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Activist receives written admonition

Marcela Berrios | Thursday, April 12, 2007

A Notre Dame freshman was threatened with immediate suspension for participating in unauthorized demonstrations on campus but received only a written admonition, he said.

Freshman Eddie Velazquez joined a tour of civil rights advocates during the SoulForce Equality Ride March 8 and 9, leading to a run-in with Notre Dame Security/Police (NDSP) officers and the Office of Residence Life and Housing.

“On the second day of the demonstration, all we did was lead a procession and carry wreaths in silence, but we were immediately stopped by NDSP officers,” Velazquez said. “They arrested everyone there and they would’ve arrested me too, but they realized I was a student, so they told me to go away if I didn’t want to be suspended immediately.”

Velazquez said he received a warning from the NDSP the first day the bus visited Notre Dame, after he and many Soulforce Riders staged a demonstration in LaFortune Student Center to encourage LGBTQ dialogue.

“I was just offering an anecdote about my personal experience on campus dealing with LGBTQ acceptance when I was interrupted by an officer who told me to stop because I was bothering the Huddle customers and harming the business,” Velazquez said.

Bill Kirk, associate vice president of Residence Life, spoke on behalf of his office and NDSP Wednesday, declining to comment about any exchange that may have occurred between Velazquez and NDSP officers, as the University maintains a policy of not commenting on students’ disciplinary records.

He said student academic suspensions fall under the jurisdiction of Residence Life as outlined in the student handbook, “duLac.”

Once classes resumed after spring break, Residence Life director Jeff Shoup contacted Velazquez for two disciplinary hearings. The freshman eventually received a written admonition for violating the University’s demonstration policy.

Velazquez said he did not know with certainty which section of the policy he violated, but he suspected it was his failure to notify Residence Life in writing about his intentions to participate in a demonstration. Shoup declined to comment on Velazquez’s case Wednesday.

Velazquez said he joined participants of the Soulforce Equality Ride in their two-day stop at Notre Dame and was “flanked by NDSP officers the whole time.”

The Soulforce Equality Ride is a 50-day nationwide bus tour to different Christian colleges to promote tolerance and acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and questioning (LGBTQ) students ran by Soulforce Equality, a non-profit organization against homophobia, according to the Soulforce Web site.

The duLac guidelines for demonstrations on campus say “only members of the University community may organize or lead a demonstration” if they register in writing their intentions at Residence Life.

Moreover, “demonstrators may not impede the freedom of the University community,” the rulebook says.

Under the umbrella of the above regulations, NDSP officers handed out trespass notices to six of the Soulforce Riders that were leading discussions in the LaFortune lounges and wrote down Velazquez’s contact information for interfering with the student center’s operations and participating in an unauthorized demonstration, Velazquez said.

He said he was also cautioned to stay away from any further demonstrations the Soulforce Riders may attempt to organize.

The next day, however, Velazquez said he rejoined the Riders outside the University gate to participate in a procession that would end at the feet of the statue of celebrated Notre Dame missionary Tom Dooley, who might have been gay.

Velazquez said he and graduate student Erin Emme were pulled aside by NDSP officers during the silent procession and were told to leave to avoid an immediate suspension from the University while six Riders were arrested.

Velazquez said he did not understand why he was not arrested alongside the other riders as he had already received a warning the previous day to cease any efforts to organize more demonstrations with Soulforce Equality on campus.

“I think the University wanted to spare itself the trouble and the fallout that would’ve caused the arrest of one of its own students who just stood up for his own rights on his own campus,” Velazquez said. “It saddens me to see the administration act so apprehensively toward LGBTQ students and their efforts to initiate dialogue among the student body. This type of behavior only makes Notre Dame even more non-conducive to students who may be gay and want to come out and say it but are scared they won’t be accepted.”