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University to establish campus Gender Center

Laura Vilim | Wednesday, March 17, 2004

In an attempt to address pressing issues of gender, relationships and Christian faith at Notre Dame, a new Gender Relations Center will be established on campus in the fall.Funded by the Office of Student Affairs, the GRC will be a resource center where students, faculty and administrators can access information about topics associated with gender. A library will provide literature on topics ranging from physical issues like sexually transmitted diseases, religious issues like the Church’s view on homosexuality and mental issues like the emotional effects of society’s dictated gender roles.The Center also hopes to coordinate and support student clubs and organizations involved with gender issues and provide training for staff members who can impart knowledge to the students with whom they work. According to GRC director Heather Rakoczy and Vice President of Student Affairs Father Mark Poorman, the Center’s main focus is to provide a place and a means for students to discuss the issues of gender and Christianity more freely. The center has no political affiliation and is meant to be a forum for both men and women. “It is absolutely a resource for women and men,” Rakoczy said. “I hope it gives us some clues about how to build relationships … and true faith-based friendships.” However, establishing a center of this kind at a Catholic university is a more challenging task than creating one at a secular university, said Rakoczy, because of the need to connect the two seemingly contradictory notions of sexuality and Catholicism. “At the very heart of Catholic moral teaching is the notion that each one of us is prized in our uniqueness as a creature of God,” Poorman said. “In this sense, our Catholic identity provides us with a framework for all human interactions, including relationships between men and women.”Obviously, there are many cultural messages which do not promote human dignity and mutual respect. It is my hope the Center will be a place where students can explore a wide array of issues concerning gender relations.” The GRC is the result of a student-led initiative that was formally started three years ago by former student body president Brooke Norton. During the 2001-02 school year, Norton investigated gender studies and the role they played at Notre Dame as a way to commemorate the 30-year anniversary of female students at the University.She proposed the concept of a “Center for Women and Men,” which later became the basis for Pangborn senator Kaity Redfield’s work on the subcommittee for gender relations. After conducting research on the top-20 nationally ranked universities and colleges and discovering that all but Notre Dame had some form of gender studies center since the 1970s, Redfield and the sub-committee submitted a proposal to the Campus Life Council to set up a similar center at Notre Dame. A second proposal for the Center outlines in detail the programs of other universities unanimously favored by the CLC. Poorman recently released a letter to current student body president Jeremy Lao that formally stated his acceptance of the recommendation to create the GRC. The need for a body such as the GRC becomes apparent in light of the fact that gender is the one aspect of social identity that Notre Dame does not explicitly address, according to Rakoczy. Oppression due to the class system is dealt with through the Center for Social Concerns, oppression due to race is handled by the Multicultural Students Programs and Services and homosexual oppression is brought to light by the Standing Committee. Gender relations, however, has no representational status in any governmental body, which Rakoczy said leads to an imbalance of social identity. “[The GRC] is an umbrella network that will help connect faculty, students and administrators,” Rakoczy said. “Gender will be our primary lens, but we will be looking to network with the CSC, MSPS, the Standing Club and any other clubs and academic departments.” Rakoczy was asked by Poorman to head the new Center in addition to maintaining her position as the rector of Pangborn because of her extensive experience with studying gender roles and combining them with Christian theology. “By virtue of the fact that I live with students, it brings some credibility to my understanding of what students need,” Rakoczy said. While Rakoczy may be the director of the GRC by title, it is her hope that the Center’s agenda will emerge naturally with the help of committed student volunteers who can bring knowledge of the Center to their clubs, dorms and friends. Both Rakoczy and Poorman agree students will benefit most from the Center by using it as a resource to bring diverse areas of their life into one clear focus.”The creation of the Center will benefit students in many ways, as it encourages dialogue, provides information about campus programs and services, coordinates student clubs and organizations concerned with gender issues and provides training for those who work with students,” Poorman said. “All of these things will contribute to a healthier campus climate for women and men at Notre Dame.”