DePaul University to Offer Minor in 'Queer Studies'

DePaul University in Chicago — the largest Catholic university in the United States — is launching a "queer studies" program that looks at issues of homosexuality. DePaul will be the first Catholic university to offer a minor in the topic, and could face the wrath of the Vatican. Jason DeRose of Chicago Public Radio reports.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

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And I'm Madeleine Brand. In a few minutes, how serious are Iran's threats to cut off its oil supply to the West?

CHADWICK: First this, just when the Vatican appears to be toughening its stance against homosexuality, students at one of the largest Roman Catholic Universities in this country can now minor in a course on queer studies. DePaul University in Chicago is officially offering the program during the winter quarter, the first Roman Catholic school to do so.

Chicago Public Radio's Jason DeRose reports.

Mr. JASON DEROSE (Reporter, Chicago Public Radio): Tuesday and Thursday mornings this month, DePaul University began offering Introduction to Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender and Queer Studies.

Prof. GARY CESTARO (Modern Language, Gay and Lesbian DePaul University): Did you all do your reading? Did you read the Charkler(ph) essay and the I Hate Straights, Queer and Honest template. Yeah? Well, I'm very interested to hear what you have to say about that, but I first want...

Mr. DEROSE: Professor Gary Cestaro directs the program in LGBTQ studies and teaches the intro course, which filled up quickly during registration.

Prof. CESTARO: The creation of the minor really, in some ways, is just kind of no big deal. It was really just a formal step because the fact of the matter is in some ways these courses have been growing and have existed at DePaul for some ten years now.

Mr. DEROSE: In this intro course, registration was capped at 30, but Cestaro let in a few extra students because of high demand. Among those taking the course is third-year DePaul anthropology major Randall Jensen(ph). He says courses on gay and lesbian studies were one of the main reasons he chose to attend DePaul.

Mr. RANDALL JENSEN (Anthropology Major, DePaul University): When I first came here, I wanted to really learn about my history without, you know, being a gay male. I wanted to learn about what has learned in my past and what is the history of the queer movement, and we're really lucky to have this minor launched.

Mr. DEROSE: But junior women's studies major Cindy Torres(ph) says just because the university offers courses in queer studies doesn't mean dealing with issues of sexuality is easy, even on a college campus.

Ms. CINDY TORRES (Women's Studies Major, DePaul University): It's a topic that makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Even in gender studies classes, people get uncomfortable sometimes talking about sex and gender and the differences between sex and gender and sexuality.

Mr. DEROSE: The introduction course Randall and Cindy are enrolled in deals with the history of the gay and lesbian liberation movements, including important legal rulings and findings of psychological studies.

But Professor Gary Cestaro says there are reasons beyond the academic for offering the minor.

Professor Prof. CESTARO: I do think, as someone who identifies gay and know what loneliness and isolation is, especially at the age of 18, I think it's hugely important, individually and personally, from that perspective, really inline with the Vincentian Mission of the University and the spirit of St. Vincent, which is to allow students to appreciate themselves fully and understand their personal histories and come to a full appreciation of who they are as human beings in a social sense.

Mr. DEROSE: But in a religious sense, the Catholic Church isn't quite so accepting. DePaul University administrators said the official Catholic teaching on homosexuality had to be incorporated into the program. Department of religious studies chair Father James Halstead explains the position this way.

Father JAMES HOLSTEAD (Department of Religious Studies Chair, DePaul University): As it stands today, official position would be that homosexual orientation is objectively disordered, homosexual activity is intrinsically evil; however, homosexual human beings are created by God, loved by God and redeemed by God, have a place in the Christian community, should be welcomed, valued and treasured, and in civil society, normal human rights and civil rights respected.

Mr. DEROSE: Holstead says it's a nuanced understanding that might be confusing to those not steeped in Catholic tradition, but some DePaul graduates, such as Karl Mauer are upset by what they see as a compromise in Catholic values.

Mr. KARL MAUER (Vice President Catholic Citizens of Illinois): First of all, it's an enormous disappointment to see any Catholic university, especially one of the size of DePaul, that has strayed so far away from core Catholic teaching on sexual morality.

Mr. DEROSE: Mauer is a 1992 graduate of DePaul's MBA program and is with the conservative group, Catholic Citizens of Illinois.

Mr. MAUER: They're not offering this minor in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer studies in an effort to charitably bring the truth of Catholic teaching to students at DePaul. This is essentially a propaganda course that in my mind does that exact opposite of what the Catholic Church instructs us to do.

Mr. DEROSE: But that sentiment disappoints fourth-year neurochemistry major Eric Oliver, who's now also minoring in queer studies.

Mr. ERIC OLIVER (Neurochemistry Major, DePaul University): The undergraduate education is designed to think people how to think. It's not a professional program. This isn't medical school. You don't take queer theory to become queer.

Mr. DEROSE: Eric says he takes queer studies to understand not only himself but the complex world into which he's about to graduate.

For NPR News, I'm Jason DeRose in Chicago.

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