A month after Gonzaga University officials denied an all-male, all-Catholic student club official recognition as a student organization, the college’s president has announced he’ll review the decision.
“The university is concerned that all of the factors involved in this decision have not been represented in their entirety, and thus may be misunderstood,” a GU spokesperson wrote in a statement released last weekend.
A Knights of Columbus College Council, a Catholic fraternal group, does exist on campus, but the denial means the group is not eligible for funds from the school’s student government and cannot officially use the college brand.
“President (Thayne) McCulloh has received a request from the sponsoring student to review the institution’s decision regarding the recognition of the organization as a student club, and has decided to undertake this review,” the school’s prepared statement said.
News of the denial spread fast, mostly through religious periodicals. The Catholic community, including GU alumni and parents of current students, are decrying what many are calling a hypocritical decision.
“Maybe the people who made this decision are not familiar with Knights of Columbus and the role they play in the Catholic church,” said Spokane resident and GU alumna Valerie Mullen. She, her husband and four of their children are GU graduates. “I think someone at Gonzaga was not thinking when they made this decision.”
Emails about the decision have been flooding the inbox of GU faculty member Eric Cunningham, associate professor of history and assistant director of Catholic studies. The messages, primarily from parents of students and some alumni, share a theme, Cunningham said: “They are worried about Gonzaga’s Catholic identity.”
GU officials handed down the decision in early March. Sue Weitz, vice president of Student Life, stated in a letter published in “The Catholic World Report” that the club didn’t meet the university’s student organization guidelines of being nondiscriminatory and all-inclusive, and cited religion as one of the discriminatory factors of the Knights of Columbus club.
Weitz’s letter continued: “If Gonzaga University served only Catholics and limited the benefits of the collegiate experience only to them, the decision-making process may have been different. To embrace the diversity and yet endorse a group based on faith exclusivity is a challenge that cannot be reconciled at this time.”
Cunningham wrote to Weitz about her decision. He expressed his confusion about the logic; his letter was published Wednesday in the same Catholic periodical.
“I can’t help but wonder if it is the intention of the Office of Student Life to dissociate itself from Gonzaga University because of the Jesuits’ long-standing practice of such ‘discrimination,’ or will Student Life instead choose to initiate action to remove the Society of Jesus from its affiliation with the Gonzaga community?”
He added, “This may strike you as an absurd inquiry, but it is actually a logical response to the rationale in your decision. As you noted, the revival of the Catholic Daughters on campus would solve the ‘gender-exclusivity’ problem, but alas, the Catholic Daughters are Catholic too, and that seems to be (the) central problem.”
Requests from The Spokesman-Review to talk to Student Life administrators and the sponsoring student were denied by GU officials. The university’s student union president also refused to talk when reached by phone.
“With respect for everyone involved in this internal matter, the statement we have offered is all that Gonzaga intends to share at this time,” said Mary Joan Hahn, a GU spokeswoman.
Cunningham, who used to be an adviser for the college’s Knights of Columbus group, said, “Gonzaga, to its credit, is a very all-inclusive place, but when you’re all-inclusive, you stop making distinctions. If you really want to honor diversity, you have to honor your own distinctness.”