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Saint Mary’s offers new religion course titled Queer Theology

During the 2021-22 academic year, professors Jessica Coblentz and Daniel Horan O.F.M proposed a new course to the Saint Mary’s College curriculum committee, entitled Queer Theology. The course Queer Theology, co-taught by Professors Coblentz and Horan, started its first half, Queer Theology I, this semester at Saint Mary’s, and will continue next semester with Queer Theology II. Coblentz and Horan spoke on the circumstances of its creation, emphasizing its intentionality to address a call for discussion within the Saint Mary’s community. 

“The unique thing about how this course came to be is that we were very intentional about being in conversation with students because the class was inspired by students’ desires to learn more about this,” Coblenz explained. “We were really intentional about asking them, ‘What do you want to study?’ ‘What are the questions that you have that aren’t being answered in other classes that you’re taking or in some of the extracurricular opportunities here at the College?”

To the same accord, Horan recalled his moment of recognition of a need for a course such as this.

“We had a campus event, and in the Q&A session, it became clear that students were very interested in perspectives of Christian theology that aligned with and arose from the experiences of those who identify as LGBTQ+,” Horan said. 

Horan further spoke on the attitude of the student body.

“There was a hunger, there was an interest, there was a desire to learn more about the work that’s being done around this topic,” Horan said. 

Coblentz, having taught a “Queer theology” course previous to her time at Saint Mary’s, expressed interest and determination toward the formation of the curriculum.

“We did our best, as experts in Christian theology, to sort of find opportunities to introduce students to ideas in academic theology that connect with their own organic interest,” Coblentz said.

She described some of what the course aims to cover as a whole.

“We’re exploring in the class how insights from Queer theory, sort of challenge and expand certain ideas in traditional Christian theology and also we’re looking at how ideas in Christian theology can challenge, expand and help reimagine different issues in Queer theory,” Coblenz explained.

As well as the content of the course, Horan shared another main element considered in the brainstorming phase, the importance of accessibility to the course. “A course like this had not been offered at Saint Mary’s or in the tri-campus community, at least to our knowledge, so we really had a chance to think from scratch, what would a course like this look like?” Horan continued. 

 “How could we make it a course that was accessible and available to the greatest sort of number of students who are interested in taking it, recognizing that students have very full plates,” he said. 

The structure of the course is unique in the aspect that each semester is worth one and a half credits. Aimed to accommodate those who have an interest in taking this class but may have a full schedule or minimal room, the course is offered on Wednesday evenings. It is a year-long course available to students to take one semester or the other or both in combination to get the equivalent of a regular course in credits.

“We wanted to do something a bit innovative even in the offering of the course, and that’s where the one and a half credit per semester kind of, part one part two structure came in,” Horan said. 

Horan discussed the importance this course plays within the Saint Mary’s and tri-campus communities.

“I think it is important because there is, first of all, an important area of this field of study that doesn’t or hasn’t traditionally, in the tri-campus area, received much attention in a formal academic sense. I think the second reason is that it’s important because these are pressing questions of our time, right?” Horan said. 

Horan continued and addressed the specific relevance the course plays within the setting of a Catholic college.

“So, at a Catholic college, our mission, our vision for education is rooted in that quest for deeper knowledge about the human person, about the world, about God, about what we see and what’s more than what we see. And so, in that regard, something like Queer theology fits in very comfortably and ideally.” Horan said. “The intersection of dialogue is a big part of what this course is about.”

Coblentz also dived into the conversations within the class that have been sparked since its start this semester.

“But I think what we’re exploring and Queer theology are some ways of bringing Christianity to bear on our lives that are often overlooked, that often aren’t introduced to students, and I think that weather students end up agreeing or disagreeing with the authors we read in class I think it’s often really productive and fruitful and exciting to reconsider whether faith has something to offer in this regard. Something to offer that maybe we haven’t thought about before,” Coblentz said. 

Her overall passion for this course and its contents stems from the meaning she hopes others will find in it.

