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Core Council structure encourages dialogue

Kaitlynn Riely | Wednesday, September 20, 2006

As members of the recently restructured Core Council for Gay and Lesbian Students look at the new academic year, many see it as an opportunity to improve communication with the student body – an essential task that will include the creation of a coalition composed of representatives from student government and student groups.

“I think the largest thing that can be done is simply raising awareness that there are gay and lesbian students on this campus,” council co-chair Andy Magee said.

Magee, a fifth-year senior who served on the Standing Committee on Gay and Lesbian Student Needs for two years, said the new layout of the council, with a coalition to bridge the gap between the council and the student community, will allow the group to reach out to more students.

“We are in the process of building the coalition, contacting interested student groups, student government, et cetera, and trying to solidify that group so we can start meeting and figure out where to go from here,” Magee said.

The Core Council’s Web site describes the history of the University’s approach to addressing needs of gay and lesbian students. Notre Dame first organized an ad hoc committee to discuss this issue in 1995. This committee of administrators, faculty, staff and students suggested the creation of a standing committee to advise the vice president for Student Affairs.

The Standing Committee on Gay and Lesbian Student Needs expanded on the ad hoc committee starting in the 1996-97 school year, and in 1997, the Officers of the University issued a statement describing Notre Dame’s commitment to promoting a “spirit of inclusion.” This statement said the University welcomes and values gay and lesbian students and condemns harassment of these students.

Last spring, the committee was restructured to expand its student element. While the new council remains an advisory board to Vice President for Student Affairs Father Mark Poorman, it has increased its student representation, making eight members of the 12-person council students, with one of these students heterosexual.

“[Having a heterosexual student on the council] broadens our perspective on dialoguing more on how we can advance this whole ‘spirit of inclusion’ at Notre Dame,” said Sister Susan Dunn, assistant vice president of Student Affairs. Dunn is co-chair of the council.

Father Richard Warner, the director of Campus Ministry, Maureen Lafferty, a psychologist at the University Counseling Center and Heather Rakoczy, the director of the Gender Relations Center, also sit on the council.

Lafferty said college is generally a challenging time for students who are gay, lesbian or bisexual or who are confused abut their sexuality.

“There may be particular challenges when you are in a religiously-based institution,” Lafferty said.

She said though the gay and lesbian population at Notre Dame is not highly visible, she does not believe the University has a significantly lower number of homosexual students compared to other schools.

“I think people do not feel as comfortable being open in this environment, because there are not as many signals that it’s okay to be open,” Lafferty said.

The Princeton Review consistently lists Notre Dame high on its “Alternative Lifestyles Not an Alternative” ranking. This year, Notre Dame was number one.

Magee said while many students are surprised to find there is a gay and lesbian population within the student body, he disagrees with the Princeton Review’s assessment of the Notre Dame community’s attitude toward homosexual students.

“I find that the student body here is quite receptive in general to [gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transsexual] students,” Magee said. “When they are actually confronted with a gay or lesbian student, most students are quite accepting.”

The core council is currently giving CommUnity presentations to freshmen. These sessions discuss what the Council’s Web site called a “creative tension”- Notre Dame’s dual views that each person is a child of God but also that the teachings of the Catholic church on sexuality and homosexual activity must be followed.

The council has also continued with the standing committee’s NETWORK initiative to teach members of the Notre Dame community how to encourage dialogue about gay and lesbian issues and how to create a safe environment, Magee said. They completed NETWORK training with the new resident assistants before classes started this fall.

The council plans to continue events the standing committee held last year, Magee said. One Tuesday a month, the council hosts a reception for gay, lesbian, bisexual and questioning students, Dunn said. Solidarity Sunday, a retreat, and an event to celebrate National Coming Out Day in October are all in the planning stage, Magee said.