Spokane's Gonzaga University has denied a Knights of Columbus group application to be recognized as an official student organization. Those seeking the status were notified of the University’s decision at a meeting on March 7.
The group was notified of the decision by Dean of Students Kassi Kain and Assistant Director for Student Activities Dave Rovick.
“The Knights of Columbus, by their very nature, is a men’s organization in which only Catholics may participate via membership,” says a letter obtained by The Cardinal Newman Society written by Sue Weitz, Vice President for Student Life. “These criteria are inconsistent with the policy and practice of student organization recognition at Gonzaga University, as well as the University’s commitment to non-discrimination based on certain characteristics, one of which is religion.”
The letter continued:
The discussion at the meeting touched on formation of a Catholic Daughters student organization at Gonzaga. Such a group would address the gender exclusivity issue. However, it would not address the requirement that all members of a student Knights of Columbus group must be Catholic.
Individuals who spoke with The Cardinal Newman Society only on condition of anonymity explained that the group has been stalled by the administration for the entire academic year. Efforts were made by students to apply for official student group status beginning in September. The group was told they would have a response by November. The group wasn’t notified of the University’s decision until March.
Weitz did not return the call from The Cardinal Newman Society seeking comment on the decision.
One Knights of Columbus member told The Cardinal Newman Society that other University organizations, including club sports, currently limit membership and exclude people. Muslim students reportedly feel very welcome on campus and have a prayer room dedicated for their use.
A Knights of Columbus council was originally established as a student organization at the University in 1999. Reportedly, the group had both an academic adviser and a financial account. Sometime thereafter, the organization’s status lapsed, and the group was told that its paperwork had been lost.
“I …believe strongly in the University’s commitment to non-discrimination and inclusivity,” continues Weitz in the letter. “If Gonzaga was an institution that 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,” Weitz wrote in closing. “It is a decision about social justice, equity, and the desire of the University to create and maintain an environment in which none are excluded.”
The group is currently examining other alternatives and considering whether it should form a council completely independent of the University. One option that may be available to the group, and that is in practice at other universities, is for the Knights of Columbus council to form under the umbrella of campus ministry.
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