Tennessee Tech University says it is investigating the circumstances surrounding a recent on-campus show by a drag performer dressed like a Franciscan friar.
A video of the performance posted on social media drew sharp rebukes for mocking the Catholic faith.
“All students, faculty, and staff deserve care and consideration, as well as representation and respect,” Phil Oldham, the school’s president, said in a statement issued Thursday night. “The investigation focuses on the inappropriate involvement of minors and a review of our policies and procedures.”
The video shows the drag performer dancing suggestively to the pop song “Take Me to Church” by Irish singer-songwriter Hozier and making the sign of the cross before removing the brown cloak to reveal a corset-type outfit underneath.
The performance took place at the on-campus Backdoor Playhouse during an Aug. 20 event called “DRAG at the Backdoor” sponsored by the group Upper Cumberland Pride.
Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, a nonprofit Catholic civil rights organization, blasted the performance, calling it “indefensible.” In a letter to Oldham, he said the performer should be disinvited from the playhouse’s next drag show, scheduled for Sept. 24.
“Backstage Playhouse bills itself as an organization that fosters ‘creativity, critical thinking, excellence, and professionalism through the integration of courses, productions, workshops, and other activities,’” Donohue wrote in a letter to Oldham, citing a description of the group on its university website. “Why, then, would it be home to an anti-Catholic event?”
Oldham agreed that the performance was offensive.
“I am disturbed and dismayed about the activities in a video circulating on social media from a recent event on Tennessee Tech’s campus,” Oldham said in his statement.
“I do not feel the activities in the video represent Tech’s values, and I do not condone explicit activity where minors are present. I also am offended by disparaging mockery toward any religious group,” he continued.
“To be clear, this was not a university sponsored event. No university funds were used. Two registered student groups facilitated the scheduling and promotion of the event. Although registered student organizations have the ability to reserve space on campus, the programming should not include obscene, lewd, or explicit activities,” he said.
Donohue commended Oldham for his response.