Drag show at Jesuit university gets a yawn (mostly) from mainstream press in Seattle

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Last Saturday was religion day at The Seattle Times; no small thing in that the paper hasn’t had a religion reporter in several years.

There was a poll piece on how irreligious Washington state residents are becoming. Then a short piece on the fate of a historic black church:

Then there was an attention-grabbing piece about a drag show at a local Jesuit college.

Your head spins. A what?

Which is why most reporters would like to take a crack at the story. But is it news any longer that Jesuit colleges do crazy things?

Not really. Some of you may have read what Rod Dreher wrote about the drag show, but the Times had to wait for something to actually newsy to happen. Then a professor stole copies of the student newspaper that reported on the show. That was news.

Thus, the Times wrote: 

The photo of the Seattle University student performing at a drag show in a low-cut, sparkly leotard was well lit and captured the performer mid-pose.
The editors of the university’s student newspaper The Spectator say it’s a good photo, one that they don’t regret putting on the cover of last week’s edition.
That puts them at odds with the university’s president, who called the photo “obscene,” and at least one professor, who admitted to removing every copy of the newspaper from the stands at three separate locations on the campus.

The lede is kind of stodgy, as the real story is about the professor who stole the papers. Before getting to that, the newspaper goes on for seven paragraphs about the outrageousness of the show -- before we hear more about the Mystery of the Missing Spectator.

(Tess) Riski was one of the (Spectator) staff members who noticed the empty newsstands while she was walking on campus soon after the newspapers were distributed. Riski jokes now that that was their cue, because they never totally run out of newspapers.
“The stands were empty, which is rare, so we put two-and-two together,” she said. “We realized someone may have taken these intentionally.”

 That puts them at odds with the university’s president, who called the photo “obscene,” and at least one professor, who admitted to removing every copy of the newspaper from the stands at three separate locations on the campus…
The photo is from an annual drag show hosted earlier this month by the university’s Triangle Club, an organization that provides resources to the LGBTQA community. Shortly after the edition hit the news stands, staff members received an email from University President Father Stephen Sundborg criticizing the photo.
In a Spectator interview, he said he was “very, very embarrassed and ashamed,” and described the photo as “indecent.”

The article continues on with Sundborg’s indignant comments.

But couldn’t the Times team have gotten its own interview with the college president? The piece also notes the students’ surprise at Sundborg’s reaction in that, haven’t they always been socially active? Don’t they live just steps away from Seattle’s heavily gay Capitol Hill neighborhood?

(Spectator Editor Tess) Riski was one of the staff members who noticed the empty newsstands while she was walking on campus soon after the newspapers were distributed. Riski jokes now that that was their cue, because they never totally run out of newspapers.
“The stands were empty, which is rare, so we put two-and-two together,” she said. “We realized someone may have taken these intentionally.”
Later that day, they received an email from Father David Leigh, an English professor, who said he had taken the copies from the Bellarmine and Pigott buildings and the library. Students and faculty members had already taken many of the copies, he wrote, but he took the rest.
He wrote that he was concerned about the arrival of new students and their families as part of Accepted Students Decision Day.
“I was offended by a recent edition of The Spectator, whose cover contained what I considered an inappropriate, risqué photograph,” he wrote. “ … I deeply regret this action and have no further comments.”

In a way this is so comical in that Seattle University isn’t the only university I’ve heard of whose PR department –- or a substitute thereof -– elects to remove offending student newspapers because they don’t want visitors to the campus to see them. The Student Press Law Center even has instructions on its site about how to respond when this happens.

I checked around to see who else covered this event. I have to congratulate the Spectator for landing the interview with their college president, plus a quote from a communications professor explaining that because Seattle University is private, it has the right to censor student publications. Which means stealing them too, I guess.

I looked up the few other media mentions out there, ie from The Stranger, an alternate publication, and a blog known as intellecturaltakeout.org, which had a very insightful headline: “Catholic University Totally Cool With Drag Show -- But Don’t Publish a Photo With It.” I need to quote from its lead paragraphs, which actually explains why the Catholic church might have a problem with what Seattle University allows: 

In 1990 Pope John Paul II, troubled over the decline of traditional religious views on Catholic campuses, published Ex Corde Ecclesiae, an apostolic constitution that aimed to define and reestablish the identity and mission of Catholic institutions of higher learning.
Among the document’s many provisions was a call for Catholic universities to foster “fidelity to the Christian message as it comes to us through the Church.”
Most Catholics would probably tell you it was a fine idea ... that never materialized. In fact, three decades later, it’s safe to say the opposite happened: Catholic institutions of higher learning largely shed traditional Church teachings in their new embrace of the social justice creed. … A case in point can found in Washington state.

I’ve no idea where the author of this blog (Jon Miltimore) is coming from, but he’s got a point: in saying, "The students were actually on stronger moral ground by pointing out “the absurdity of a university that embraces LGBTQ values but not the right to freely depict and share them.”

No other secular media and none other Catholic media (that I could find) picked up on this story. Maybe because drag shows and Catholic universities have been an item before? Maybe it’s because Jesuit universities in this country have so exhausted their spiritual capital that there’s no longer anything to be outraged about?

MAIN IMAGE: The cover of the much-discussed front page of The Spectator.

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