In 2018, Duquesne University’s Gender Forum co-hosted a “Gender Neutral Fashion Show” with the Department of Women and Gender Studies. After the success of their inaugural event, they decided to move forward with a second annual show, but their attempts have been met with resistance, as the university’s administration has restricted important components of the event.
Officials in the university indicated that they had received complaints over a 2018 event poster featuring a male-presenting runway model in a dress. This prompted the university to set limitations on the language and imagery the event producers and hosts are allowed to use in association with the 2019 show, including a requirement that they refrain from the use of gender-neutral language and photographs similar to what was used in the previous year.
An official statement signed by Kristine Blair, dean of McAnulty College, and Darlene Weaver, associate provost for academic affairs, stated:
“No matter what group seeks to use University resources for programing, Duquesne University has consistently required that it show respectforthe Catholic religious identity of the institution and demonstrate sensitivity toall members of the campus community, and for the diversity of opinion and faith traditions that are part of our campus. … the posters advertising the event generated numerous complaints from a variety of students, faculty and alumni.”
The officials went on to say that all event materials would have to be pre-approved in order to ensure that they are “not designed in a fashion that will unnecessarily offend others.”
People with direct knowledge about the situation spoke anonymously to Pittsburgh Magazine and alleged that the complaints were coming from outside the university, specifically from the Pittsburgh Diocese. The Catholic Diocese issued a statement to Pittsburgh Magazine stating, “Last year Bishop Zubik received several complaints about the advertisements for a gender neutral fashion show at Duquesne University. The diocese referred the complaints to the university out of concern that the event, as advertised, did not reflect Catholic teaching on gender. Our Catholic faith teaches that gender is a gift from God.”
Students and faculty are rightfully angry and disappointed that the university’s restrictions demonstrate that not all people are truly respected and valued on campus. Though the organizers have been given an ultimatum to abide by the restrictions or cancel the event, they have decided to move forward with the show, scheduled for Oct. 23.