkind” use of religion. Specifically, members from the Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA), a safe space for LGBTQ+ students as well as an advocacy group on campus for LGBTQ+ students and issues, are speaking up. 

GSA executive board members issued a statement to The Fairfield Mirror, reflecting on both the harm the note has on the safety and community that GSA has built, as well as criticizing the anonymous note for contradicting Fairfield University’s Jesuit values. 

“This kind of behavior is unacceptable and does not reflect the Jesuit values of this school.  This is not only ignorant and cowardly, but undermines the safety and community we have tried to build with GSA,” it announces. 

Junior Nicholas Garofalo, GSA’s COSO and Fairfield United Representative, builds upon their statement: “taking time out of one’s day to spread hate … through a twisted and unkind use of religion is completely backward.”  

Vice President of Mission and Ministry, Rev. Paul Rourke, S.J. echoes students’ sentiments and offers his thoughts on the incident. 

“As a Jesuit and Catholic university, we affirm the inviolable dignity of every member of our community and strive to be a place of ‘radical hospitality;’ where all feel truly welcome, loved and empowered. When a group has traditionally been persecuted and marginalized, as is the case with members of the LGBT community, we have a special duty to ensure that we live up to our own high ideals,” he states.   

He continues his statement and explains that those who follow the Church should “never […] induce feelings of marginalization and exclusion.” He believes that “one claiming to defend the Church should never behave in such a way as to induce or deepen feelings of marginalization and exclusion. 

Sadly, the note posted had exactly this effect: members of our LGBT community and others associated with [W]GSS have felt targeted and belittled by their note. Fortunately, our community is better and stronger than this note would suggest, but the work of inclusive excellence is never done.”

Likewise, declarations issued by the head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis further negate the beliefs expressed in the anonymous note. 

Pope Francis, the first Jesuit head of the Catholic Church, believes that laws criminalizing homosexuality are fundamentally unjust and that being homosexual is not a crime. Recently, Francis also welcomed Sr. Jeannine Gramic and praised her work in which she ministered to gay and lesbian Catholics for decades. 

Likewise, Francis has recently suggested that blessings for same-sex couples could be possible. NPR writes that “Francis has also voiced support for civil laws extending legal benefits to same-sex spouses, and Catholic priests in parts of Europe have been blessing same-sex unions without Vatican censure.”

Francis’ beliefs are beginning to revolutionize the churches’ standing on LGBTQ+ identities as his statement directly opposes an explanatory note published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith only two years ago in 2021. The explanatory note stated that the church couldn’t bless gay unions because ‘God cannot bless sin.’ 

In his new letter, Francis responds to the statement published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith because he states that priests cannot become judges “who only deny, reject and exclude.”   

A student, who requested and was granted anonymity to protect their identity, affirms Francis’ view of acceptance: “As someone who is both Catholic and LQBTQ+, it’s hard for me to understand this person’s thinking of how God, who is all-loving, does not support love.”

They believe that “love is the greatest gift from him we have in this world and I think most would agree.”

In an email sent out to all College of Arts and Sciences faculty, Director of the Center for Catholic Studies Nancy Dallavalle alongside Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Richard Greenwald, Ph.D., addressed the anonymous note and “the issue about the Church and the LGBTQ+ community.” 

“The posting, which invoked the authority of ‘the bible and God’s design,’ as ‘doctrine’ is uninformed,” she declares. “References to “the bible” always need context.” 

Dallavella also detailed the “unwavering commitment” that Fairfield University as a Catholic Jesuit institution has to its LGBTQ+ faculty, staff and students, “seeing this support not only as an issue of academic freedom but also as an expression of its mission as a Catholic Jesuit University, a position it shares in common with other schools in the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities.”

Rev. Rourke also touches upon academic freedom and refers to the anonymous notes critique of the teaching of WGSS. 

“While a person or group should feel free in a university setting to question or criticize academic positions and approaches, the manner of doing so is critically important. The people who posted this note without permission on a faculty bulletin board showed little evidence of desiring serious and respectful dialogue, and violated the values of our community,” he states.  

Yet, because Fairfield University is a private university, academic freedom is not guaranteed. However, Fairfield’s Purpose Statement acknowledges the right to academic freedom. “Fairfield University understands that academic freedom applies to all faculty engaged in those activities (eg. classroom teaching, published research, production of artistic artifacts) that reflect the academic expertise of a faculty member.” 

It should be noted that Fairfield’s status as a private university allows them the right to choose the courses they offer and they rely on the Jesuit value of cura personalis for this. In their website, they explained Fairifeld “supports and reflects Fairfield University’s mission of educating the whole person and offering ongoing opportunities for transformation.” 

Students also note that Jesuit teachings promote education about diverse identities instead of censorship of diverse identities. 

Junior Rishi Black believes the author of the note desires to “silence our existence because we make you uncomfortable” when referring to LGBTQ+ identities. 

They note that these Jesuit values “don’t say to condemn someone because of their identity, but to instead be understanding and learn about people unlike yourself, as that is what it means to be a person with and for others. [The] WGSS department is right where it needs to be for a Jesuit institution.” 

Cura Personalis, in conjunction with Fairfield University’s mission statement which holds that “as a Catholic institution, we welcome individuals of all beliefs and traditions who share our passion for scholarship, justice, truth and freedom, and we value the diversity their membership brings to our community,” affirms their devotion to a well-rounded education.  

Junior Phil-Jay White corroborates Black’s statement about the attempted censorship of LGBTQ+ identities and notes that “if you read between the lines of the note, you’ll see that the bigger conversation is about privilege—not sexuality. The author holds such privilege that they can condemn the teachings of people who are different from them—and with that, completely disregard the challenges queer humans face and have faced throughout centuries.”

Life at a Jesuit Catholic institution is impacted by religious teachings, just not in the way that the anonymous note wishes. For example, the Magis Core Curriculum is “rooted in Jesuit ethos” as the University believes it “supports and reflects Fairfield University’s mission of educating the whole person and offering ongoing opportunities for transformation.”   

The Congregation for Catholic Education declared in May 1994 that “The Church’s Presence in the University and in University Culture” guarantees “in institutional form, a Christian presence in the university world.” 

Director of Student Diversity and Multicultural Affairs (SDMA), Yolehema Felican ‘12 details the role her office has as “the SDMA office is committed to fostering an inclusive environment and creating a sense of belonging for all students regardless of their identity. One of our top priorities is to ensure a safe and affirming environment for LGBTQIA+ individuals.” 

Likewise, Director of FUSA’s Diversity and Inclusion Board, Maria Bentacur ‘24 “truly believes that our campus community is suffering from a lack of education, and that is our main goal going forward for the rest of the year” and “wants LQBTQ+ students to know that they will always have a voice within our community.” 

The “Christian presence” in universities today allows the teaching of sexuality and endorses programs and offices such as SDMA, GSA and FUSA D&I Board which actively work to promote the belonging of all identities on campus. 

Garofalo comments on the change in thinking as there is now a lack of tolerance for those who use religion to rationalize hate—not a lack of tolerance of LGBTQ+ identities.

 “As the world becomes more and more accepting, I believe that those who share in the beliefs of the authors of the note are setting themselves up to simply not fit into society. Their lack of empathy or understanding will prevent them from opportunities and relationships,” he proclaims. 

And although religion may still be be used to spread hate; today, at Fairfield University, students, faculty, staff and religious leaders affirm that “a Christian presence in the University and in University Culture” centers on love and acceptance of all identities—not the hate and attempted censorship of LGBTQ+ identities espoused in the anonymous note. 

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