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  • Eric Santomauro-Stenzel

Rosary Club Email Deactivated by Order of Student Assembly

College says there is no Community Standards violation following Bias Incident Report detailing homophobic remarks by group’s leader

Content warning: homophobia, misogyny, and other forms of hate

Editor’s note: the author of this article expressed support for the Assembly’s interpretation of its authority over club recognition during public comment at the April 18th SA General Meeting.

The email account for the controversial “Rosary Club” was deactivated by Student Activities last week by order of the Student Assembly (SA). Rosary is not a recognized student organization, but a subgroup of the Newman Council, the official Catholic student organization at Hamilton. Assembly members said they were ordering the deactivation of the account because Student Activities had given the group access to privileges only granted to recognized student organizations without their consent as the designated oversight body for club approval. Newman Council publicly dissociated themselves from Rosary three weeks ago, saying, “[Rosary’s president/founder] does not represent our beliefs or those of the entire Catholic community on campus” and said that they were not informed the subgroup would be housed under their organization until after the College had made the decision.

An anonymous source shared an email exchange between high-ranking members of SA and the Director and Associate Director of Student Activities, Noelle Juliano and Kaity Stewart, with The Monitor. The exchange begins with an email from the SA Treasurer account ordering the deactivation of, Rosary Club’s email account, because only recognized student organizations are permitted email accounts and listserv privileges according to the most recently updated Student Organization Leader Manual. The message said the deactivation order was solely based on four listed violations of Student Activities and SA policies related to Rosary’s status as an unrecognized student organization having continued access to recognized organization privileges, including use of an email and associated college-wide listserv, attending the club fair with a table, and continuing to behave as if they were a recognized group with “Club” in their title. The Assembly cited long-standing language within their Constitution and By-Laws saying they had the authority to sanction groups violating policies.

Juliano and Stewart responded to the order to deactivate the account saying, “As it stands now, Rosary’s email will expire at the end of the semester. The group will have to reapply in the fall if they want to exist as a recognized club on campus.” They felt that the controversies related to Rosary this semester could have been avoided with a closer relationship with SA on club approval and clearer communication with Rosary about the role of a “branch” of an organization. The two said of the lack of communication between relevant stakeholders and its results, “We had to balance our error with not trying to censor anyone’s thoughts or ideas at a college that values free speech and thought. After multiple discussions with administrators in the Division of Student Life, we decided that we would let them maintain this email account through the end of the semester.”

Juliano and Stewart were referencing ongoing controversies related to Rosary’s emails, which have called for “authentic love between men and women” and opposed legal abortion and contraception of any kind. These emails, and articles published in the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization’s Enquiry and the national right-wing publication The College Fix, have stirred accusations of racism, homophobia, transphobia, and misogyny against the group, in particular its founder and president Devin Mendelson ‘22.

Class Representative and former SA President Tommy Keith ‘22 replied-all to the chain on Thursday, May 5th, disgruntled with Student Activities’ declining to deactivate this semester. “If the Assembly does not have the authority to authorize sanctions against organizations, then our constitution means virtually nothing, and our ‘power’ derives from whether or not administrators decide to follow through with our actions, which were voted upon by the vast majority of student assembly leaders.” He added that he intended to raise this concern publicly at the next SA General Meeting on Monday, May 9th.

Sunday night, Juliano replied saying she had deactivated and requested the issue not be discussed during the meeting, the final of the semester, so as to focus on other more urgent matters like club funding and elections. The matter was not discussed at the meeting, which was extended multiple times until 11pm; the full planned agenda was not completed.

In the May 5th email where Juliano and Stewart denied the deactivation order, they claimed that, “At this time, there have not been any reports to [Bias Incident Response Team] BIRT or [Sexual Misconduct Board] SMB and no finding of responsibility for such accusations” before concluding “we don't see how we can censor/take away an email account because their beliefs may be different than that of the majority.” No part of the Assembly’s original email stated that Rosary’s views were relevant to the order.

In an interview with The Monitor and documents she forwarded, Randy Tristant ‘22 (who graduated in December) provided strong evidence that Juliano and Stewarts’s claim is inaccurate. Tristant, who identifies as lesbian, filed an official Bias Incident Report one week after she had sent an April 15th email complaint to Juliano, President David Wippman, and College Chaplain Jeff McArn specifically identifying Rosary Club and Mendelson as the subject of her concerns. The first email complaint begins, "I’m reaching out regarding my concerns about the Rosary Club and its president, Devin Mendelson. I believe that Devin is spreading hateful and hurtful information across social media about the LGBTQ+ community." She included the full text of a private message Mendelson had sent her describing gay relationships and her as "disordered." She described Rosary’s public call for “authentic love between men and women” as “an attack against the LGBTQ+ community and our rights to marriage. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I have felt (and still feel) hurt and attacked by this rhetoric.” She closed, "This needs to be brought to your attention and can simply not continue" before asking to schedule a meeting. She included 15 screenshots of posts made by Rosary Club on Instagram which include saying "tolerance kills tradition" and an image of the "biblical order of the family" which places husband above wife. Screenshots Tristant shared with The Monitor verified her claims about the content of Mendelson’s messages.

