Gonzaga University, which has rejected attempts to bring Planned Parenthood and “The Vagina Monologues” to campus in recent years, this week hosted a presentation titled “The Medical Effects of Homo-Sex.”
The College Republicans brought in Dr. John Diggs for Tuesday’s lecture at the Jundt Auditorium on campus. The talk argued that homosexuality has a damaging effect on individuals and on society and portrayed promiscuous gay sex as a reason for sexually transmitted diseases across society, according to various accounts.
Some students criticized the lecture in the student newspaper, the Bulletin, as promoting stereotypes and anti-gay.
But Daniel Brutocao, a GU junior and president of the school’s chapter of College Republicans, said bringing Diggs to the university was a question of fostering open debate and inquiry.
“A university is a place where there should be an open sharing of ideas,” he wrote in response to questions. “I felt that bringing Dr. Diggs to campus would be a great way to spark debate on the issue at hand.”
Rod Aminian, president of the gay and lesbian campus organization Helping Educate Regarding Orientation, said in an e-mail message that Diggs focused on homosexual promiscuity and the danger of anal intercourse and asserted that “homosexuality is the result of a bad relationship with one’s same-sex parent.”
Aminian’s group had encouraged attendance and debate about the lecture, and he said that he supported the university’s handling of the appearance, which included limitations on the way it was publicized. But he criticized the lecture itself in the Bulletin, calling Diggs “an ideologue of vulgar proportions.”
Brutocao acknowledged that the university wanted to limit public notice regarding the event.
“The university did not want us to advertise because it was a controversial topic, but they permitted us to bring the speaker to campus,” he said. “We acceded to their wishes in this matter.”
Attempts to reach the Rev. Robert Spitzer, GU’s president, as well as several other Gonzaga administrators were unsuccessful Friday.
The school attracted controversy in 2000 and 2001, when Spitzer blocked a Planned Parenthood speaker and an on-campus performance of “The Vagina Monologues,” a play made up of women’s monologues that include discussions of sex, masturbation and lesbianism.
Critics said the decisions were blows against academic freedom. Spitzer said that they came down to questions of sponsorship and that a Catholic university could not appear to endorse ideas contrary to the faith’s beliefs, such as abortion.
After those controversies, the university adopted a policy governing outside speakers. Speakers wouldn’t be allowed if they are disruptive, promote a message contrary to the school’s Catholic teachings or might create a hostile learning environment. The policy says that “members of the University community must be free to engage the full range of views on a variety of subjects.”
Mark Alfino, a professor of philosophy at GU and a critic of the administration’s decision to ban “The Vagina Monologues,” helped devise the new policy. He says he believes it has been working well and was an attempt to balance academic freedom and the mission of a Catholic institution.
He did not see Diggs’ presentation but said that the main question was not whether his views were controversial. The standard, he said, should be whether he has legitimate knowledge, background and understanding to present a point of view.
Beyond that, he said, campuses should be accepting of “every legitimate point of view,” he said. “So far, nothing’s shaken my confidence in that policy.”
Diggs is a doctor and public speaker who “exposes the real-world effects of sexual permissiveness through a message that is logical, consistent, coherent and inspiring,” according to an online biography.
He doesn’t believe that homosexuality is innate and says most anti-gay violence is perpetrated by gays and lesbians in domestic-violence cases. He wrote in 2001 that thousands of people have stopped practicing homosexuality that and they “offer hope to those trapped in a self-destructive activity.”
Diggs, in an e-mail interview, said Friday that he believes the university acted inappropriately in attempting to change the title of the lecture and limiting publicity about it.
“It is the nature of good education to help distinguish the right from the wrong,” he said. “This school frequently pushes the homosexual agenda. To have one seminar where ideas in opposition are expressed can hardly be called balanced.”
Another member of College Republicans, Paul Shafer, said conservative students have to take it upon themselves to provide alternate viewpoints.
“I think it’s important to have discourse,” he said. “Especially conservative discourse because most of the College Republicans feel the views in the classroom tend to be more liberal.”
But student Jon Corrigan, writing an opinion piece in the Bulletin, said most of Diggs’ presentation was based on “old statistics, stereotypes and generalizations.”
“Is this type of lecture based on ‘positive change’ or at hurting an already marginalized group?” he wrote.
The issue of controversial speech on campus arose last year at Eastern Washington University, which was the site of a presentation by Colorado professor Ward Churchill.
Churchill became a figure of controversy for referring to victims of the Sept. 11 attacks as “little Eichmanns,” suggesting that Americans were complicit in human-rights abuses perpetrated by their government, even if they didn’t directly carry out the acts themselves.
Stephen Jordan, then EWU’s president, canceled the speech while allowing the appearance of porn star Ron Jeremy. Jordan cited campus safety concerns tied to the controversy surrounding Churchill. A student group brought in Churchill anyway, and he gave a speech on the campus commons that included personal criticisms of Jordan.
Brian Levin-Stankovich, interim president of EWU, said the events served as a reminder that the university needs to have constructive dialogues, not shouting matches. The school is looking to build annual themes for discussion that might be applied to speakers, the classrooms and other elements of campus life.
“We want to elevate the dialogue,” Levin-Stankovich said in an interview earlier this fall. “We don’t just want to keep it down in the gutter with names being thrown around.”