Notre Dame Fails to Adopt Non-Discrimination Policy for Sexual Orientation; Progress Made on Other LGBT Issues

April 27, 2012

The University of Notre Dame has announced that it will not add sexual orientation to its non-discrimination policy, following at least a semester’s worth of organizing by students and faculty on the Indiana campus to get the administration to adopt the category.

The campus administration released a statement on April 25th outlining a number of ways that the university plans to expand its inclusive welcome to LGBT students.  The actions listed are:

  • Notre Dame continues to be committed to non-discrimination and inclusion, as articulated in the “Spirit of Inclusion” statement and the University’s discriminatory harassment policy. While the wording of the University’s non-discrimination clause will remain in its current form, Notre Dame will strive to enhance awareness of existing practices and protections among students, faculty and staff. The avenues for reporting harassment and discrimination will be clarified, strengthened, and better publicized.
  • The University will seek further opportunities for ongoing dialogue between the Office of the President, the University’s chief diversity officer, the Office of Student Affairs, and student leaders.
  • The University, working through Student Affairs, is committed to supporting and improving the structure and functioning of the University’s Core Council. More information on Core Council is available at http://corecouncil.nd.edu/.
  • The University has acted upon several recommendations made by students to improve support for gay, lesbian and bisexual students and will explore others. These will include making ally training more widely available, offering education to First-Year Orientation commissioners, expanding the Safe Space initiative, and improving hall staff training.
  • Notre Dame will consider ways of making the “Spirit of Inclusion” statement more explicit and effective. The statement is available on line at: http://dulac.nd.edu/spirit-of-inclusion/.

Though the second bullet point offers the opportunity for further dialogue, the university, in announcing this plan, has already twice opted for silence.  In an article the student newspaper, The Observer, the second paragraph reads:

“University Spokesman Dennis Brown declined to provide an explanation for why sexual orientation would not be added [to the non-discrimination policy] and would not say who made the final decision.”

In the same article, the fourth and fifth paragraphs read:

“Student and Faculty Senates recently passed resolutions asking for sexual orientation to be included in the non-discrimination clause. The Student Senate resolution also asked that the University publicly address why the phrase is not included.

“When asked when and if the University would provide such a public response, Brown declined to comment.”

Declining to comment and provide explanations do not bode well for future dialogue.

Alex Coccia

From the student point of view, the announcement of new initiatives was some welcome progress.  Sophomore Alex Coccia, co-president of the Progressive Student Alliance (PSA) who has adroitly led the “4 to 5 Movement” to get  campus club status for AllianceND, the unofficial, student-run gay-straight alliance (GSA), commented:

“ ‘With such a statement from the University, it is important that each individual respond according to his or her own vantage point,’ he said. ‘I believe that it is important to acknowledge the initiative of the administration both to release a public statement regarding first steps for inclusive and to recognize expressed student suggestions.’ ”

The university will announce on May 1st whether or not AllianceND will be officially recognized.

Coccia’s leadership was recently interviewed for a Windy City Times article by Chuck Colbert, in which he explained the origin of the name “4 to 5 Movement,” and also the need for students to be public about their positive views on LGBT issues:

Last year, Brian Sims—a former college football team captain who is openly gay—gave them the idea of 4 to 5 when progressive students hosted him as a speaker on campus, Whitfield explained. . . .
In his talk, Sims pointed to overwhelming majority support for gay rights among young people.
” ‘Statistics supported by the Pew Forum from a national youth survey found that among 18-to-30 year-olds with a college education, four out of five support the general package of gay civil rights,’ explained Coccia.
” ‘When they are polled,; however, he continued, ‘only one-third think their peers agree.’
” ‘So an 80-percent majority thinks it’s a 30-percent minority,’ Coccia said.
” ‘That’s the same dynamic at Notre Dame,’ he said, explaining, ‘Those allies who are the majority are either overwhelmed by the voices of opposition or structures in place make it seem as though they are not the majority.’
‘For Coccia and Whitfield, the in-the-minority mentality is simply unacceptable.
” ‘It keeps allies from getting involved. It hinders people from coming out. It hinders people from speaking what they believe,’ he said.
“Worse yet, ‘it breeds a culture of silence,’ said Coccia.”

Mary Rose D'Angelo

Providing a supportive faculty perspective in the Windy City Times article was Mary Rose D’Angelo,  associate professor of New Testament theology. The article quotes her recent letter to the editor of the student newspaper:

” ‘Catholic teaching does not preclude measures like the GSA and the non-discrimination clause; indeed, it would seem to require them.’
” ‘According to its mission statement, the GSA would, if approved, “serve as a peer-to-peer interaction-based student club/gay-straight alliance, where GLBTQ students and allies can work together to create a sense of human solidarity and concern for the common good” as outlined in Notre Dame’s mission statement. . . .
“. . . ‘A GSA would provide social support for GLBTQ students without isolating them, as well as a significant complement to classroom learning, and would be a venue for student-led effort to assure that GLBTQ students are, in the words of the Catechism [of the Catholic Church] “accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity,”  D’Angelo explained.
” ‘Equally important is the Catechism’s stipulation that “Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided,” she added.
” ‘Endorsing the capacity of gay and straight students (and associated faculty) to organize around sexual identity and adding sexual orientation to the non- discrimination are two essential steps toward fulfilling the moral mandate the Catechism articulates,’ D’Angelo’s letter concluded.”
Highlighting the absence of a GSA at the University of Notre Dame is that its traditional sister school, St. Mary’s College, which has an adjoining campus, does indeed have such a group that is officially recognized, Colbert’s article  notes:
“Advocates for change at Notre Dame point to St. Mary’s College,’where policies, practices, and procedures are administered in a manner consistent with our Catholic identity,’ according to the school’s policy on equal employment opportunity.
“The policy also states, ‘With the foregoing understanding, Saint Mary’s College will not engage in discrimination based on gender, race, national origin, religion, age, mental or physical disability, all as provided by law. Based on Catholic values, the College also commits to avoiding discrimination based on sexual or political orientation.’
“Gwen O’Brien, the school’s media relations director, said in e-mail correspondence, ‘The Straight and Gay Alliance (SAGA) is one of the college’s approved organizations. SAGA’s purpose is to provide students opportunities to openly discuss and question how they may best live their lives as sexual beings within the framework of Catholic teaching.’
“SAGA is self-governing, is open to all students, has a constitution and elects officers—the same as any other student organization—with one caveat, said O’Brien: ‘SAGA cannot serve as an advocacy group.’ “
For previous Bondings 2.0 posts on the 4 to 5 Movement at Notre Dame, see:
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

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