A professor at Our Lady of the Lake University (OLLU) in San Antonio, Texas, is encouraging students to attend and work an off-campus “drag show” where students and faculty will dress up and perform as members of the opposite sex to raise money for a course at the University. The University has distanced itself from the event, but when asked by The Cardinal Newman Society if it was appropriate for a faculty member to encourage student involvement, a spokesperson refused to comment on the “private business” of faculty.
“Our Lady of the Lake University is not the sponsor of this event and it is not taking place on campus. It is not a fundraiser for our Psychology Department,” OLLU Director of Marketing and Communications Anne Gomez told the Newman Society when asked about the drag show.
“OLLU follows the teachings of the Catholic Church and respects all people and does not discriminate against any group. This event was organized by students to raise funds so that they can offset personal and individual expenses,” Gomez added.
Last week, the Newman Society was contacted by a student with knowledge of the event and who had received repeated communications from Dr. Marcela Polanco, assistant professor of psychology and director of the Family, Couple and Individual Psychotherapy (FCIP) program, asking students to attend and help work the drag show. While Polanco did not respond to a request to speak with the Newman Society, the email address listed in multiple communications with students seems to confirm her involvement.
Additionally, an email to students dated February 1, 2016, suggested that this was not the first time students were asked to help stage the event. “[Y]ou will be hearing soon from the Drag Show coming up. Given how successful it was the first time around, preparations for the second one are underway,” the email read.
The student who spoke with the Newman Society confirmed that other emails had been sent asking students to support a previous drag show held in November 2015. The February 1 email was soon followed by another email from Polanco that included a save-the-date for this year’s drag show.
The upcoming drag show is being held this week, February 19, at a local “gay bar” and will feature “Performance[s] by OLLU Students, Faculty & Local Entertainers,” according to the promotional material. The advertisement also suggests that funds raised from the event will go to support students participating in the “Mexico Immersion Course” offered through OLLU’s psychology department.
The Newman Society asked Gomez whether the University had been aware of the event beforehand and what it would do if faculty were proved to have supported the drag show. Gomez reiterated that it is not a University event and stated, “Faculty activities outside of the university are private business.”
Many critics have questioned the appropriateness of drag shows connected to Catholic colleges, especially as it reflects Catholic identity and the Church’s teaching on gender identity and human sexuality.
In April 2014, University of San Diego (USD) alumni contacted the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education about an administration-approved drag show, and the Congregation responded saying the event created “scandal” at the University.
The Vatican letter sent in response to the USD drag show stated, “[I]n view of the gravity of the case, it is worth mentioning that in light of the show and the scandal that it caused, this congregation intends to act through administrative channels to the competent ecclesiastical authority in San Diego.”
Despite the Congregation’s letter contradicting the University’s position and promising to investigate further, USD proceeded with another drag show in April 2015. USD installed a new president last year, Dr. James Harris, and it’s unclear if the event will be allowed on campus again in 2016.
Other Catholic colleges and universities that have come under scrutiny in recent years for hosting drag shows approved by their respective administrations include Loyola University Chicago, Seattle University, College of St. Rose, Georgetown University, Gonzaga University, LeMoyne College and the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University in Minnesota.
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