“This dialogue where we’re challenging ourselves to grow in understanding to expand our horizons to rethink things that some of us have taken for granted, that’s what all theology classes on our campus aim to do,” Coblentz said. 

Contact Cora Haddad at chaddad01@saintmarys.edu.

Categories
Scene

‘Hold the Girl’ dropped the ball

Rina Sawayama is ambitious. She’s a Cambridge graduate. She’s a musician. She wants to raise awareness about the struggles of being Asian American and a member of the LGBTQ+ community, all while embracing her inner child. She’s trying to out-do her critically-acclaimed debut album with her newest release “Hold the Girl.” 

Following up “SAWAYAMA” would be a daunting task for any artist. Sawayama’s hit single off the album, “XS” is a musical masterpiece. The song satirizes excessive modern-day consumerism at the expense of the climate, all while accomplishing one of the most interesting feats of production I’ve come across in the past couple of years. She marries modern day pop with trap beats and heavy metal riffs, completely blowing away listeners within the first 20 seconds. (Trust me, just listen to it.) Other fan favorites like “STFU!” and “Comme Des Garcons (Like the Boys)” have a similarly stunning production quality. Sawayama simultaneously carved out a niche for herself musically and garnered a loyal fanbase. Basically, she was a huge success.

Her new release, “Hold the Girl,” does a lot of things well, but it doesn’t meet the bar Sawayama set with “SAWAYAMA.” Generally, it’s been pretty successful with singles “This Hell” and “Hold the Girl” generating nearly 16 million streams on Spotify. The album’s songs address everything from anti-Asian hate, Sawayama’s complicated relationship with her mother, perfectionism, healing her inner child and accepting herself. In short, this album is all over the place. It lacks a lot of the cohesion and creativity that made “SAWAYAMA” stand out in 2020.

The most popular song of the album, “This Hell,” is a queer anthem that released just in time for Pride Month. It’s the song off “Hold the Girl” that sounds most like “SAWAYAMA.” With gnarly guitar riffs galore and Sawayama’s rockin’ vocals, she grapples with feeling unaccepted by the Church as a LGBTQ+ person. She sings a lot about this religious tension throughout the album, but it ultimately feels like a passing thought in the chaotic blur of themes Sawayama addresses. “This Hell” feels like it’s pandering to Sawayama’s loyal LGBTQ+ audience.

On the other hand, you have “Send My Love To John,” a heartfelt stripped-back guitar ballad that tells the story of an immigrant mother apologizing to her queer son for not accepting him. It’s not like “SAWAYAMA” at all. It isn’t angry and there’s no killer heavy metal riffs, but it’s sincere. It’s the only song on the album that made me feel anything. 

“This Hell” rightfully spits in the face of bigots, but “Send My Love To John” also shows that hateful people have the capacity to change. Sawayama’s introspectiveness isn’t apparent in her pop ballads, but her personal growth shines more when she isn’t focused on creating stadium anthems. She sings in “Phantom” about her tendency to people-please, crooning “Once upon a time / There was a girl pleasing the world / Dying to be liked.” Clearly, this problem still exists.

“Hold the Girl” reaches for inspiration in places other than Sawayama’s journal, though. “Minor Feelings” is named after a book by Korean-American poet Cathy Park Hong. “This Hell” tips its five-gallon hat with a classic Shania Twain “Let’s go girls!” ad-lib. She pays homage to the pop-punk ballads of Avril Lavinge in “Hurricane.” 

Sawayama spends so much time trying to please her audience and emulate other artists, she ultimately loses what makes her music so special — herself. As a queer, intelligent, Asian-American woman, Sawayama has a lot of valuable things to bring to the table. I was blown away by the creative production on “SAWAYAMA,” but that doesn’t mean that she needs to rely on gimmicks to be successful. I just want Rina Sawayama to “Gimme just a little bit (more!).”

Album: “Hold the Girl”

Artist: Rina Sawayama

Label: Dirty Hit

Favorite track: “Send My Love To John”

If you like: Charli XCX, Grimes, M.I.A.

Shamrocks: 3 out of 5

Contact Claire at clyons3@nd.edu.

