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Baron address, club funding mark meeting

Maddie Hanna | Thursday, March 2, 2006

Although he did not always agree with the man he frequently quoted, student body president Dave Baron delivered his final State of the Student Union address Wednesday in a way University President Father John Jenkins likely would have respected – by confronting difficult questions at the heart of Notre Dame’s identity.

“Today, we are a center of Catholicism in the United States,” Baron said, addressing senators from the podium. “The same questions – ‘What does it mean to be Catholic in America?’ ‘Can a Catholic be an American?’ – are asked in an increasingly complex fashion … This is how we are to be an instrument to do good in the world.”

Baron’s speech mentioned but did not stress the numerous small – or even large – accomplishments his administration has achieved this year.

Rather, it was an address grounded in conviction and imbued with a genuine concern for Notre Dame – and with Baron’s own philosophy; specifically, his stance on the hotbed of campus discussion sparked by Jenkins’ Jan. 23 and 24 addresses to faculty and students on academic freedom and Catholic character.

“Father Jenkins demonstrated a principle in his decision-making, that from a multitude of voices, ideas, opinions and perspectives, truth can be identified,” Baron said. “I believe that this same principle … is applicable to the performance of the ‘The Vagina Monologues’ and the Gay and Lesbian Film [Screenings]. Since Father Jenkins’ addresses, individuals have been compelled to examine themselves, listen to others and defend their faith.

“Higher learning has taken place. We, as students, are called to make decisions as we learn. Open dialogue with every viewpoint presented and the influence of the Spirit will guide us to truth.”

While Baron said he saw the “Monologues” last year and found some content “clearly inconsistent with Catholic thought,” he stressed the value of truth, saying the inconsistencies were realities that Catholics cannot choose to ignore.

“I have faith that my faith will lead me to truth, knowledge and the Will of God,” Baron said. “We must do more to be Catholic, not less.”

That, Baron said, means “The Vagina Monologues” and the Gay and Lesbian Film Screenings have an important role to play at Notre Dame – but “are not the only means by which we must discuss the topics of homosexuality and assault.”

Last year, Baron said performances of “The Vagina Monologues” at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center brought in $15,000 for the S-O-S and YWCA organizations in South Bend – a significant chunk of money lost this year when the “Monologues” became a free production in DeBartolo Hall.

“Once again, in this very situation, we are confronted with the question of the role Notre Dame should play in determining how Catholics can go about doing good in the world,” Baron said.

He made the distinction between the national YWCA, an openly pro-choice organization, and the South Bend YWCA, an organization without a stated position on abortion.

“Money, raised by Notre Dame students and donated to the local YWCA, would not be used for abortive practices or counseling. It is used to do good that no others are doing.”

The heavy discussions across and beyond campus on academic freedom and Notre Dame’s Catholic character make this a “momentous time for the University and, specifically, the Notre Dame student body,” Baron said.

He quoted Jenkins’ inaugural address: “If we are afraid to be different from the world, how can we make a difference in the world?”

“We have a role to play that has national and global implications,” Baron said. “It is important that student government be a respectable and thoughtful voice, now more than ever.”

And there’s no one better to lead the Notre Dame student body through this period in the University’s history than current student body vice president and president-elect Lizzi Shappell, Baron said.

“Lizzi Shappell is a woman of will, conviction, insight and empathy,” Baron said, as Shappell smiled in acknowledgment, hands crossed under her chin.

“Since I met her two years ago, Lizzi has led me on the very issues that I spoke about tonight. She will do the same for 8,000 undergraduates and the entire Notre Dame family.”

But for Baron, what it really comes down to is the necessity of doing good and how he, and his administration, worked to fit Notre Dame into the bigger picture.

“For your time and attention tonight,” he said to the senators, “for your efforts in the past 11 months, for your willingness to be a body of discourse, for your contributions to Notre Dame as a Catholic think tank of America – I thank you.”