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Group plans to present petition to Fr. Jenkins

Kaitlynn Riely | Thursday, March 5, 2009

Student members of the Campaign for Human Dignity plan to present a petition to University President Fr. John Jenkins the Wednesday after spring break to urge the University to include “sexual orientation” in its nondiscrimination clause.

“Notre Dame claims that they don’t discriminate against gay and lesbian students,” sophomore Mary Dewey said. “So this is a challenge for them to put that commitment in writing. We believe it would go a long way to make Notre Dame a more welcoming place for all its students.”

The University’s nondiscrimination notice states the following:

“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.”

As of last night, the Campaign for Human Dignity, composed of students from other campus groups like the Progressive Student Alliance, College Democrats and Human Rights ND, had collected just over 2,700 signatures of students in favor of adding sexual orientation to the clause since they began circulating the petitions about a month ago.

Sophomore Bridget Flores, the co-president of the Progressive Student Alliance (PSA), said the group obtained permission from the Student Activities Office (SAO) to pass around the petitions, and they have been bringing them to classes, club meetings, LaFortune, the dining halls and residence halls.

They plan to bring the petitions to Fr. Jenkins’ office on March 18, along with a letter that outlines their objectives.

“By not including sexual orientation in its Non-Discrimination Clause, the University of Notre Dame reserves the right to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in the administration of its educational programs, admissions policies, scholarships and loan programs, employment, and athletic and other school administered programs,” the letter said.

A similar petition was delivered to Fr. Jenkins last April. At that time, assistant vice president for News and Information Dennis Brown said in an email Wednesday, “no new information was presented that would have caused us to change our position regarding the addition of sexual orientation to the non-discrimination clause.”

The position of the University in not including sexual orientation in the clause was reached after legal and theological analysis, and is stated in Notre Dame’s Spirit of Inclusion document and accompanying 1997 letter from then-president Fr. Edward A. “Monk” Malloy to the Notre Dame community.

The document states that Notre Dame strives to create an “environment of mutual respect, hospitality and warmth.

“We welcome all people, regardless of color, gender, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, social or economic class, and nationality for example, precisely because of Christ’s calling to treat others as we deserve to be treated,” the document says.

The Officers of the University adopted the inclusion statement on Aug. 27, 1997, the same date Malloy sent an open letter on the issue to the Notre Dame community. The letter notes that several groups had asked the University to consider making changes to its nondiscrimination clause, including the Ad hoc Committee on Gay and Lesbian Student Needs, the Faculty and Student Senates and the College Democrats, which submitted a petition signed by students in favor of the change.

Malloy wrote that the University considered these requests over the course of the 1996-1997 school year and decided not to add sexual orientation to the nondiscrimination clause.

“Within society at large, the phrase ‘sexual orientation’ sometimes becomes a term that does not admit of distinction between sexual orientation and the manner in which people live out their sexual orientation – a distinction that is critical to us as a Catholic institution,” Malloy wrote in the letter.

Dewey said that she thinks inserting “sexual orientation” into the nondiscrimination clause is “very much in the Catholic character of the University.”

Representatives of the Campaign for Human Dignity have scheduled a meeting with Fr. Jenkins on March 30 to discuss their petition.

The point of the petition is not just to get sexual orientation added to the non-discrimination clause, Flores said.

“We want students to be aware of what is going on, of how unwelcoming of a place Notre Dame can be to students of alternative lifestyles, but how we recognize that Notre Dame is a great place and we want to make it a better place,” she said.