Categories
Viewpoint

Try a little tenderness

I first allowed myself to consider the fact that I was asexual in the winter of 2020, with the assistance of a friend. They asked about my sexuality — I told them I identified as queer, but I hadn’t fully defined what queer was for me. We then proceeded to discard one sexuality after another until we landed on asexuality. The following definition of asexuality, which I resonate with most, was published in “The Asexual Manifesto” by Lisa Orlando in 1972

“‘Asexual’ as we use it, does not mean ‘without sex’ but ‘relating sexually to no one.’ This does not of course exclude masturbation, but implies that if one has sexual feelings, they do not require another person for their expression. Asexuality is, simply, self-contained sexuality,” Orlando stated.

However, the asexuality element of my queerness bothered me, as its most recognized definition is simply being “without sex” or unable to feel arousal.  After years of jokes and off-handed comments from friends, family and strangers that I “didn’t feel anything,” I had amassed insecurities over my ability to be expressive as a person and affectionate in my relationships. I felt that this newly discovered aspect of my sexuality affirmed my inability to connect with others on a broad spectrum. Especially given that I had developed a notable aversion to physical intimacy growing up. 

Physical intimacy — touch — had never been an asset in my life. I struggled to conceive it as a connector between myself and others. I found it to be an invasion of my senses, an obligatory form of greeting among familiars — a form of counsel. I would befriend people who felt the same and often had adverse responses to physical intimacy. The only downside to this was that when I was finally ready to open myself up to physical intimacy, there was no one there to embrace. 

While I couldn’t change my sexuality, I could change the way I interacted with people. In fall 2021, I embarked on a journey of cultivating intimacy in new and existing relationships. During this journey, I faced challenges with setting physical boundaries in my new relationships. For my existing relationships, I simply had to ask who was comfortable incorporating physical touch into our communication style. For example, I would offer or ask for hugs, and my friends would politely decline. They showed me what it was like to set physical boundaries.  In my new relationships, I gravitated toward people who embraced me as a greeting. At the same time, I worked on managing the anxiety that came with engaging in physical touch. I was making progress. Physical intimacy began to feel less scary.

Yet, I struggled to manage the extent to which I allowed others into my physical space. This usually meant that I wasn’t imitating physical contact, just accepting it.  In one instance, cuddles turned into fondling, which turned into kisses, which turned into ‘I’m not used to physical touch, ’ ‘can you slow down?’  ‘This is an overwhelming amount of physical interaction for me.’ For this relationship, I would eventually dismiss my limited physical needs and redirect my energy towards regulating my nervous system every time it was disrupted — all while remaining in a position that met my new companion’s needs. 

Instead of progressing into action, my language transformed back into silence. I would exert my physical and sexual boundaries until doing so exhausted me. I would fail to remove myself from traumatic sexual situations with the thought that “I couldn’t feel anything anyway,” which made doing so unnecessary. As the autonomy I held over my body was denounced by others, my agency dwindled. My mind and body returned to the feeling that physical engagement was obligatory, with the newly developed thought that sex was compulsory. Compulsory sexuality “is a belief system that eschews consent and preaches instant gratification for people who want sex, but cares not for the safety, comfort, health, or autonomy, of people who do not. It doesn’t just ask us to comply. It makes way for others to demand, manipulate, coerce, and force us into situations in which we are expected to disregard our own well-being for the sake of ‘normality,’” according to Sherronda J. Brown in her book “Refusing Compulsory Sexuality: A Black Asexual Lens on Our Sex-Obsessed Culture.”

I had initially opened myself up to physical intimacy for the sake of normality. However, I learned that my opposition came from never having developed the voice to assert my physical boundaries, regardless of the person or physical space in concern. I had already lacked the agency needed to protect my space — my peace — before I set out on a conquest to feel something. To embrace feeling with others. On this journey, I experienced a gradual expansion of physical intimacy in pre-existing relationships. I underwent sexual trauma. I began to practice setting physical boundaries and felt what it was like to have these boundaries challenged. In the future, I hope to remain open to physical intimacy with others and to further explore my self-contained physical intimacy. As it turns out, I was the first person I needed to embrace.

