US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Gonzaga University: No club status for the exclusive

By Caitlyn Schmid | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Recently Gonzaga University, a Jesuit run university in Spokane, Washington, denied club status to a group of students who wanted to restart the Knights of Columbus organization on campus. After submitting their request in September, the members waited several months before hearing back from the Student Life Vice President Sue Weitz, who denied their application because the organization didn’t meet the university’s requirements for being an officially recognized student group.

The Knights of Columbus, a men’s organization founded in 1882, is an organization devoted to service. In order to be an official member, however, one must be male, over 18, and a Catholic. These criteria root from the original founding of the organization and are not up for debate.

That being said, the Gonzaga University Club Manual states that GU is an affirmative-action, equal opportunity institution that does not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, sex, nationality, and a number of other factors. The Knights of Columbus, allowing only Catholic males to become members, was engaging in discrimination toward women and non-Catholics, according to the administration. For this reason, GU refused to add them to the list of official clubs.

“I think it is important to note that this was not a decision based [on] the Knights of Columbus’ value or worthiness of recognition, nor is it some kind of litmus test of Gonzaga’s Catholicity,” says Weitz. “It is a decision about social justice, equity, and the desire of the university to create and maintain an environment in which none are excluded.”

Peter Guthrie, the Grand Knight (a position similar to president) of the Knights of Columbus student council, assured the administration that non-Catholic students would be more than welcome to participate in the club’s service projects . Participating in service projects, however, is not exactly the same as being a fully-fledged member. The Knights are known for being incredibly secretive about some of the things that they do with their members. This is the part that would exclude women and non-Catholics and is what the university finds to be problematic.

A final decision for the fate of the Knights has not been made by the administration. The university has agreed to review the decision it has made because of the protests surrounding its original decision.

While I am disappointed that the university has refused a Catholic organization from flourishing on campus, I can understand why they did what they did. As a Jesuit school, it is committed to its multicultural, pluralistic atmosphere that is home to people of many different religions. Its Unity Multicultural Education Center (UMEC) strives to include all people without discrimination. I respect this organization and GU’s honorable commitment. If their goal is to cultivate an accepting environment, it cannot make exceptions to its mission.

Is the university handling this situation correctly? Should the Knights of Columbus be given club status on campus?

Flickr photo cc by ebis50