The 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:
“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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previous Updates on the University of Notre Dame
September 1, 2012: Notre Dame’s President on LGBT Issues on Campus
May 4, 2012: Movement Toward Equality on Two Catholic Campuses
March 30, 2012: Videos Advance Cause of Equality at CUA and UND
February 22, 2012: Catholic U. and Notre Dame United to Work for Gay-Straight Alliances