You can contact Kylie Henry at khenry01@saintmarys.edu.

The views expressed in this inside column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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News

Campus Ministry offers monthly LGBTQ+ masses

Almost two years ago, Ryan Palmer, then a sophomore, attended Campus Ministry’s annual LGBTQ+ Retreat.

The typically-overnight retreat is geared toward LGBTQ+ Catholics and hosts speakers like Michael O’Loughlin, author of “Hidden Mercy: AIDS, Catholics, and the Untold Stories of Compassion in the Face of Fear.”

Palmer said he looks back fondly on the experience and noted it allowed him to meet other LGBTQ+ students who shared his Catholic faith. However, he noted that only about 30 students attended the retreat.

“To be honest, it touches a relatively small group of people because so many LGBTQ+ people have already kind of given up on the Church. They already have felt unwelcome,” Palmer said. “For the few of us that are still trying it … it’s very tight-knit, and it’s a really important safe space for people.”

Campus Ministry chaplain to LGBTQ+ students Fr. Joe Corpora, said he’s also observed that many LGBTQ+ people “are beyond the Church.”

“You can’t blame them,” Corpora continued. “A lot of LGBTQ people say, ‘I left the Church because it left me,’ and I understand that, but our hope is that we can provide an opportunity through Campus Ministry to invite people to give the Church a second chance.”

This year, Corpora and Campus Ministry will offer monthly Saturday Vigil Masses geared toward LGBTQ+ students in the Dillon Hall Chapel. This semester’s Masses will take place Sept. 24, Oct. 29, Nov. 12 and Dec. 3, each at 5 p.m.

Corpora said Campus Ministry began holding Masses for the LGBTQ+ community last semester but decided to create a more formal schedule this year. 

He said they settled on holding the Masses once a month so students could continue to attend their dorm Masses or other Masses most of the time. However, if he finds that some students only feel comfortable attending the LGBTQ+ Mass and would not attend Mass otherwise, he may add more Mass dates.

“It’s an LGBTQ Mass, but anyone is welcome,” Palmer said. “It’s very affirming of the community, and that’s really great because, oftentimes, it’s really hard to find a community to worship with as a gay person because there are a lot of people, especially at a place like Notre Dame, who are not accepting of you, and you just don’t feel comfortable around them. So it’s really nice to be able to worship in a community of people where you can feel comfortable being yourself.”

Corpora said creating an environment where LGBTQ+ Catholics can feel comfortable being who they are and not feel forced to choose between being gay or being Catholic is crucial. He wants these students not to feel that they have to “fit in,” but rather that they belong.

“When you fit in, you have to sort of change how you are to fit in,” Corpora explained. “But when you belong, you are who you are … and you don’t have to change who you are before God to belong.”

Corpora said while he knows there will be Catholics and members of the Notre Dame community that object to the LGBTQ+ Masses, he is trying to follow a model he feels is inspired by Jesus Christ and the Pope.

“What I would say to anybody is ‘I am trying to follow the model of Pope Francis, who has asked us to accompany people wherever they are in their lives,’” Corpora said. “The most important proclamation of Jesus was not about laws. It was about love and accompanying people in life.”

Claire Reid

Contact Claire at creid6@nd.edu

Categories
Viewpoint

Beauty in simplicity: Children’s television

I had only once seen the 2002 Disney classic, “Lilo & Stitch,” as a child. Although I eagerly watched (and rewatched!) Disney movies as a child, all I could remember of this particular movie was thinking it was adorable. Upon rewatching it as an adult, I expected a lighthearted, feel-good film about a young girl adopting an alien.

Instead, I was greeted by the heart-wrenching story of two sisters rebuilding their lives after the tragic loss of their parents. Like many of the greatest children’s films, “Lilo & Stitch” excels at communicating heavy, adult themes to children while maintaining its entertainment value as a cartoon about a cute alien and his companions. The value of children’s television like “Lilo & Stitch” to people beyond its target audience cannot and should not be overlooked. 

