The gay community is one of the most oppressed communities in the world and most poignantly, at Cornell. The actions taken by Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship to remove Chris Donohoe ’09 from his leadership position have highlighted this. But we know that his tale is just one example of such discrimination on college campuses across the nation, where social justice is being halted by fundamental values encroaching into the realm of progressive academics.
Donohoe is an activist. He sought the climb the ranks of Chi Alpha, thinking it would be “aweseome” to be a gay man in a devoutly Christian group. He wanted to prove that he loved god, but that he also loved men, and that that was OK. But what was a just cause in his mind was an abomination — by accepting his sexuality, Donohoe was effectively giving up on overcoming what was seen as sinful by his Christian cohorts.
While we hope that Donohoe’s case raises eyebrows across America, it unearths a number of issues that are ingrained in practice here at Cornell. Unlike other student groups on campus where faculty advisers merely advise student organizations, Chi Alpha is governed by the doctrine of Cornell United Religious Works, which allows for the leadership and direction of student groups to come from religious organizations.
This provision allowed for Chi Alpha’s pastors, Matt and Tracy Herman, to remove Donohoe from his post without the approval of any of the group’s student members. These individuals had no affiliation with the University and were merely given their positions at their own request. We appreciate the presence and participation of religious figures on campus and recognize their leadership as integral in diversifying campus life. But there is a fine line between advising and directing, and it is imperative that student groups be allowed to govern themselves. Leaving this power in the hands of others — be it a rabbi, a priest or an imam — allows such leaders to overstep their bounds and undermine the sanctity of academia.
Chi Alpha cannot continue to be funded by the Student Assembly Finance Commission. Moreover, the Student Activities Office must take a proactive stance in ensuring that all student groups recognize all students as equals. Illuminated by Donohoe’s case, the group’s practices are discriminatory whether they see it this way or not. Their actions were far from aligned with anti-discrimination policies protected by both the University and the United States of America.
Those in Chi Alpha would say they gave Chris a choice to reject his sexual orientation and embrace god, or to embrace himself and reject the scripture. But no one at Cornell should be forced to make this choice — to deny who they are in order to gain acceptance from their peers. The University must monitor the role of religion on this campus and ensure that such discrimination does not occur.