“Difficult for all parties involved”: Viterbo holds first-ever listening session with Pride Club

Calum Sullivan

“Did I miss the mark? Obviously on Monday morning I missed the mark,” said Rick Trietley in Viterbo’s unprecedented listening session with Pride Club two weeks ago. Following the creation and distribution of a series of posters protesting William Barber’s Martin Luther King Day address – for reasons such as his support of the LGBTQ+ community – a session was organized to listen to the frustrations of the LGBTQ+ community with Viterbo’s response. 


According to the posters, the group responsible for planning the protest was “The Maccabees,” a religious group hoping to bring back “heroic Catholicism” as found in Maccabees 1 and 2 of the Catholic Bible. Mentioned on the posters were the Maccabees’ disapproval of both “the diabolical and anti-family agenda known as LGBT” and “campus ‘ministry’s’ tolerance of idolatry.” In response to the planned protest, a team of Viterbo administrators sent an email explaining that, “in inviting Dr. Barber to speak to our Viterbo community, we are not only honoring the Church’s commitment to dialogue but committing to purging the evils of discrimination and hatred from our community.” 


During the meeting, a variety of concerns were raised by the individuals involved with pride club. Some of the common threads included confusion over Viterbo’s omission of the LGBTQ+ community in their email response to the posters, consistency with respect of student pronouns and overall feelings that comments and aggressions toward the community were not being recognized and disciplined to an appropriate extent. A common frustration from students was an inability to be heard and the belief that a listening session for the community was overdue. 


Reflecting on why more of these listening sessions have not happened on our campus, Elizabeth Saltzman, president of Viterbo’s Pride Club, said listening sessions like this one “are extremely powerful and beneficial,” but, “difficult for all parties involved.” Saltzman explained, “It is emotionally draining, intimidating, and somewhat overwhelming for students to speak up in situations like this. Likewise, I imagine it is difficult for the representatives of the university to hear these struggles and critiques.” 


Indeed, the administrators present at the event, Executive Vice President of Student Success Rick Trietley, Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration and Professor Laura Nettles, and Director of the D.B. Reinhart Institute for Ethics in Leadership Richard Kyte, expressed their difficulties with dealing with the issue. Trietley and Sr. Nettles, having been on the team responsible for Viterbo’s response to the posters via email, were apologetic in their reply to students’ questions regarding the omission of the LGBTQ+ community from the email. 


When the subject of the university’s complicated relationship with Catholic teachings and support of the LGBTQ+ community arose, Sr. Nettles took the floor to offer a few words. After spending some time clarifying Catholic disagreement of “sexual ethics” with the community, Sr. Nettles added, “the Catholic Church absolutely should and can stand with you against sexism, racism, bias… we want to do that.” Sr. Nettles also mentioned the need for recognition of all people, regardless of race, sexual orientation, or gender identity, to feel welcome and secure on Viterbo’s campus, and stressed the desire of Viterbo to make change in the upcoming months and years. “Thank you all… thank you is a stupid thing to say at this moment” Sr. Nettles said in conclusion. 


Saltzman expressed her hopes for what this meeting might mean for the university moving forward, saying, “I hope it opens up an ongoing conversation between the administration and the LGBTQ+ community. I hope the university takes steps to publicly affirm their support for the LBGTQ+ community. And lastly, I hope the university begins to take steps to improve the campus climate through education and action.” 


“I hope that the next step is that we can continue to engage in discussions like this,” Trietley said in the meeting’s ending. “I don’t see this as a one and done… we know we have to start moving forward.”