PC students, staff accuse college of LGBTQ+ discrimination; college to release statement after Easter

MORE THAN 600 students, faculty, staff and alumni wrote a letter to The Rev. Kenneth R. Sicard, president of Providence College, outlining claims of LBGTQ+ discrimination on campus. / COURTESY PROVIDENCE COLLEGE

PROVIDENCE – More than 600 Providence College students, faculty, staff, department heads and alumni signed a formal letter sent to The Rev. Kenneth R. Sicard, college president, outlining their “collective anger” toward the “systemic oppression” of LGBTQ+ individuals on campus and demands equity for such individuals.

The letter, which was recently published in the college’s newspaper, The Cowl, provides a timeline of “LGBTQ+ inclusion and struggle” dating back to close to 90 years ago and offers examples of what the signees say is a “continued, flagrant failure” to protect LGBTQ+ members at PC, including claims that campus community members can’t say the word “pride.”

PC officials say the letter, which can be read in full here and is being reviewed by Sicard and the senior administration, also notes the recent resignation of E. Corry Kole, the director of diversity, equity, and inclusion education and professional development.

Kole, the letter states, was hired by PC in 2020 as the first individual of a “new, groundbreaking position” that was the resource coordinator for the college’s Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Two years later, Kole was promoted to the director’s role before resigning from PC on March 8 because the college “thwarted their efforts to fulfill [the college’s] job description,” according to the letter.

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The letter claims that Kole in their four years at PC attempted to organize and catalyze inclusion efforts for LGBTQ+ campus community members. Kole, the letter claims, collected and reported testimony from students, faculty, staff and alumni, facilitated safe-space training for students and faculty groups, and positioned them as a “safe resource for all community members.”

“Instead of supporting this trailblazing work toward practical solutions to problems students, staff and faculty had voiced, the college responded by stonewalling [Kole] and attempted to snuff out their efforts. Moreover, the college refused to adopt these solutions without theological grounds,” the letter states.

The letter states that Sicard partnered with PC’s Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Mission & Ministry in 2020 to develop documents clarifying the college’s stance on human sexuality and gender identity, and “no further action” on LGBTQ+ inclusion would be made until the documents were complete. But the letter alleges that the documents “still have not been released.”

PC spokesperson Steven Maurano said Sicard plans to release a statement titled “Responding in Love to the Members of our Community who Identify as LGBTQ” that defines the college’s response to allies and campus community members who identify as LGBTQ+ after the Easter break when classes resume on April 2.

Maurano said the statement, in which “dozens of people” provided input and feedback, has been in the process for more than three years and has undergone “numerous” iterations “due to the sensitivity of this issue at a Catholic and Dominican college.”

This new document will follow what Sicard released on Jan. 29 titled “Fashioned by the One Creator,” which addressed the college’s position on issues related to racial, ethnic and socioeconomic diversity, Maurano said. He did not say if discrimination claims had been brought to the administration’s attention prior to the letter or heard any concerns from Kole about their work being allegedly “stonewalled” by the college.

“Providence College’s approach to this sensitive issue will differ from secular universities, and even from other Catholic colleges. We pledge to recognize the rights and dignity of each member of our community while honoring and remaining faithful to church teachings on human sexuality,” Maurano said. “As we did with ‘Fashioned by the One Creator,’ we will provide opportunities for members of the community to come together to discuss the statement.”

James Bessette is the PBN special projects editor, and also covers the nonprofit and education sectors. You may reach him at Bessette@PBN.com. You may also follow him on Twitter at @James_Bessette

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