When Villanova University's communication department invited the gay performance artist Tim Miller to campus, professors envisioned the program as another piece of an organized effort to spur dialogue on diversity issues at the Catholic school.
"As we've been working on this process of 'intergroup dialogue,' we've had a number of events that have featured people who have been instrumental in helping students think across the lines of difference in terms of identity," said Maurice Hall, chair of the department.
But on Sunday, Villanova canceled Miller's weeklong workshop, citing "concerns that his performances were not in keeping with our Catholic and Augustinian values and mission."
Hall declined Tuesday to say whether he agreed with the decision. The department went through the required approval process before scheduling Miller, he said.
Miller's shows often include nudity and simulated sex acts, though he has appeared at many colleges, such as the nation's largest Catholic school, DePaul, in Chicago. Hall said nudity and simulated sex acts were not to be part of the Villanova show.
"Unfortunately, a lot of what he was going to do on campus got distorted," Hall said. "He was purely doing an educational workshop. A lot of the focus would have been on students reaching out to each other cross-culturally."
Villanova president Peter M. Donohue declined to be interviewed about the decision to cancel. In a recent interview, Donohue said the campus was welcoming to homosexuals. He was talking about Villanova's diversity class that discusses all forms of difference, including sexual orientation.
"The Catholic Church has many gay members. Everyone is created by God, and we have many different kinds of people here, and they're all welcome," he said.
Asked if it might be more difficult for gay students on a Catholic campus, he said: "I honestly don't know."
"People from a variety of different backgrounds can always experience prejudice or rejection," he said. "It's time for us to break down those walls in productive ways."
The decision to cancel Miller has for some raised questions about Villanova's commitment to diversity.
"While the reasons for the cancellation are currently unclear, many Villanova students, including myself, feel that this is a homophobic decision on some level," said senior Julia Arduini, an openly gay student. She is in the multicultural class and was going to take Miller's workshop.
Arduini said that until this incident, she had felt support from professors and many peers, but added that "Villanova has to right this wrong."
Senior Lindsay Michael, also in the multicultural class, wanted to learn more.
"I'm not sure what happened at the last second that it was canceled," she said. "It's very eerie, though, how it happened."