Once upon a time in the not-distant-enough-past, homosexuality was wrongly considered a disorder and listed as such in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). It was not until 1973 that the APA changed the DSM and said that homosexuality is not a mental illness.
But there are still those out there who think that a person can be “cured” of homosexuality and made “normal.” As NPR reports, a Catholic university in Steubenville, Ohio, Franciscan University, has been in the spotlight for referring to homosexuality as “deviant behavior” in the description for a course in its School of Social Work.
Here is part of the course description for SWK 314 Deviant Behavior: “The behaviors that are primarily examined are murder, rape, robbery, prostitution, homosexuality, mental illness and drug use.”
In other words, this course at Franciscan University equates homosexuality with crimes including murder, rape, robbery and drug use, as well as referring to it wrongly as a mental illness.
A “Top Conservative College”
The Chronicle of Higher Education says that Franciscan University has “strong ties to the Roman Catholic church.” This is a bit of an understatement.
Over the past two decades, I have taught at four different Catholic universities in the Midwest and the East Coast. Franciscan University is a different sort of institution, with a reputation for a far more stringent application of certain teachings of the Catholic church. I witnessed this personally, after one of my students cut off all communication with old friends and myself after entering a program in Steubenville.
Franciscan University has made no secret of its conservativism. Its public relations department notes that it was one of “only” fifteen schools named the “Top Conservative Colleges” by the Young America’s Foundation (YAF).
University Defies Alumni Request to Remove Offensive Description
Members of a Facebook group for gay and lesbian alumni of Franciscan University discovered the offensive description and contacted the school about changing it. Rather than acknowledge that it was using outdated and misleading terminology, Franciscan University defended the course description, as it stated to NPR:
“Franciscan University follows Catholic Church teaching in regard to homosexuality and treats homosexual persons with ‘respect, compassion, and sensitivity’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2358) while holding homosexual acts as ‘intrinsically disordered.’”
The university says the term “deviant” is used in the sociological sense, to mean “different from the norm.” And it says the course “covers a wide range of topics including crime, alcoholism, heterosexual deviance and homosexuality.”
Indeed, when two alumni contacted Franciscan University officials about changing the course description, a university attorney lawyer told them to cease to use its name and logo for their Facebook group.
Franciscan University Could Lose Accreditation For Its Social Work Program
An accreditation body, the Council on Social Work Education, has said that Franciscan University’s social work program could be in danger of losing its accreditation due to referring to homosexuality as “deviant behavior.”
Stephen Holloway, director of the Council’s office of accreditation, said that the course description “raises a flag.” His organization’s accreditation standards include a diversity requirement because “understanding diversity and difference and their dynamics in society is critical for social workers to be effective in working with diverse populations.”
A loss of accreditation would cause serious difficulties for students enrolled in the social work program and for those who have graduated from it. They could find that their degrees (required for their jobs) are invalidated.
It will be interesting to see whether Franciscan University responds to the Council’s concerns. Is it willing to lose accreditation in the name of clinging to an offensive and false description of homosexuality?
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