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Class research focuses on gay marriage

Joe Trombello | Thursday, April 22, 2004

Students in Robert Sedlack’s graphic design III class have prepared posters, buttons, Web sites and even a gay wedding reception to both showcase their research on gay marriage and get their message across to the Notre Dame campus.

One poster reads “Keep it 27,” a comment opposing the creation of a 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to ban gay marriages, while a small card asking “Whatever happened to Adam and Steve?” may be opened to discover a link to a Web site highlighting both the arguments in support of and against gay marriage.

Those who view the Web site are forced to select either “I am against gay marriage” or “I am for gay marriage” and are taken to arguments in opposition of the choice they have selected. For example, those gay marriage opponents are taken to a fictional story about Adam and Steve that illustrates how Steve may not visit an injured Adam in the hospital because – in spite of their relationship – they are not married.

“It’s as much of a project to get the students engaged in what is going on and allows them to make a comment about it,” Sedlack said. “We [teachers] have a responsibility … to educate informed citizens of the world community.”

Students in his course have traditionally undertaken a social awareness campaign to state their positions on a topical and controversial subject – from gun control after the shootings at Columbine High School to affirmative action before the University of Michigan Supreme Court case – as part of the course requirements.

Sedlack said he has chosen the topics for the social awareness project – a different topic each semester – based on the relevance to current events. Groups of two to three students are formed both on the students’ personal opinions on the issue and the mix of personalities in the class to ensure that each team can successfully complete the project.

Students said that although no project shows support for an Amendment to ban gay marriage, they believe this viewpoint is already well expressed on campus due to the conservative, Catholic nature of the student body.

“Most of the arguments in favor of the Amendment [are] more clear than those arguments against,” said Mary Prendergast, a junior in the course. “I don’t think [students] are as aware of the problems with [a proposed Amendment.]”

Sedlack said he works hard to present both sides of an issue to students. For example, in a previous project on the then-impending war in Iraq, the class met with two guest speakers – the student president of the Peace Coalition and the current highest-ranking student ROTC officer on-campus. He said that this year, students heard from Sister M.L. Gude, assistant vice president for student affairs, who has been “heavily involved in issues regarding Notre Dame’s gay and lesbian community in past years,” according to Sedlack. Students are also required to conduct research and spend class time discussing and debating the issue at hand.

He said the project aims to teach students how to effectively express a subjective message in whatever medium they deem necessary. Because so much of graphic design consists of getting a particular message across to the target audience, Sedlack said the project is ideal.

“I wanted them to have a point and make a stance,” he said. “This is a good opportunity for design students to state their own opinions in a subjective way. This is not work being done for a client, but their own voice.”

He said that he hopes that the larger Notre Dame community, as well as the students who have engaged in the research and completed the project, will take something away from the gay marriage debate.

“I hope the social awareness campaign projects get undergraduates more fully engaged in serious issues,” he said. “Creative dialogue is part of the educational process.”

Students said they have hung posters in O’Shaughnessy Hall as well as the Riley Hall of Art and Design. According to DuLac, “Student organizations and residence facilities may use University bulletin boards to announce activities and to advertise, provided the posters receive a stamp of approval from the Student Activities Office … If signs and posters do not comply with these requirements, they will not be allowed to be posted.”

Some groups said they plan to launch their campaign without the Office’s approval, while other groups said they have received the official Student Activities Office stamp and plan to showcase their work in places other than Riley and O’Shaughnessy.

“We took this course because we wanted the posters to be hung elsewhere than just Riley and O’Shaughnessy,” student Jonathan Sulys said. Sulys’ group worked with the “Keep it 27” concept and has prepared buttons and posters in support of this view.

One group of students showcased a gay wedding reception, complete with party favors and a cake. Small wedding bells with the slogan “Sounds like it’s time for a change” served as party favors, and place settings with slogans like “Not everyone …” on the outside and “will visit their loved ones in the hospital” on the inside represented the rights not afforded to gay, un-married couples. At the bottom of the inside of each place setting, the words “Strive for Equal Rights for All Couples. Support Gay Marriage” indicated the group’s concern to afford equal marital rights to all couples. The display took place Wednesday afternoon at the Fieldhouse Mall.

“We’re taking the symbol of the occasion of marriage to be a [point] of discussion,” said student Hope Feher.

The group that has prepared the cards with a website link said they plan to distribute them around the computer clusters on-campus. A final group has prepared posters with the theme of separate but not equal to illustrate the ways in which civil unions do not afford the same legal rights as marriage.

Students said their projects are in no way connected with the “Gay? Fine by me” shirt campaign, but said it is beneficial that both issues are being addressed on-campus at the same time.

“It’s nice that they are happening at the same time – it’s topical,” Prendergast said.

Students said the required research helped them to become better informed about the issue at hand, and they said they believed that using graphic design to communicate a passionate cause, rather than a more objective message, allowed them to see a different side to the graphic design field.

“If you’re not really passionate, it’s hard to get at the root of the issue,” Prendergast said. “It’s a different thing entirely to have to take a side of a social issue and to argue it.”

The student design group NDesign also sponsored the project, and Sedlack said he is very grateful for their support.