“Gender neutral” allowed in fashion show title after backlash


Ollie Gratzinger | editor-in-chief

School of Education condemns university actions in removal of gender neutral language, says it “goes against the university’s Spiritans roots and mission”

After receiving widespread backlash for its decision to censor this year’s fashion show, co-sponsored by Gender Forum and the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies (WGS), the university has retracted its position and will allow the show to have the term “gender neutral” in its title.

“Based on collaboration and dialogue with the McAnulty College of the Liberal Arts and the Office of the Provost, the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies is pleased to confirm that it will co-sponsor an event entitled ‘The Gender Neutral Fashion Show’ on Wednesday, Oct. 23 from 5 to 7 p.m. in the Union Ballroom,” said Faith Barrett, chair of WGS.

The event will start with a panel discussion, much like last year’s, addressing the topic of “Gender and Fashion in Historic Context,” according to Barrett. The runway walk will begin at 6 p.m. and feature students from the Gender Forum, as well as other student models.

“The leaders of the sponsoring organizations hope that this event can begin a campus conversation about how to make Duquesne a more welcoming and inclusive community for all students,” Barrett said. She extended thanks to Dean Kristine Blair for her “strong support” of the Gender Neutral Fashion Show.

According to Vice President for Marketing and Communications Gabe Welsch, university officials are looking forward to what the show has to offer.

“We appreciate the good work of the faculty, students and administrators who collaborated to resolve past miscommunication and prepare for an engaging program to be held later this month,” he said. “The Gender Neutral Fashion Show and related panel discussion will provide all in our community a chance to learn more about the diversity we are fortunate to have here at Duquesne.”

The university’s decision to prohibit gender neutral language and iconography sparked outrage across the campus. Earlier this week, the School of Education released an official response condemning Duquesne’s course of action.

“We believe that censoring language and/or sexual identity is never the correct response within an academic environment; in fact, such actions are antithetical to the core of a university’s mission,” said the response, which was signed on Sept. 30 by 25 education school faculty members and counting. Seven of the signatories wished to remain anonymous.

The response argued that the Catholic faith is a faith of love, not judgement.

“In various Gospel verses, Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for using their positions of leadership to manipulate and take advantage of the people rather than demonstrate love. In the Bible, Jesus disrupted the systems that were not tolerant and just.”

Last week, the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh released a statement to Pittsburgh Magazine after it picked up a version of the Sept. 26 Duke article. In it, the diocese stated that “gender is a gift from God,” and that Duquesne has a responsibility as a Catholic institution to uphold certain principles, which do not include the free expression of gender neutrality. The education school’s response went on to critique this argument, citing it as a cause for concern.

“Such a conclusive statement discourages dialogue rather than promoting learning and understanding,” it said.

It claimed that the Church’s views on gender do not come from the Gospels, and in adhering to the strict viewpoints and direction of the Pittsburgh Diocese, the university is contradicting its own Spiritan roots and mission.

“The Spiritans ‘walk with’ people to gain a better understanding and appreciation of their lived experience. They do not judge; they do not colonize. Here, the university seems to be using their ‘power’ to judge and control the language and being of others,” it said. “Not only is this unhealthy for the morale of our students or faculty, but it seems to violate the very foundation of the University — one which espouses “ecumenical” principles that originally drew us to Duquesne.”

While the university has reconsidered its position, many students still feel as though there never should have been a debate at all.

The Executive Board of Kappa Delta Epsilon, Duquesne’s education fraternity, released a formal statement, as well. In it, the student organization criticizes the university’s mishandling of the Gender Neutral Fashion Show, as well as other campus LGBTQ+ events and issues.

“As future educators, we see it imperative that educational institutions foster and promote a safe, inclusive learning environment for all students,” the statement said. “This, unfortunately, has not been the case for members of the LGBTQIA+ community on Duquesne University’s campus in recent years.”

The Executive Board argues that the recent controversy is part of a larger problem spanning many years, and that it indicates a disturbing trend at Duquesne. It cited as evidence the instillation of a Chick-fil-A, which has historically supported support anti-gay groups, as well as the recent “uproar and disruption in the planning and execution of the Gender Neutral Fashion Show.”

“We as students have seen an increase in divisive rhetoric and actions on our campus,” the statement said. “For example, some students reported hearing others say that they ‘would rather have Chick-Fil-A than gays,’ whereas in terms of the fashion show, posters were damaged, graffitied or completely torn down.”

The group fears that Duquesne is sending a negative message to alumni, current students and prospective enrollees, and that it risks permanently damaging its reputation and becoming “that school … which does not value diversity, support its students, or accept all individuals.”

The statement also calls for change, as well as an official response from university administration — which has remained quiet throughout the course of the controversy.

“We urge Duquesne University officials, administration and faculty members to radically change existing, antiquated policies and implement comprehensive, inclusive education policies that provide a safe space for anyone who may identify as part of a marginalized community,” it said. “We hope to see swift change and consequences in the hateful, intolerant rhetoric and actions that surface on our campus and would value an official response from the university regarding these issues.”

Gender Forum President Emma Shirey said it’s important that all students feel supported on campus.

“I am so excited that many different divisions and schools at the university have written letters in support of the Gender Forum and the Gender Neutral Fashion Show,” she said. “These letters signal the kind of multi-faceted support from faculty that is essential to creating a more welcoming environment for marginalized members of the Duquesne community.”