Community Letter Prompts ENGAGE Summit

Jackie Cannon ’20

Chief News Editor

After weeks of uncertainty following an October 27 police report detailing an alleged hate crime against an LGBTQ+ student, the College has announced that it will hold the ENGAGE Summit: Where Do We Go from Here? on Friday, November 16, to question how to make Holy Cross a more accepting, safe campus.

The decision to host this summit arose from the suggestions made by staff and students alike on how to address concerns over the campus climate. Most notably, 717 students, 157 alumni, and 159 faculty and staff signed a letter, “A Response to Your Call,” which was delivered to Rev. Philip L. Boroughs, S.J., president, on Thursday, Nov. 8, calling for a pause in campus life, including the cancellation of all classes, events, and athletic practices to host conversations and search for solutions.

This letter was written by English Professor Leah Hager Cohen, who emphasized that the letter is not her view alone, but rather belongs to all those who signed it and who have been working to address these issues on campus for years.

She explained that, in part, the letter grew out of the energy of Create Lab, a collaborative course co-taught by Cohen and two other professors, although Cohen wrote the letter on her own. She also cited the importance of the many students, faculty, and campus groups who promoted the spread of the letter through word-of-mouth and distributed it through campus groups’ email lists.

A day after this letter was delivered, Fr. Boroughs responded to the campus community, announcing that all classes and extra-curricular events will be cancelled on Friday, Nov. 16 from 1:00-4:30 pm, when the ENGAGE Summit will take place. Boroughs described the summit as an opportunity to “direct our collective attention to a conversation and exploration of our culture at Holy Cross and the steps we need to take to build a community that supports and celebrates all its members.”

According to an email distributed to the signatories of the “Response to Your Call” letter, a group of about 25 students, faculty and staff worked to plan the Summit, which will include over 50 different events and discussions. Fr. Boroughs encouraged all members of the campus community to facilitate a conversation or present a session, with topics including challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community, sexual assault on campus, and others.

In addition, a second letter which also garnered significant support was drafted by Holy Cross alumni and addressed to Fr. Boroughs, the Board of Trustees, and Dean Michele Murray. This letter proposed three major long-term options for creating a safe, LGBTQ-friendly community: A Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Center, a Gender and Sexuality Allyship Training, and a Social Justice Academic Requirement.

Additionally, the authors of this letter acknowledged that many of the existing services for LGBTQ+ students and staff “exist to mitigate the harmful results of a transphobic and homophobic culture, not change it.”

For the administration and the ENGAGE planning committee, this summit is not intended to be the ultimate solution for issues of inclusion and acceptance on campus. The email to the signatories of the “Response to Your Call” letter instead described the summit as “a starting point for a conversation,” and acknowledged that the committee is already anticipating how to continue these conversations in the future.

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