Several students recently approached the administration of St. Louis U. High with a proposal to change the school dance policy to allow students to bring same-sex guests to school dances.
The current SLUH dance policy refers to the type of dancing allowed, outlines a dress code and protocols for when and how students should arrive, but does not mention anything about the guest students are allowed to bring.
The initial proposal was given to Principal Fr. Ian Gibbons, SJ, in February before SLUH’s annual Sno-ball dance. Because of how close it was to Sno-ball’s date, the new policy could not be implemented by then.
“The proposal came before Sno-ball. And so one of the first pieces was, is this a topic that we really should look into and we decided, yes. We don't know where this will go, but it certainly is a worthy topic to look into,” said Gibbons.
When the proposal was given to Gibbons, it was not just an easy yes or no answer. Discussions were to be held to answer how it would work for SLUH, and how it aligns with the mission and goals of SLUH and its students.
“We received a proposal to look at some changes in the dance policy in late February, So we've had a few meetings with some student groups. I've worked with Dr. Kesterson, Mrs. Menne, and a number of others to discuss topics such as what is the function of a dance, and guest policies and how those best work for our school. And also, making sure what we do is aligned with mission and our goals for student activities, and overall makes sense,” said Gibbons.
So far these student meetings have been held with members of the Ongoing Conversations club, One World Club, STUCO, and faculty members including Assistant Principal for Student Life Brock Kesterson, moderator of Ongoing Conversations and Campus Minister Simonie Anzalone, and Gibbons.
“It's been really great to sit and have a conversation in that setting. I think it allows people to be very open and very honest and very forthright. I think we are able to look at things from a lens of a Catholic school and us being able to support our students and figure out what the right thing is going forward and how we approach these dances,” said Kesterson. “The important thing that we are doing is we are, one, having the conversation but, two, educating ourselves. There's a lot of assumptions that are made and there's a lot of ignorance that is out there.”
“I attended the meeting that STUCO was invited to by the Ongoing Conversations group. They were having a meeting, and they invited a few members of STUCO, so I, alongside my STUCO classmates, went and Dr. K was also invited,” said Senior STUCO member Matthew Kluba. “And as Student Council we represented the student body and made sure that we were hearing their opinion.”
There's a lot of people who still believe that our semi-formal and formal dances are romantic in some way and preparation for marriage in some way. And if you've been to a SLUH dance anytime in the last decade, you would know that is absolutely not the case, so then we're asking why can't people just bring a friend of whatever gender.
- Simonie Anzalone
As of right now, the Ongoing Conversations club has held two other meetings with Kesterson to provide him with information about their club and the goals of their club.
“The first (meeting) was mainly with Dr. K and it was mainly discussing what exactly our goals are as a club and educating Dr. K on LGBTQ+ issues in terms of gender, sexuality, those sorts of things. And then the second one was about writing the policy for allowing students to bring other guys to formal and semi-formal dances. So we discussed policies that other Jesuit schools around the country have in regards to bringing same sex guests,” said senior Tanner Dougherty, a member of the Ongoing Conversations Club.
The most recent meeting was on Friday April 8, where the conversation evolved from just being about dances, to being about the LGBTQ+ community at SLUH, and dress code not just at dances, but throughout a regular day at SLUH.
“It got into conversations about dress code at dances, which also spilled over into conversations about dress code at school. So it was good, it's the first meeting I had been to, to hear what some of those concerns were or some of the thoughts that are out there. And for us to be able to engage in that open dialogue, I think that was really important,” said Kesterson.
“I'm not sure if it will happen immediately or it will happen next school year, or whatever it is, but I do see it becoming an official policy. I'm very hopeful that it will,” said junior Chandler Brozovic, a member of Ongoing Conversations.
“I feel like we (STUCO) were okay with it, I think the consensus was as long as you're doing it for the right reason and you're not making a joke out of it or you're not doing it to cause like a big ruckus or anything like that then it is ok. Because if we start a rumble between a SLUH guy and a Vianney guy or CBC guy then we’ll have problems. That was the consensus but if you truly have the right intentions, then yeah, we were okay with that,” said Kluba.
“I was there with STUCO just to kind of be a listening ear and show support for them. But you could tell that they really wanted progress to be done. And there was progress,” said Karim.
One point of consideration is how the guest policy would operate in conjunction with Catholic Church teaching, which states that same-sex relationships are contrary to the Church’s position on the sacrament of marriage. School administrators are discussing how this new dance policy would relate to the Church’s teaching.
“I think now it just is a matter of creating the appropriate language, so that within the realm of a Catholic school, we are still abiding by Catholic teaching but then also allowing students the freedom to pick their guest of choice,” said Anzalone.
Over the years SLUH dances have changed, from the dress code to the dancing style, one part of the dance that has changed drastically is the reason for bringing the guest. Decades ago students would bring dates, and the dance would be seen as a romantic setting. In recent years however, the reason for bringing the guest has become less romantic and more friendly.
“The environment of dances has changed dramatically over the years. It's not a formal setting where it lends itself to that kind of connection between two people, it's much more open. I mean, again, how much one-on-one dancing is there at these dances?” said Kesterson.
“There's a lot of people who still believe that our semi-formal and formal dances are romantic in some way and preparation for marriage in some way. And if you've been to a SLUH dance anytime in the last decade, you would know that is absolutely not the case, so then we're asking why can't people just bring a friend of whatever gender,” said Anzalone.
“It really seems like to me in my four years here, the only difference between a mixer and a dance is the dress code,” said Assistant Dean of Students Dan Schulte.
As of right now there are still many parts of the proposal to discuss, whether it is with the students, or faculty members of SLUH or with the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
“I think it would be too soon to say we're shifting the policy, but certainly, this is an important conversation to have and this conversation will include students and student organizations, and faculty conversation with the the Archdiocese concerning Catholic teaching in that regard, as well as to take a look at what other Catholic and private and public schools are doing as far as guest policies at dances,” said Gibbons. “So, there's a lot of pieces here. And I think we'll be spending a good amount of time looking into this. And we certainly won't be looking to start the process this quarter, but I'm certainly looking at it for next year.”
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