CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Notre Dame Releases Pastoral Plan for LGBTQ Students

December 7, 2012

Notre DameThe University of Notre Dame, released a plan yesterday that addresses the pastoral concerns of LGBTQ community members after concluding a five-month review by the administration, and decades-long movement by students, most recently under the 4 to 5 Movement and Progressive Student Alliance.

The plan, titled “Beloved Friends and Allies: A Pastoral Plan for the Support and Holistic Development of GLBTQ and Heterosexual Students at the University of Notre Dame,” will enact three major changes on campus to further education about and support for those who identify as LGBTQ. The University explained these changes in a press release.

Foremost, a student organization will be established under the advisement of University administrators to program around relevant topics and provide peer-to-peer support. Students at Notre Dame have long requested recognition of a gay-straight alliance group, and an application by the 4 to 5 Movement last spring prompted University president, Fr. John Jenkins to commission the review.

In addition, an advisory committee of students, faculty, and staff will replace the present Core Council with the intent of guiding the administration, particularly the Vice President of Student Affairs, on how best to respond to LGBTQ students in their questions, concerns, and desires.

The student organization and the advisory committee will be overseen by a full-time staff member focused on educating the campus, promoting dialogue, and acting as a liaison between LGBTQ students and existing campus resources.

Reception by the Notre Dame community is generally positive after a collaborative review process, as reported by the South Bend Tribune:

“Karl Abad, an openly gay Notre Dame senior, welcomes the decision…

“’Students here are ready for a change, but the climate didn’t encourage open discussion,’ Abad said. The new student organization will encourage and support honest discussion of issues related to sexuality, he said…

“He praised the efforts of Erin Hoffmann Harding, who in August became Notre Dame’s vice president for student affairs, for moving the discussions forward. ‘Throughout this process, she’s been in constant dialogue with other administrators and knows what students need,’ he said.”

In an extensive interview with campus newspaper, The Observer, Vice President of Student Affairs Erin Hoffman Harding described the administration’s approach to the review.

The interview is worth reading in its entirety for those interested in the intricacies of LGBT movements at Catholic campuses, but specifically on process she mentioned three elements: consultation with Church teaching in keeping with Catholic mission; extensive student consultation, including nearly four dozen meetings with Hoffman Harding alone; and external benchmarking, particularly of Catholic institutions, for what they provide students identifying as LGBT.

Fr. Jenkins spoke in the same interview in broader themes about the harmony, timeliness, and progress of this decision:

Fr. John Jenkins“If you avoid controversy, you don’t do anything, controversy’s ok. But I think if people look carefully at what we’re doing and really in a thoughtful way evaluate it, I think thoughtful people will see that makes sense, it makes sense for a Catholic university like Notre Dame to provide such structures to serve their students effectively…

“It really is about building a community. As Erin said, we’re not there. We should never feel we’ve got this down. It’s rather we’re always trying to improve and it’s my responsibility and Erin’s responsibility to work on this, but it’s everybody’s responsibility. And I hope that people take this as Erin said a sign of hope. Let’s make it a better community. Let’s work together to make it a better community, more inclusive, more welcoming, more supportive.”

Fr. Jenkins recognizes, even if slightly late, that the support and embrace of LGBT students on Catholic campuses is a demand placed on colleges and universities by the Catholic faith they profess, not the students themselves. The formation of strong communities where all find their place in the pursuit of education and growth is a noble goal consistent with a long-standing intellectual tradition in the Church.

New Ways Ministry applauds the progress made at the University of Notre Dame, and further applauds the acknowledgement that this is a forward step and not an end point in addressing the needs of LGBT persons.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

For New Ways Ministry’s listing of gay-friendly Catholic colleges and universities, visit newwaysministry.org/gfc.

For further information on New Ways Ministry’s efforts in Catholic higher education and to get involved, contact youngadults@newwaysministry.org.

Previous Updates on the University of Notre Dame

October 16, 2012: CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Students and Faculty at University of Notre Dame Push for Inclusion

September 1, 2012: Notre Dame’s President on LGBT Issues on Campus

May 4, 2012: Movement Toward Equality on Two Catholic Campuses

April 27, 2012: Notre Dame Fails to Adopt Non-Discrimination Policy for Sexual Orientation; Progress Made on Other LGBT Issues

March 30, 2012: Videos Advance Cause of Equality at CUA and UND

March 9, 2012: CUA and UND Students Making Great Strides Toward Official Recognition

February 22, 2012: Catholic U. and Notre Dame United to Work for Gay-Straight Alliances


Notre Dame’s President on LGBT Issues on Campus

September 1, 2012

 

It’s the time of year when students across the nation are returning to college campuses.     At the University of Notre Dame, that means the revival of the major debate on LGBT issues that took place at their school during the past academic year.