In the private message Tristant cited both in her initial email complaint and following Bias Incident Report, Mendelson asserted, “It is never too late to ask God for forgiveness and to seek guidance to change oneself. Masturbation and the desire to seek pornography can be conquered through Christ.” He repeatedly referred to gay relationships as “disordered” throughout the message, and closed by saying, “Out of charity, I would be happy to help guide you to the Truth, but I cannot do that unless you first acknowledge to yourself what you already know in the depths of your soul - that same-sex attractions are disordered.” Homosexuality was removed by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) 49 years ago in response to LGBTQ+ activists, and has long been proven as scientific fact to be entirely natural.

Juliano and McArn each replied to her email and eventually connected her with BIRT Chair and Associate Dean of Students for Diversity and Inclusion Maria Genao-Homs, who she met with on Friday, April 22nd. Tristant claims she received a phone call from President Wippman where he offered “nothing” to address her concerns. Tristant says of the meeting with Genao-Homs, "I did mention the Rosary Club several times and how I'm really concerned about how this is gonna impact student life, how it's impacting students of color, students of the LGBTQ community, and how it's painting Hamilton in a negative light."

On April 22nd, Tristant filed an official Bias Incident Report with the College against Mendelson for the homophobic messages he sent to her one week prior, describing him as the Rosary Club president and referencing the Instagram posts he had put up. “I had seen that Devin, who is the head of the Rosary Club, had been posting a lot of anti-LGBTQ+ propaganda. Because of that, I decided to reach out to him via text message to express to him how hurtful I found those posts to be. His response was to use my personal childhood trauma against me to say that that has caused me to become gay and that I have to recognize that ‘same-sex attractions are disordered.’ I believe this to be a homophobic attack against my person.” This information was not available to the Assembly when they sent their initial email to Juliano and Stewart.

The content of Tristant's initial complaint, follow-up report, and according to her, her private meeting with Genao-Homs, makes clear she views Rosary Club and Mendelson as inextricably linked and as the subjects of her concerns. In an interview, McArn said it was his understanding that Mendelson is solely responsible for communications from the organization, and that "I think there are a few other students that get together to pray."

According to Tristant, the second claim by Juliano and Stewart is accurate: while Tristant sought judicial action, the College has not found an individual responsible for violations of Community Standards for these or other messages distributed by Rosary or its president. Tristant reports that yesterday (May 9th) Genao-Homs informed her that BIRT did not find a violation of any College policies.

While noting to The Monitor that Genao-Homs was very kind and tried to be as helpful as possible, Tristant said in exasperation, “If this doesn’t constitute a violation of conduct, then I don’t know what would. It’s a clear homophobic attack against me and I don’t understand, and I still have received no answer as to why this would not be a violation of conduct according to Hamilton.” Genao-Homs offered mediation between Tristant and Mendelson as a possible solution, which Tristant declined because, “I don’t think that would be very helpful for either party, or very positive.”

In an interview after the reproductive rights teach-in hosted by the Center for Intersectional Feminism on Wednesday, May 4th, McArn expressed regret for playing a role in advocating for Rosary to have an email account to other administrators. “Even though it’s always called the Rosary Club it’s not an official student organization…It was honestly my mistake to say ‘okay you’re not gonna be a student organization, but I’ll advocate for you to have your own email address so you can create a sub-identity within the Catholic community.’ That was a mistake.” He was uncomfortable with the “hurtful and damaging rhetoric” from the group and reiterated his point from his speech in favor of a more empathetic dialogue, “It’s my hope that we can somehow find a way to have conversations that don’t include just utter bifurcation…what I think of as positive input from religion is to find a way to have conversation without alienation.”

Update 5/11: In response to criticism from students, this article was updated to make some items more clear. The original version of this article did not make clear enough that Tristant sent two separate complaints to the College calling for action to be taken, that according to her both Rosary Club and Mendelson were named in those complaints, and that the first email complaint was sent to Juliano prior to the email exchange regarding Rosary Club's email deactivation.

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