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PSC commits to finding new graduation venue for 2025

After several days of pressure and media coverage of its controversial choice of venue for graduation, Prairie State College has promised to find a new location for 2025.

The LBGTQ+ community and several other groups had objected to the school’s decision to hold its May 18 graduation ceremony at Victory Apostolic Church in Matteson for the third consecutive year. 

In a statement, the Homewood-Flossmoor chapter of PFLAG, a nationwide organization dedicated to supporting LGBTQ+ people, said in part: “We are grateful that Prairie State College leaders have publicly committed to finding a new, inclusive venue for next year’s commencement ceremony. We hope they also heard the concerns about accessibility and will take that into account, as well. Because all Prairie State students deserve to graduate with dignity and in a space that welcomes them fully for who they are.”

In its statement of faith, the church’s website says: “We believe that marriage is a union between one man (the husband) and one woman (the wife). We do not recognize any other ‘marriage.’ We also believe the Bible teaches that homosexuality is a sin. Therefore, we do not condone the homosexual lifestyle.”

Dr. Michael Anthony, PSC’s president, said during an interview on April 22 that he was very aware of the concerns that have been raised. On April 24, the college released a statement committing itself to finding a new venue.

The college’s statement said in part: ”We value freedom of speech and respect the rights of our students, as such, we have decided not to host future events at Victory Apostolic Church. We will provide further updates in the weeks leading up to the 2024 Commencement ceremony.”

Rebecca Fassbender, a senior and president of Prairie State Pride, said she was grateful to see the progress. 

Fassbender had spearheaded the effort to get PSC to find another venue. She said in an interview: “My issue is with the college’s decision to choose a venue where not everyone feels welcome. 

“I have no issue with the church. This isn’t about religious beliefs. It is about a public institution paying money to a religious organization that does not welcome everyone equally.”

“It is very important that everyone know that they are being heard,” Anthony said. “When these concerns were raised in December, it already was too late to change the venue for this year. Every year we search to find the best venue.”

Anthony said that as the campus population continues to diversify what might have been acceptable in the past is no longer acceptable. He said he plans to produce a video for students, parents and faculty explaining the venue selection process.

The selection process for 2025 graduation already has started, he said, and input will be solicited from the entire PSC community, but it won’t be held at Victory.

Fassbender said she has been surprised by the lack of students’ knowledge surrounding the situation, but that she has received “overwhelming support from the faculty and staff since Day One” of her push to get PSC to change the venue.

“I know it is too late to change this year’s ceremony,” she said, “but I really think the school needs to find a new location for next year.”

The Homewood-Flossmoor chapter of PFLAG had added its voice to those objecting to the graduation venue, issuing a statement that said in part:

“We are disappointed in Prairie State College’s decision to continue hosting their graduation ceremony in a space that is not welcoming to LGBTQ+ graduates, despite years of complaints from their staff and students. As a taxpayer-funded institution and one that has publicly committed to supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, Prairie State has an obligation to the community to ensure that all people feel welcome and free from discrimination in class, on campus, and at college-sponsored events.”

On April 23, Prairie State Pride and PFLAG had launched a drive to gather support through an online campaign to gather signatures from all PSC students, staff, district taxpayers, and other local stakeholders on their petition https://bit.ly/psc-graduation.     

Fassbender said she had spoken with several past graduates who said they had been bothered by the situation but felt they didn’t have the voice to take on the fight.

She also pointed out that the stage at the church is not handicapped accessible. “Disabled graduates have to stand in front to the stage to receive their diplomas,” she said.

Fassbender said that Prairie State Pride is planning a silent demonstration at the May 18 ceremony with the display of Pride Awareness ribbons, which she said would be available to members of the LBGTQ+ community and their allies.

Anthony said he had heard about plans to protest, and he praised the concept.

“I applaud what the students are planning,” he said. “That is what students should be doing, making their voices heard.”

Fassbender lauded PSC’s creation of an alternative Lavender Graduation by the college’s Department of Equity and Inclusion and PEACE (Pride Equity Access Cultural Exchange) Center. 

Fassbender said several versions of graduation stoles will be available at the Lavender Graduation and separately so that LBGTQ+ graduates and their supporters can make their voices heard.

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