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Students, staff celebrate Spirit of Inclusion on campus

by SARA FELSENSTEIN | Sunday, November 21, 2010

After Sunday’s Masses, students stood outside the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, handing out white cards with a small rainbow ribbon attached.

Printed on the back of these cards is Notre Dame’s Spirit of Inclusion, a statement of equal opportunity and affirmative action adopted by the University in 1997, and reading in part:

“We prize the uniqueness of all persons as God’s creatures. 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 desire to be treated.”

These cards were distributed as part of Solidarity Sunday, an annual event held by the Core Council each fall semester recognizing the Note Dame community’s Spirit of Inclusion. The Core Council works to identify the needs of gay, lesbian and bisexual students, and helps to implement educational programming on gay and lesbian issues. The group consists of eight undergraduate students and four administrators from the Division of Student Affairs.

Sr. Sue Dunn, O.P., co-chair of Core Council and assistant vice president for Student Affairs, said Solidarity Sunday has been celebrated since 1997 when the Spirit of Inclusion was first written.

“We thought this is a wonderful way to [acknowledge] the spirit of dignity and the worth of all people, recognizing each person as a child of God,” she said.

Core Council member Brandon Buchanan, a senior, said Solidarity Sunday emphasizes the importance of always having a spirit of inclusion and making efforts to bridge the gaps between different communities.

A new addition to the Solidarity Sunday events was a coffee house, which took place Thursday night in Geddes Hall. Students gathered for refreshments, speakers and a night of poetry and prayer.

Buchanan started off the night by leading a moment of silence for Declan Sullivan, followed by a prayer for anyone who has considered or who has committed suicide, or felt that he or she had nowhere to go.

“The first was a prayer for becoming involved in speaking up for the sense of dignity and worth of others, and [Brandon] ended it with a prayer thanking people for their support and recognition; he appealed for people to walk with allies,” Dunn said.

Poems recited during the coffee house included “Imagine” by John Lennon, “As I Walked Out One Evening,” by W.H. Auden, “Year’s End,” by Marilyn Hacker and “Hallucinations,” an original poem written by Core Council Co-chair Rachel Washington. A common theme of the poems, Dunn said, was being true to yourself.

Selections from the Spirit of Inclusion were also read out loud periodically throughout the program.

“I wanted [the coffee house] to be something everyone can go to, both heterosexuals and members of the GLBTQ community,” Washington, a senior, said. “I wanted the poems to express solidarity of every kind.”

The Solidarity Sunday events continued Friday when students around campus wore orange “Gay? Fine by me” T-shirts to show their support for the GLBTQ community.

Dunn said 29 chapels on campus distributed the cards Sunday, and during each Mass, participants said prayers to recognize the Spirit of Inclusion. 

“After the communion in the resident hall masses, there’s a time for announcements. During the announcements each hall has a volunteer that reads a statement about recognizing Solidarity Sunday, that we honor the Spirit of Inclusion, and that we encourage everyone to pick up cards on the way out,” she said.

In an effort to expand Core Council’s reach, Dunn said, the coalition was formed two years ago. The coalition works in cooperation with the Core Council, consisting of a representative from student government and various representatives from other student groups.

“We have various clubs as well as student government that are part of the coalition,” Dunn said. “Coalition members can also include clubs that have some of the same goals that [we do.]”

Senior Mariah McGrogan is co-chair of the Gender Issues Committee of student government. Her committee works in conjunction with Core Council to promote events like Solidarity Sunday and StaND Against Hate Week, which is a weeklong series of events sponsored by Core Council in the spring.

“We’ve been publicizing these events to hall councils and Hall Presidents Council, and Senate has been involved in getting the word out there,” McGrogan said.

She said a large part of her role as co-chair of the Gender Issues Committee is to help to advertise solidarity. Her committee produced posters this year in support of Solidarity Sunday.

Dunn said with the help of student government and the cooperation of campus clubs, there has been significant growth in the Coalition over the last two years.

She said she hopes events like Solidarity Sunday will continue to promote respect for others on campus.

“My hope would be that we could have a consistent ethic or consistent commitment to respectful dialogue, and not just a sense of toleration — of just accepting people and celebrating the differences, whatever they are,” she said.