Students in the campus’ 4 to 5 Movement, led by sophomore Alex Coccia, had made great strides last year in gathering support from a variety of university groups to support their quest for an officially recognized student-run gay-straight  alliance (GSA), as well as trying to have sexual orientation added to the university’s non-discrimination policy.  At the end of the school year in May,  the university postponed the GSA decision until the fall, which has now arrived.

In one of the first issues of this The Observer, the student newspaper, Fr. John Jenkins, Notre Dame president discussed the  possibility of amending the university’s non-discrimination policy as well as the possibility of establishing a GSA.

On the latter issue, Jenkins offered some hope to the students who want a GSA.  He stated:

“Are there better structures to achieve our ends? I think it’s time for a fresh look.”

On the issue of adding sexual orientation to the university’s non-discrimination policy, Jenkins defended the current policy of not including the category:

“ ‘At Notre Dame, we do not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation,” Jenkins said. ‘That’s a fundamental thing, but that’s not the only thing. The Spirit of Inclusion, which was approved by the Board of Fellows, higher than me, the highest level of the University, says that not only don’t we discriminate, but we want to be a place, an environment, where people feel — of same-sex orientation, anything else — feel respected, supported, fully involved in this community.’ . . .

“ ‘If Notre Dame voluntarily took this on, our fear is that it would be seen as a broader and stronger commitment with regard to same-sex orientation that may undermine our ability to live in accordance with the Catholic teaching because we distinguish between orientation and action.’ ”

Jenkins explained that he feared that adopting such a policy would make the university vulnerable to law suits and that he didn’t think such a policy would end discrimination:

“I don’t believe that step [of including sexual orientation in the non-discrimination clause] would achieve the goal of creating an environment of welcome, of support. I fear that it would tend to be divisive. So I am absolutely committed to try to create that environment, but I think there are other ways to do that.”

Jenkins offered that the university will continue to work in other ways towards non-discrimination:

“I think so much of this is about climate, and it’s not what I’m, what the president, is doing in his office. It’s about what all of us are doing on campus. I think that’s extremely important, and that’s something we work on with hall staff, that’s something we work on with our Student Affairs personnel. … We just have to keep working on it.”

Fr. Jenkins is correct that adopting a policy is not a guarantee that discrimination will end.  What he fails to recognize, however, is that adopting such a policy would send a strong and important message that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is unacceptable.  While it may not guarantee an end to discrimination, it would surely be a giant step towards achieving that end.

Adopting such a policy does not mean that the university’s work stops there.  Other measures, such as recognizing an official GSA on campus, would also be an important step towards achieving a fully inclusive community.  While these steps may not guarantee a fully inclusive campus community, not having them certainly guarantees that the movement towards inclusion will be hampered and less likely to be achieved.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


ALL ARE WELCOME: At Notre Dame, Does Buying In Equal Selling Out?

January 25, 2012

The ALL ARE WELCOME series is an occasional feature  which examines how Catholic faith communities can become more inclusive of LGBT people and issues.  This is the third installment.  The first one can be accessed here; the second one can be accessed here.

Catholic colleges over the past decade have struggled with how to accommodate LGBT students and faculty.  Many have done excellent work in this regard, developing innovative and pastorally sensitive programs and policies.  Some have even gone so far as to provide partner benefits for faculty. (New Ways Ministry maintains a list of gay-friendly Catholic college campuses which can be accessed here.)

This week, the The Observer, the student newspaper at the University of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College, South Bend, Indiana, reports on a Campus Life Council discussion on there about developing a gay-straight alliance.  One of the questions they are trying to answer is: Would a gay-straight alliance fare better as an institutional structure or as a student run group?

In the article, Sister Sue Dunn, assistant vice-president for student affairs, explains that all LGBT programs are run by the Core Council for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Questioning Students, described as:

” ‘. . . a blend of students and administrative types. We have someone representing Student Affairs, the Gender Relations Center, the Counseling Center and Campus Ministry,’  she said. ‘We also have eight students, most of whom identify as GLBT and some heterosexual allies, who build a network and programs.’ “

According to the article, Sister Dunn acknowledges that “many students perceive the Core Council as directly aligned with Notre Dame’s administration,” which, she states, has at times been “a tension.”

At least one student expressed a differing opinion on whether the gay straight alliance should be institutional or independent:

“Diversity Council representative Alexa Arastoo said she would not want to see a gay-straight alliance become a part of Core Council. She said a completely student-run organization would allow more opportunities for leadership, and would allow the group to branch out more.

” ‘Having a club on the student level changes the culture. It’s where we get involved and know what’s going on,’ Arastoo said. ‘This isn’t just a tutoring or interest club, it’s part of their person.’ “

It’s an age-old question:  does becoming part of an institutional structure create more advantages or disadvantages?  Does remaining independent and grassroots-oriented mean trading access and support for honesty and integrity?

These are questions that not only Notre Dame students must resolve for their gay-straight alliance, but that many folks involved in LGBT ministry in the Catholic Church face every day.

I don’t think there are any simple answers to these questions.  It would be great to hear what blog readers think. Please share your thoughts in the “Comments” section.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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