Calvin College was recently ranked in the Princeton Review’s top schools in the United States. Among other distinctions, Calvin has been (once again) recognized as one of the most unwelcoming schools for LGBT students in the country.
As I’ve already said (and I’ll probably say again next year and the year after): This is nothing new.
Neither is Calvin’s response.
According to VP Shirley Hoogstra, we can’t put too much confidence in this category. According to an interview with the Calvin Chimes, Hoogstra is quoted as saying, “I don’t like the category label… I am not a fan of dividing students over a particular quality.”
This is what we hear every single year from Hoogstra. In fact, I’m scrounging around the internet to see if these quotes were actually pulled from last year. Or maybe there’s a robot Shirley Hoogstra programmed to say the same things every year when the survey is released.
The bottom line from the administration is always: We love all of our students, whether they’re gay, straight, lesbian, bi or trans. But we don’t like this poll.
And in fact there seems to be no consistent mobility: This year Calvin was no. 11. Last year, we were no. 16. In 2010, we were no. 14. So maybe we’re actually getting worse since we’re moving closer to the top 10? Or maybe there is simply greater consciousness of the need to improve and the issues that face our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.
Regardless, the appropriate response should be alarm, not shrugging your shoulders with a smile and saying “Well, we’re not perfect. But then again, who is?”
It’s telling that the school tries to distance itself from this list on the one hand, but at the same time is jubilant at being placed on the “stone-cold sober” list. Hoogstra said, “I can say I really like it that students have smart fun and they don’t have to be intoxicated to have fun, but it’s students who are saying that.” Hoogstra is particularly pleased by this bit since it’s voted on by students themselves – so it must be accurate.
Then why aren’t you worried about your own students telling you that the school isn’t welcoming towards LGBT students?
Oh yeah, because we’re all one in Christ and we don’t really see inconvenient, messy, problematic things like gender presentation or the person you’re holding hands with… Unless they happen to be another Calvin student and the same sex. Then we’ll have to ask you to leave.
Saying that you can’t see distinctions between people is a classic move for majority groups who don’t want to be accused of racism or sexism or homophobia or any other like prejudices. The only person who can really pull this off is Stephen Colbert, but at least when he does it, you know that you’re supposed to laugh. When Calvin College keeps saying that they can’t tell the difference and that they love all of us, you don’t know if it’s a joke gone wrong or some sort of theatre of the absurd.
Maybe it’s both.
This is consistent with interaction between all sorts of minority/majority groups. The majority group is often OK with the minority group until members of said group start acting in ways that aren’t in keeping with the majority group’s expectations or desires. So, in this instance, it means that as long as members of the community who identify as LGBTQ are silent and willing to constrain or gender expression to some semblance of hetero-normativity and as long as they suppress their desires for meaningful relationships, we’re cool. As long as we pretend that we’re just like everyone else, there’s no problem.
It’s that moment when you clear your throat to speak that the perma-grin starts looking a little strained.
If Calvin College really strove to care for and love all of its students, the response would not be “We don’t like this category.” It’s time for the administration to wake up and own their responsibility in this. It’s not time to sit on your hands and wait for the story to pass. We’re talking about students who come to Calvin because they want to be fully authentic. The overwhelming majority of students, gay, straight or otherwise, come to Calvin because they believe it to be an institution that promotes thoughtful engagement with the world from a discerning, Christian point of view.
By ignoring the plight of LGBT students, Calvin is only perpetuating the cycle of violence done by religious institutions against LGBT people. Sure, we can congratulate ourselves on being better than Brigham Young and Wheaton, but Spiritual Violence Lite is still Spiritual Violence.
Calvin has the opportunity to be a really unique, exciting place. In some ways, it already is and I know that that’s what draws a lot of students to it (myself included back in 2006). We could do so much better. We could be leaders that people across the country look to. And until we look ourselves in the mirror and face up to that, we’re no better than Brigham Young, Bob Jones, Cornerstone University or any other school in the country.
For once, I would love to hear the administration start a sentence with an apology rather than an excuse. Then we can finally get to the heart of the problem instead of pretending like there isn’t one.