Lilo, 7, and her sister Nani, 19 — struggling financially and emotionally — stumble across trouble with otherworldly authorities when they adopt an alien named Stitch. Lilo, believing Stitch to be an injured dog, buys him from the shelter as a pet. Much of the conflict throughout the movie, on the surface, centers around Lilo and Stitch’s escapades in Hawaii. 

However, many moments in the film allude to heavy emotional conflicts in a way that children would understand, but might not read too much into. For example, at one point Stitch contemplates leaving Lilo and Nani. As she watches him go, Lilo clutches a photo of her sister and parents, saying, “If you want to leave, you can. I’ll remember you, though. I remember everyone that leaves.” 

The message is simple and easy for a child to grasp: Lilo is upset about Stitch leaving, and it reminds her of her parents’ tragedy. The movie goes on, however, and the conflict between the aliens and Stitch recaptures the young audience’s attention. This kind of storytelling makes the movie’s darker themes accessible to younger audiences; scenes like this clearly convey Lilo’s sadness to children, even if they may not fully understand how Stitch represents her grief and fear of abandonment. The movie moves past its emotional conflicts to scenes of Lilo and Stitch goofing off or high stakes physical conflicts with the alien authorities — quickly enough for younger audiences to appreciate the movie for being fun and cute, while still understanding the emotional hurdles the protagonists face.

This is a huge part of what makes children’s television like “Lilo and Stitch” so great. Other major hits like “Avatar: The Last Airbender and “Steven Universe” employ similar tactics to convey real-life problems, like LGBTQ+ issues, ableism and colonialism to children using fantasy elements to metaphorically represent and mirror the problems that many people face both now and in the past.

Simple constructs can convey so much to both children and adults in a way that is entertaining and fun. For example, in “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” a character named Toph is smothered by her parents, unable to leave her home and enjoy the world because she is blind. Toph is also an “earthbender,” a superpower within the show that she uses to control and essentially terraform the ground, rocks and even sand. Unbeknownst to most people, she understands the world around her by feeling the vibrations in the earth, which she refers to as her own way of seeing. 

Her parents believe her to be “fragile” because of her disability; however, it is one of her greatest strengths. Because she has learned how to feel the vibrations in the Earth, she is one of the greatest earthbenders and fully capable of protecting herself. Despite this, many people refuse to acknowledge her talents because she is a blind young girl. Toph’s struggles are the narrative of a girl constantly confronted with ableism and sexism, always proving those who doubt her strength wrong. 

Toph’s story, like “Lilo & Stitch,” is entertaining to both children and adults. But more than that, it’s important to show narratives like this in children’s television especially, both to teach children about real life issues and to empower young members of communities that have been repeatedly discriminated against. 

At a time when LGBTQ+ representation was not prevalent in children’s television, “Steven Universe” creator Rebecca Sugar fought to feature queer and nonbinary characters in the Cartoon Network show. 

“As I’m writing about this, as I’m pitching this, I’m also getting a lot of pushback,” Sugar said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “This was not considered acceptable material for children at the time. … [But] who is speaking to a generation of children about why they deserve to exist? About how they deserve to exist? I wanted to be able to do that.” 

Sugar perfectly describes why representation is so important in children’s television. Media is an integral part of our culture; having role models like the characters in “Steven Universe” is incredibly important to support young children and make them feel accepted into a society in which there is so much conflict about people’s identities. 

Children’s television may not be considered by society to be important to a child’s development or entertaining to adults, yet many works contradict this sentiment. The genre’s ability to convey difficult topics like grief and trauma to a wide range of audiences cannot be ignored, as well as its power as a tool to teach young children about real-world problems. Works that feature underrepresented minorities can be empowering for young children in a society that discriminates against many communities. For these reasons, the value of children’s television cannot be understated.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Caitlin Brannigan

Caitlin is a sophomore from New Jersey studying psychology and English. She will forever defend her young adult novels and is overjoyed to have a platform to rant. She can be reached for comment at cbrannig@nd.edu or @CaitlinBrannig on Twitter.