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PSA to submit petition to Office of the President

Emma Driscoll | Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Students from the Progressive Student Alliance (PSA) will deliver a petition to the Office of the President Wednesday to add sexual orientation to Notre Dame’s Non-Discrimination, PSA member Mike McCann said.

PSA member Rob Plasschaert said 2,500 to 3,000 members of the Notre Dame community signed the petition.

“A lot of [signatures were gathered] basically through standing outside the dining hall and LaFortune, and through individual petitioning by people,” Plasschaert said. “PSA was lucky enough to have a lot of outside support from the Notre Dame community.”

Friday was the last day signatures were officially collected, Plasschaert said.

Plasschaert, McCann and PSA member Mallory Laurel, will personally deliver the petition to the Office of the President, Plasschaert said. They will also deliver a letter that explains why PSA thinks the petition is important and what the group feels an appropriate response from the University would be.

He said the petition is not a response to any action the University has taken against a GLBTQ member on campus, but rather expands on Pangborn senator Denise Baron and O’Neill senator Matthew Malloy’s proposal to add sexual orientation to the current non-descrimination clause at a March Student Senate meeting.

“The student government backing of such an issue suggested the ability to garner support from the student body as a whole,” Plasschaert said.

Currently, Notre Dame’s Non-Discrimination clause reads: “The University of Notre Dame does not discriminate on the basis of race/ethnicity, color, national origin, sex, disability, veteran status, or age in the administration of any of its employment, educational programs, admissions policies, scholarship and loan programs, athletics, recreational, and other school-administered programs.”

University spokesman and assistant vice president for news and information Dennis Brown said this issue was discussed in the 1990s, but the University has not had a reason to reconsider the addition of a sexual orientation to the clause since that time.

In Feb. 1996, then-University president Father Edward Malloy appointed a group of officers to examine the needs of gay and lesbian students after an ad hoc committee created by current dean of the Law School and then-vice president for student affairs Patricia O’Hara suggested doing so.

“In 1997, the committee reported to the Officer’s Group which, after a thorough discussion, decided against any modification,” Brown said. Instead, the officers decided to issue the “Spirit of Inclusion” policy.

“The Spirit of Inclusion” was designed “to express [the officers’] commitment to policies and practices that would promote an environment of inclusiveness and free of harassment for all members of the University community,” Brown said. “[It] is a statement of policy derived from the teachings of the Catholic Church and consistent with Notre Dame’s mission.”

PSA was created in 1998 in response to this issue, Plasschaert said.

In 1998, PSA “organized the 300 person demonstration in support of Fr. David Garrick, the Holy Cross priest who was dismissed from his duties at the Basilica after coming out as a celibate homosexual priest,” PSA member McCann said in an e-mail. Garrick came out in an April 4, 1996 letter in The Observer.

Garrick resigned from the University in March 1998.

Later in the year, both the Faculty and the Student Senates passed resolutions in favor of adding sexual orientation to the non-discrimination clause, McCann said.

PSA then formed a petition in Oct. 1998 to add the term and obtained more than 1,100 signatures, he said. They also held a rally before a meeting of the Academic Council and brought speakers in favor of changing the clause to campus in November, McCann said.

The Academic Council passed the motion to change the clause by one vote in November, McCann said.

On Dec. 1, 1998, “the Board of Fellows met and unanimously voted against including sexual orientation in the non-discrimination clause,” McCann said.

This decision was not announced until a press release after the Board of Trustees voted against making the change on Feb. 5, 1999, McCann said.

“Nothing has happened from either standpoint since that time that would lead the University to reconsider that decision,” Brown said.

Brown said from the time the decision regarding the clause was made in 1998 improvements have been made for gay and lesbian students.

“In combination with the work of the Core Council for Gay and Lesbian Students, we believe these goals are being met and that the environment for gay and lesbian students is far better now than it was a decade ago,” Brown said.

While the goal of the petition is to have sexual orientation added to the University’s non-discrimination clause, Plasschaert said PSA is aware it is “a lofty goal” which may not be accomplished.

“What we want from the administration most is a thoughtful response to the issues at hand,” he said. “The petition has shown an out-pouring of public opinion from Notre Dame students, faculty and staff that says GLBTQ relations are not handled appropriately by the administration of Notre Dame.”