Defining STAC

9.4.07StThomasAquinasCollegebyLuigiNovi

Walking into the Azarian McCullough Art Gallery on any day in April of 2015, one will be able to view a series of needle point stitches that are done in incredible detail and, surely, took time and precision to create. These stitch pieces (Figure 1.1-1.4) depict various forms of birth control and a pregnancy test. According to Catholic Canon, “it is always wrong to use contraception to prevrnt new human beings from coming into existence” (Catholic.com). These art pieces are open to be viewed by anyone who cares to do so. They are an expression of ideas, and they are exprssions of ideas that the Catholic church would likely not approve of being displayed, or, given that they are in a gallery, being prominently displayed. No one, of course, is forced to go and see these pieces, just as no one would have been forced to go to, say, a drag show event. When asked what about the drag show, specifically, would be against the school’s Catholic heritage, the Dean of Student Affairs expressed that it was the “connotations of the drag show that was over the line,” but given that these pieces hang in a gallery, it appears that this is not truly the case. The vocality, the fact that this would be a real live event that would allow for a true dialogue on a topic that the Catholic church does not agree with, that is what is really wrong with it. And that, in essence, is what the point of hosting a drag show was. Hanging a needle point of birth control does not educate students about the issue, the effects, the risks. It does not allow for a dialogue, which would be helpful and would illuminate minds through truth. A drag show, on the contrary, would provide exactly that. And in this line drawing of what is and is not acceptable, there spreads confusion about just how Catholic we really are, as if such a thing is quanitifiable. This “line” that is referred to changes, depending on what is in question. These needlepoints are ‘art,’ and therefore should be allowed to be displayed even though it would not be the Catholic-appropriate thing to do. Well, arguably, a drag show turns people into art, and therefore this event ought to have had the same protection.

On April 9th, April 10th, and April 11th, 2015, St. Thomas Aquinas College’s Laetare Players put on a production of the musical Rent. Wonderfully performed by the cast, movingly played by the pit orchestra, and graciously funded by St. Thomas Aquinas College, this musical details topics such as homosexuality, transgendered issues, the AIDS epidemic, and many other Catholic “no-no”s. In fact, one of the characters in Rent spends almost every scene dressed in ‘drag.’ Lyrics from this musical include lines that pay homage to such as “leather, dildos, masturbation, anything taboo, bisexuals, [and] sodomy.” But, of course, because those words are sung they do not actually mean anything. Conveniently. It is interesting that these things, these topics that are sufficently controversial, are permitted in settings that provide solely entertainment, and even in ones that get a laugh. But a genuine moment of recognition of transgender culture that would be provided by a drag show is not permitted. Fiction gives way to a sort of freedom on St. Thomas Aquinas College campus that is taken away when authenticity is involved. That does not seem very “welcoming” to students of “all traditions.”

In these two examples, both occurring concurrently with the denial of the drags how and both not in line with Catholic doctrine, provide examples of how not Catholic St. Thomas Aquinas College is. Along with divergence from Catholic canon in regards to how to determine a college’s Catholicness, it appears that being Catholic is not something that the administration can genuinely claim, and does not provide solid ground to stand on in this case. If one is to visit the college’s website, not a sentence in the “About” page mentions Catholicism, as opposed to a school such as Notre Dame who state it proudly and prominently. (Conversely, the link to donate to the school practically smacks you in the face) Nowhere to be found is information of “catholic heritage” within the link to the college’s admissions section on the website, but what is found there is the section of the Mission statement that mentions a “welcoming, caring environment.” Clearly that section of the statement is being privileged, and given that it is on the admissions page, seems to have an end attached to it.

In his book, Defining Reality, Edward Shiappa challenged his reader to not ask “What is X?” but to, insteads, wonder “What should count as X in relation to Y, given our needs and interests?” Essentially, Shiappa dispels the idea that a definition can be anything but poitical, we define for ourselves, and we do so in order to serve our interests. So, instead of wondering is St. Thomas Aquinas College is Catholic, which is clearly a difficult concept to grasp because it can be redefined a million ways depending on who you ask, one should question when is St. Thomas Aquinas College Catholic, in relation to the ends that definition might serve? The board of trustees includes a handful of Religious, as well as many who would want St. Thomas Aquinas College to be considered Catholic because of their personal commitments and values. Thus, if asked in front of the board, the answer coming from administration would like be that we are Catholic, simply to keep the board complacent. If a group of Catholic donors asked if the school was Catholic, again, the answer would be undoubtedly yes. If potntial student, or group of potential students, were to ask the same question, the answer would be no, or if anything, the school would claim ‘catholic affliation.’ And even saying that is untrue, given that our Catholic affliation was dropped in 1972 (The First Forty Years: A History of St. Thomas Aquinas College).

Defining this school’s Catholic nature is complicated, and depends much more who is asking that whether or not St. Thomas Aquinas College actually is. In some cases, such as putting on a show or allowing content in an art gallery, Catholicism goes out the proverbial window. When an event is proposed that could potentially be genuinely allowing for a recognition of culture that the administration does not believe in comes across a desk, however, that is shut down. Of course, it is no one’s contention that the administration would not support that GSA’s efforts, and in fact there is talk of producing an education panel on Drag Show History for the coming fall 2015 semester. The President attended both Boston College (undergraduate) and Columbia University(graduate) and both these schools have active GSA-type clubs that put on a myriad of programs such as drag shows, information nights, awareness events, and the like. Given this, however, St. Thomas Aquinas College should be taking a page out of these universites’ books and implement more progressive, and consistent policies.

-SarahJo Montello

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