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ND tops anti-gay Review ranking

Claire Heininger | Friday, August 27, 2004

Though its actual impact on student mentality is impossible to measure, last spring’s “Gay? Fine by Me” campaign apparently did little to sway Notre Dame’s national reputation for homophobia, as the University topped the Princeton Review’s “Alternative Lifestyles Not An Alternative” category for the second straight year.

Despite two demonstrations and 2,000 orange T-shirts specifically targeting that category last spring, the 300 Notre Dame students asked to participate in the annual survey still revealed the highest anti-gay sentiment among the 357 ranked colleges, according to the Review’s evaluation methods.

The ranking is based on a single multiple-choice question in the survey, said Erik Olsen, senior editor of the Princeton Review’s Best 357 Colleges book. The question asks students to use a sliding scale to rank their agreement with the statement, “Students, faculty and administrators treat all persons equally regardless of sexual orientation.”

While the survey also provides a chance for students to expand on their opinions through open-ended questions, these written responses are solely for the guide’s description purposes and are not taken into account in the rankings, Olsen said.

He stressed there is no difference between how the Review calculates a seemingly straightforward ranking such as “Everyone Plays Intramural Sports” – in which Notre Dame also ranked first – and a more ambiguous one like “Alternative.”

“There’s no opinion of ours that affects the rankings,” Olsen said. “We just report what is essential to the guide, which is student opinion.”

Reforming these opinions is therefore the only way a campaign like “Gay? Fine by Me” can affect the rankings, he said.

“I think it’s great to see student activism take up an issue in favor of or in opposition to a policy,” said Olsen, adding that he is familiar with the ideas behind the T-shirt demonstrations. “But unless it’s changing widely held opinion on campus, it won’t affect our survey.”

Even when student opinion does change, the University’s reputation does not necessarily change with it, said Father David Burrell, a professor of philosophy and theology who sits on the Standing Committee for Gay and Lesbian Student Needs.

“I think the Princeton [Review] category may have applied to us once, and probably not now,” he said. “But there is a pretty formidable time lag between the reputation an institution gets and the time it takes to change it.”

Burrell said he has observed genuine strides towards acceptance during the Standing Committee’s eight-year existence. He credited parents of gay and lesbian students with providing an example of how easily long-harbored stereotypes can be reversed.

“They have no ideological axes to grind,” he said. “They just want to learn to love their children.”

However, no amount of welcome can change what Burrell calls “the thing that rankles people the most” – the University’s legal non-discrimination clause, which does not include sexual orientation.

“Rhetorically, that’s going to be one of the things that puts us behind the eight ball,” he said. “But how that actually affects gay and lesbian students, I don’t know.”

Notre Dame’s homophobic reputation actually has a double effect, said senior Day Zimlich, another member of the Standing Committee.

“It is part of the Catholic perception that the Church just doesn’t give much of an option on this issue, which is not true but it is definitely seen that way,” Zimlich said. “It’s not so much discouraging as disappointing, because it’s based on student perception of the University … but it is definitely more motivation to continue to reach out to Notre Dame students who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender, and to reach out to straight students who might have questions.”

In addition to “Alternative” and “Intramural Sports,” Notre Dame also ranked first in “Students Pack the Stadiums.” It earned fourth in “Jock Schools” and sixth in “Students Pray on a Regular Basis.”