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Ad sparks debate at meeting

Maddie Hanna | Thursday, September 15, 2005

Notre Dame’s controversial new institutional spot, “Candle,” lit up discussion at Wednesday’s Student Senate meeting.

Senators ultimately decided to send Diversity Affairs committee chair Sarah Liu’s letter requesting that the University change the advertisement back to the committee for revision.

Liu based her criticisms of the advertisement – which features a white, female student lighting a candle and praying, then opening her mailbox to the fat envelope from Notre Dame and lifting her eyes to the ethereal phrase “A Higher Education” – on five points.

“It’s not an accurate representation of the Catholic faith,” Liu said. “If you’re a Catholic, you wouldn’t pray to get into a school. You pray for something more important than that.”

She dismissed the phrase “A Higher Education” as “pretentious” and said the advertisement did not include important information about student or academic life.

“It does not represent Notre Dame,” Liu said. “Where are the minorities? They are nowhere to be found in this commercial … You show this commercial and honestly, what kind of students do you think you’ll attract?”

Although Liu said she would like the University to pull the commercial, she believed that was an unrealistic goal and said showing a supplemental video with a different perspective would help solve the issue of misrepresentation.

A letter from vice president for Public Affairs and Communication Hilary Crnkovich explained the administration’s choices to the Senate.

“This year we wanted to track a unique course to develop a spot that wasn’t conceived in the usual fashion of multi-audience, multi-message, and didn’t attempt to differentiate our core points of difference. Instead, we concentrated on one of our core points of difference – our Catholic character,” the letter read.

To refute one of the common arguments, Crnkovich wrote, “We do not infer that she only lights candles to get her wishes. We do not infer that getting into ND=praying. Advertising is meant to suggest and give the watcher an emotional connection. One is left to take the story to their personal place.”

Senators immediately jumped into the conversation to support or refute Liu’s arguments.

“I agree with the fact that the commercial is really cheesy,” said Lewis senator Katie McHugh, who felt the spot “exploited stereotypes” of Notre Dame.

“I don’t think it’s too much to ask them to put something [else] together,” she said, using the University of Pittsburgh’s commercial focused on Hurricane Katrina aid as an example of a quickly-produced – and less offensive – advertisement.

Responding to McHugh, student body president Dave Baron said Notre Dame has produced a commercial relating to Hurricane Katrina aid that will air during Saturday’s game.

Baron highlighted the point he considered excellent in the Diversity Affairs committee’s letter, “Notre Dame is an institution that uses its unique Catholic faith to stand in solidarity with the marginalized in order to achieve the common good,” as missing from the commercial.

Baron also noted the commercial was not just for recruitment purposes – it was also designed to attract the attention of potential donors.

“It’s riled up the Notre Dame Old Guard, in a good way for development,” Baron said.

Pasquerilla West senator Christina Lee agreed with Liu about pulling the advertisement.

“Honestly, it was more of a humorous reaction for me,” Lee said. “[I thought] are you serious?”

But Lee urged caution, saying she had a “huge problem with diction” in the letter, referring to the categorization that “the majority of Notre Dame students are white, rich, and Catholic.”

“I really resent that,” Lee said.

Others saw the Catholic aspect featured in the spot differently. Keough senator Rob Lindley said while he agreed with Liu that there is more to being Catholic than the commercial shows, he noted the importance of prayer.

“I don’t know about the rest of you guys, but I prayed my heart out to get into Notre Dame,” said Lindley, who suggested revising the commercial by “mingling pictures of community service, intertwining group discussion and showing compassion for human beings.”

O’Neill senator Steve Tortorello said the spot was open to interpretation, calling it “a judgment call.”

“I thought the entire commercial was done in tongue-and-cheek fashion,” Tortorello said. “It was so over-the-top … down to the images and music [that I thought it was] clever and witty.”

Tortorello disapproved of the Diversity Affairs committee’s letter, saying, “It almost seems we’ve divided everybody into categories [in the letter] – white, suburban and rich, then everybody else.

“In reality, the lines are much more blurred.”

Other senators said the commercial was not overly controversial.

Senate chaplain Brad Tucker said the issue was “blown out of proportion.”

“This is a commercial,” Tucker said. “It’s 30 seconds. You have to pick an aim … Yeah, it portrays Catholicism in a high degree. Well, this [university] is Catholic in a high degree, whether you like it or not.”

Tucker recommended senators direct their efforts toward future University commercials rather than struggling to change one now since two football games are already over.

“The lighting of the candles could be for any faith,” Fisher senator Chris Garibaldi said. “I find this letter is largely making something out of nothing.”

Debate had been limited to 20 minutes at the beginning of the meeting. Siegfried senator Ben Gunty suggested senators voice their concerns directly to the Diversity Affairs committee.

“I don’t think we should take such a visceral attack,” Gunty said.

The Senate’s response to the spot will be discussed at next week’s meeting.