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Grand Forks mayor says he supports Catholic Conference letter against proposed UND gender inclusion policy

Bochenski sided with Catholic Conference in opposing that policy, which he wrote would require students to accept a specific ideology about gender expression.

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GRAND FORKS — Mayor Brandon Bochenski, in a post made on social media, has weighed in on a proposed gender inclusion policy at UND that recently was the subject of a letter by the North Dakota Catholic Conference.

Bockenski sided with the Catholic Conference in opposing the policy, writing on Facebook that he believes it would require students to accept a specific ideology about gender expression. UND’s proposed policy would require people on campus to use a person’s preferred name, pronouns and the gender identity they have disclosed.

“Compelling speech and forcing ideology on our students, our children and our community is abhorrent,” wrote Bochenski. “Is it possible for a university to focus on academic rigor and preparing our youth to enter the workforce with the skills of adulthood? A sad day for my alma mater.”

Bochenski also wrote that treating people with respect, dignity and civility is already reflected in UND’s Code of Student Life, and that doing so is a “cornerstone of our Christian faith.”

Bochenski, in a follow-up phone call with the Herald, said he thinks the proposed policy implies UND and Grand Forks are not inclusive, something he said he does not believe is the case. He believes the university is creating a problem where one does not exist, and referred to the code of student conduct that requires students to treat one another with respect.

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“I just really think that we are (an inclusive community), so that's where I have a hard time understanding where they're coming from with this policy,” Bochenski said.

When asked, Bochenski did not refer to himself as a Catholic, but as a Christian.

Bochenski clarified that his comments don't represent the position of the city, but instead his only thoughts. He said he is not worried his stance will create a rift with UND, and that sometimes disagreements happen with university administrators.

“I think it's good to have dialogue and to talk about these things,” he said. “I don't see there being a fracture. We're all professionals and have a job to do and we can disagree at times.”

Brandon Bochenski
Brandon Bochenski

A spokesperson from UND told the Herald President Andrew Armacost met with Bochenski to discuss the matter, but made no other comments. UND is set to hold a press conference about the letter from the Catholic Conference — at 10 a.m. on Friday.

Bochenski said he hopes UND will be able to provide more clarity about the proposed policy during that press conference.

In the letter from the North Dakota Catholic Conference, Christopher Dodson, the Catholic Conference’s executive director, wrote that some universities are enacting policies that are hostile to the Catholic religion, and thereby impose “flawed ideologies on students but also restrict their rights to free speech and religion.” Dodson specifically referenced UND in the letter.

The mayor, in his social media post, said "I support the attached letter wholeheartedly."

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As it stands in the policy now, intentionally misgendering a person – referring to person with words that do not reflect the gender by which they identify – could be a violation of the university’s discrimination and harassment policy.

According to Billie Jo Lorius, a spokesperson from the North Dakota University System, UND is an outlier in the state for considering a policy on gender inclusion. No other university in the state system has put such a policy on paper.

Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, likened the situation to a canary in a coal mine, meaning other universities may be watching UND to see the reaction the policy elicits.

“When the canary flops over dead, all of a sudden you're going to probably see 10 campuses saying ‘I think we’ll go slow,'” Holmberg said.

Holmberg noted that the policy is still in draft form. He said UND needs to explain why it is necessary in terms of the law, and that school administrators need to continue having a dialogue with people who are concerned about it.

Rep. Clair Cory, R-Grand Forks, said she and other legislators met with Armacost to discuss the policy. Cory said it needs to align with the campus free speech protection law. The law is based off of House Bill 1503, signed by Gov. Doug Burgum in April 2021. Cory hopes some provisions in the bill can be modified.

“I think that we'll be able to come to a consensus and come up with some language that works,” she said.

UND Student Body President Kealan Reedy said there are students on campus who are “maliciously targeted” based on their identity. He said the purpose of the policy is not to stop someone from practicing sincerely held beliefs, but to protect people from being harassed.

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Reedy thinks there is potential to modify the policy, but if that happens he would like it changed based on input from students from all reaches of campus.

Related Topics: UNIVERSITY OF NORTH DAKOTA
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