CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Students and Faculty at University of Notre Dame Push for Inclusion

Members of the University of Notre Dame’s academic community continue to seek greater recognition of and protection for LGBT students on campus in the new academic year. In recent weeks, 391 faculty released an open letter in campus newspaper, The Observer, and students in the ‘4 to 5 Movement’ keep the issue alive with several public initiatives.

Under the leadership of sociology professor Richard Williams, the faculty letter affirms the value of LGBTQ persons at Notre Dame and notes the faculty’s commitment to providing safe spaces in offices and classrooms, as they simultaneously work for a more inclusive environment campus-wide. It implicitly endorses the pending application for AllianceND’s recognition as a campus GSA as well.

Professor Williams spoke to The Observer about the aims for releasing this letter, which sought institutional change and personal commitment:

“‘We aren’t just trying to influence the University. … We can’t control what other people do, but we can control what we do ourselves,’ he said. ‘We wanted to show the members of the LGBTQ community that we support them, that we will not discriminate against them.’”

As reported in The Observer, the letter follows up on a statement from faculty released last May in response to the University administration’s public refusal to include sexual orientation in its non-discrimination clause. Since then, the number of faculty signers tripled and continues to expand after this most recent publication.

Faculty support bolsters the student activism present this fall due to optimism that the proposed GSA, AllianceND, will be approved by the administration soon.

Alex Coccia

Bondings 2.0 spoke with Alex Coccia, a junior leading the ‘4 to 5 Movment,’ about the faculty letter and coinciding student efforts this semester. Regarding the faculty’s efforts, Coccia said:

“We’ve really been keeping in touch with faculty and getting faculty involved. Faculty are in an extremely unique position. They’re not just professors, they act as mentors outside the classroom and this recent letter in particular is extremely good because they make the commitment that their classrooms are safe spaces and they will not discriminate based on sexual orientation.”

Coccia said the student aspect of the ‘4 to 5 Movement’ was in limbo as the academic year commenced because the Student Affairs Office (SAO) postponed its decision on AllianceND until this fall when a broad review of LGBTQ resources at Notre Dame concluded. Amidst that climate, student leadership is hopeful and Coccia told Bondings 2.0:

“At Notre Dame, there’s a sense that it is time…there’s no legitimate reason to reject the GSA, especially this application.  We simply need to stress to the Student Affairs officers how important the GSA decision itself is.”

However hopeful they are, students continue to organize and publicize the issue with vigor. Over summer break, they collected 192 testimonies from the Notre Dame community, including alumni and family members, to help those in SAO understand why a gay-straight alliance is necessary for Notre Dame. An “I’m an Athlete, I’m an Ally” photo campaign will include photos from all varsity teams expressing their support and the addition of a high school mentoring program for youth who may be questioning as a service component.

These sentiments reflect wider student opinions, evident in the campus newspaper, including a Letter to the Editor from senior Julia Kohne:

“Last May, you stated that a decision about AllianceND’s application for official club status would be decided at the beginning of this academic year…It is now October…Please know that we have not forgotten AllianceND’s still-pending application for official club status.”

According to Alex Coccia, the Catholic faith is extremely important for many supporters and was clear in the 192 testimonials collected from Notre Dame community members, where about half claimed that their Catholicism causes them to write for justice. Coccia also added that the ‘4 to 5 Movement’ posits itself as enhancing the University’s Catholic identity:

“…because students deserve a place where it is open and very welcoming and people who do struggle to find a relationship between faith and sexuality can have peer-to-peer support…The peer-to-peer support is much more effective than the structures on campus now.”

Just last week, a dozen Notre Dame students opined in The Observer on National Coming Out Day again restating their mission and seeking even greater support:

“Today is National Coming Out Day…The Notre Dame LGBT community certainly remains in this struggle. Current structures and the general campus climate both continue to discourage students from coming out.

“AllianceND itself has come out time and time again over the past two decades, fighting for the right to exist. Today, we write to you all encouraging you to come out in support of our struggle to improve campus climate, and ask administrators of this campus to come out with substantial plans for doing so.”

As the struggle for recognition, protection, and equality at the University of Notre Dame continues through the devoted efforts of students and faculty, New Ways Ministry commends the progress already made by these visionary young adults and their older mentors.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Bondings 2.0 Post:

September 1, 2o12:   Notre Dame’s President on LGBT Issues on Campus

No Gay-Straight Alliance for DeSales University

DeSales University, a Catholic campus in Eastern Pennsylvania, is rejecting a request by an alumnus to start a gay-straight alliance (GSA) at the school.

According to the Upper Saucon Patch, Tim Gallagher, the alumnus, had circulated a petition on Change.orgafter several unsuccessful attempts to persuade the school’s administration to approve a GSA.  The petition states:

“Each student at DeSales University is told repeatedly to ‘be who you are and be that well’ [part of the school’s motto] per the direction of St. Francis de Sales. This is a wonderful motto but currently excludes LGBT students and alumni. The university has repeatedly denied requests to allow a Gay Straight Alliance on campus and has even turned down an application for a PRIDE DSU club which sought to celebrate diversity on campus.Meanwhile, 16 Catholic Colleges in Pennsylvaniahave officially recognized pro-homosexual clubs, LGBTQ Resource Centers, or student organizations according to a recent poll.

“IT IS TIME that we stand up for our fellow bulldogs [school mascot] and allow each person to live out the Salesian motto and ‘Be who you are and be that well’ without threat of persecution or harassment.”

The petition came as a result of a campus incident where an anti-gay slur was written on a student’s dorm room door. Repeated earlier attempts to establish campus support networks for LGBT students had been rejected also.

In a follow-up Patch story, Dr. Jerry Joyce, DeSales’ vice president for student affairs, disputed the use of the campus’ motto to support the proposal for a GSA:

” ‘The full quote is “Let us be what we are and be that well, in order to bring honor to the Master Craftsman whose handiwork we are,” ‘ said Dr. Jerry Joyce, vice president for student affairs at DeSales. ‘Just like the quote says, if we are staying true to the teachings of the Catholic faith, it would be hypocritical to allow a club that would celebrate a LGBT lifestyle.’ “

With all due respect to Dr. Joyce, the quotation does not say anything about the teachings of the Catholic faith or LGBT persons.

According to Patch, Joyce said the campus decision to deny clubs for LGBT students had to do with the “exclusive” nature of such organizations:

“Joyce also confirmed a meeting with a member of the student body about forming a LGBT club, and again cited the exclusive nature of the club as the reason the student was denied.

” ‘The way [the group] was presenting themselves was as an exclusive club, and we don’t do exclusive groups at DeSales. We use student activity fees to fund [student organizations], which would mean students wouldn’t be able to get into a club they were paying for.’ “

It is puzzling to see the “exclusive” nature of a gay-straight alliance.  It’s very title and mission is inclusive.

Adrian Shanker, president of Equality Pennsylvania, commented in an op-ed on the DeSales controversy:

“. . .DeSales University is more interested in preserving an antiquated Church doctrine than they are in creating an inclusive campus community for the people they are hired to serve, their students — and what a message to send to current and prospective students.”

Gallagher explained his motivation for starting the petition to institute a GSA:

“I love DeSales, it’s an amazing university with fabulous faculty, staff, and students. But it’s time for DeSales to live up to it’s motto and help students thrive.”

New Ways Ministry supports the movement for a GSA on DeSales’ campus, and on all Catholic campuses.  We are happy and proud that our website’s gay-friendly college list has assisted Mr. Gallagher in his quest for such an organization.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry