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AllianceND sparks dialogue around campus

JOSEPH McMAHON | Monday, April 19, 2010

When an offensive “Mobile Party” comic strip was published in the Observer on Jan. 13, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning community at Notre Dame and the University’s unrecognized gay-straight alliance, AllianceND, was thrust to the forefront of a national issue.

“It gave us the opportunity to start the discussions,” AllianceND officer Jessica Mahon, a senior, said.

Later that month, the group helped organize a massive protest on campus to urge the University administration to both grant AllianceND official club status and add sexual orientation to the nondiscrimination clause.

“The demonstration that happened in January was maybe the marker of my Notre Dame experience,” Mahon said. “It really kept up my faith in the Notre Dame student body that the response was really positive on campus.”

AllianceND officer junior Chris Collins said the panel discussions that followed the comic’s publication and several individual meetings with top administration officials, including University President Fr. John Jenkins, have been mostly productive.

“There have been a lot of discussions since the Mobile Party Comic Strip, and I’ve been to a few of them and from what I’ve heard they’ve all been very successful,” he said.

Senior and AllianceND officer Melanie LeMay said the Student Activities Office (SAO) has made a decision and is waiting until all club applications are reviewed to give its decision.

In an e-mail, student programs coordinator Mary Kate Havlik said she helps “to facilitate the prospective club application process for all clubs,” but did not comment directly on AllianceND’s pending application.

“Our primary concerns [when we met with Fr. Jenkins] were the non-discrimination clause and the approval of AllianceND as a club, both of which are ways we feel the University can show its acceptance of [LGBTQ] students and their allies on campus,” LeMay said.

LeMay noted Saint Mary’s College across the street from Notre Dame already has both a gay-straight alliance (SAGA) and has added sexual orientation to their nondiscrimination clause.

“The administration has definitely been made aware that Saint Mary’s, which is also a Holy Cross college, has both sexual orientation in the clause and a gay-straight alliance,” she said.

LeMay said the administration has cited concern about the legal ramifications of adding sexual orientation to the nondiscrimination clause, noting partner benefits as one legal implication.

AllianceND officer senior Patrick Bears said the panel discussions and meetings with administration officials were a step in the right direction, but the actions were ultimately inconsequential.

“I’m not going be critical for the University for actually trying to do something, it’s just they’re doing as little as they potentially can,” he said. “They’re trying to do everything they can without actually doing anything about the club itself.”

Mahon said she wanted to be optimistic about the club’s application, but also noted it was the eleventh time the club had applied for official status in the past 13 years.

“We want to be really optimistic, but we also recognize that it may not happen,” she said. “I think the biggest indicator that [we might not get it] is the administration has being making really conscious efforts to meet with us to see how they can improve the framework that they use.”

Mahon said gaining official club status would be incredibly helpful to the group and boost its profile on campus.

“Right now it’s just some friends who meet and discuss issues. It would be really beneficial to have a set club, have a set time when we could meet, have a room where we can meet and to be able to advertise to students that these resources are out there,” she said.

Mahon said the club’s unofficial status had kept it underground for years, and many students who could benefit from the group’s resources might not know it exists.

“Right now, students that could really need the help or the resources sometimes don’t know what goes on,” she said. “It’s all word of mouth, so there’s a really possible chance that we’re missing people who could benefit from the club.”

In the past, the administration has pointed to Core Council as a resource for LGBTQ students. But Collins said Core Council, of which both LeMay and Bears are also members, does not give students enough control.

“I think one of the key things is [AllianceND] gives students the ability to take part in the decision making process,” Collins said. “We’d have our own funds and be able to set our own events, whereas with Core Council they’re all kind of set by [the Office of Student Affairs].”

LeMay said Core Council’s structure does not allow many students to join who would want to.

“I think AllianceND would be a important supplement to Core Council because Core Council is a closed group and only has eight student members,” she said.

Bears said graduate students are shut out of Core Council, and that they do not have a gay-straight alliance for themselves.

“There’s no kind of outreach for them,” he said.

Bears also said it was not just students who felt that they needed to stay closeted.

“There’s definitely fear among teachers regarding the subject material that they can teach and their personal lives and whether they have to remain closeted in order to keep their jobs,” he said.

Collins, who is the only officer in the group that will still be enrolled at Notre Dame next year, said the group will continue to apply for club status if they are denied later this month.

“If we don’t get status we will be applying again next year, I can pretty much guarantee that. If we do get club status that would kind of be a whole different ball game,” he said.

Collins said AllianceND’s probationary first year would include hosting regular meetings and sponsoring a few events in conjunction with Core Council.

Despite some setbacks, the AllianceND officers said the response on campus has been very positive since the publication of the offensive comic. Mahon said the work of many tenured faculty members who know their jobs are safe has been “phenomenal” in supporting the group.

Nevertheless, the group members did say they were concerned about some of the more hateful reactions they have received around campus.

“There have been a reemergence of the ‘Gay? Go to Hell’ T-shirts from two years ago, and from what I’m aware there have actually been more of them than there were just my sophomore year,” Bears said.