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Septiembre-octubre de 2021, vol. 30, núm. 5
Sexo, género, sexualidad y comunicación / Sex, gender, sexuality, & communication

Communication strategies and responses to change around issues of sexuality in Catholic higher education

Mark A. Levand

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Abstract: Sometimes, change around sexuality at Catholic higher education institutions exists in the shadow culture –the values and systems that drive a culture of an institution but that differ from those openly espoused. Past studies have often focused on the creation of LGBTQ student organizations at one or at most four institutions. The present study examines qualitative data from 31 employees at 17 different Catholic colleges and universities across the USA in which employees indicate how they navigated the process of effecting change around human sexuality at their Catholic institution. Interviews were transcribed and coded with a three-phase coding procedure that was then reviewed by an expert panel. Participants experienced both supportive and resistant reactions from colleagues. Issues of human sexuality were defined broadly to include not only student groups around orientation (i.e., LGBTQ student groups) but also sexual assault policy and prevention, policy around transgender student housing or restrooms, incorporating sexuality into the curriculum, same-sex employee benefits, etc. Reasons for resistance included fear, misunderstanding, mission incongruence, and perceived scandal. Methods of navigating change consisted of data gathering, increased visibility, taking a student focus, public conversations, trainings, one-to-one education, task forces, student protests, engaging with university heritage and mission, sensitivity to language used, and more discreet methods of effecting change. These data strengthen the literature by offering a detailed description of these methods, identifying the geopolitical atmosphere as relevant to the change process, noting some methods as ineffective, and clarifying communication that occurs in the shadow culture. Beyond Catholic higher education, readers may find these themes useful in effecting change at their own higher education institutions, including institutions with much fear and anxiety around sexuality.

Keywords: Catholic higher education; Catholicism; Sexuality; Organizational communication; LGBTQ student groups; Organizational change; Methods of communication; Catholic colleges; Catholic universities; Sexual orientation; Sexual diversity.