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Petition allows chance for dialogue

Staff Editorial | Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Princeton Review, a company that publishes data on national colleges and universities, currently ranks Notre Dame No. 1 in the category, “Alternative Lifestyles not an Alternative” – a fancy way of saying Notre Dame is perceived as having a lower tolerance for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (GLBTQ) students compared to other universities. This is something the Progressive Student Alliance’s Campaign for Human Dignity has been working to address by submitting a petition and letter to the Office of the President Wednesday asking that sexual orientation be added to its nondiscrimination clause.

Over the past several months, the group has demonstrated students are not actually as intolerant of “alternative lifestyles” as the Princeton Review ranking would lead one to believe. They collected over 2,300 signatures supportive of the petition to alter the University’s nondiscrimination clause to protect GLBTQ students and faculty. While student support for the change is considerable, the Campaign for Human Dignity is encountering less support from the administration.

Last spring, the Campaign for Human Dignity submitted a similar petition to University President Fr. John Jenkins, but the administration did not respond. Assistant Vice President for News and Information Dennis Brown told The Observer last month that when the last petition was submitted, “no new information was presented that would have caused us to change our position.”

This failure to acknowledge the petition sent a message to students that the University is willing to ignore this important student concern.

But supporters of the clause change persisted. This year, the student group doubled their efforts, and this time around, it seems they are making more progress because Jenkins has agreed to a meeting with group leaders on March 30 to discuss the petition.

Along with the petition, the Campaign for Human Dignity submitted a letter asking the University to recognize the groups, OUTreach ND and Alliance ND, which provide support GLBTQ students on campus. Currently, neither group has official club status.

Members of the Campaign for Human Dignity claim that by not including sexual orientation, the University reserves the right to discriminate.

The University’s prior statements on the issue counter this view: “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,” states Notre Dame’s Spirit of Inclusion document, released in 1997. The document was adopted by the officers of the University after then-University President Fr. Edward A. “Monk” Malloy announced that the University had considered adding “sexual orientation” to the clause for over a year, ultimately deciding not to.

“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 a letter accompanying the document.

While the University has made its position clear, it is disappointing they have ignored the concerns of students when raised in the years since the document’s release. Jenkins should be commended for agreeing to meet with the Campaign for Human Dignity this year, creating the opportunity for real and constructive dialogue, over 10 years since the Spirit of Inclusion was written.

The administration has stated it does not discriminate based on sexual orientation. If this is the case, meeting the demands of the petition and amending the nondiscrimination clause would go a step further than saying “[w]e welcome all people.” The University would legally prove that GLBTQ students and faculty are not discriminated against and undeniably confirm that these students and faculty are accepted and valued members of the Notre Dame community.

Being a Catholic institution, Notre Dame should be a place lauded for its acceptance of all. Instead, the Princeton Review ranks it No. 1 for intolerance towards the GLBTQ community. It is now up to the University’s administration to make clear that Notre Dame is a place that does not discriminate “on the basis of race, color, national or ethnic origin, sex, disability, veteran status, age or sexual orientation.”