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University addresses LGBTQ concerns

Sarah Mervosh | Thursday, April 26, 2012

Following public requests from students and faculty asking Notre Dame to improve inclusion of its lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) community, the University announced Wednesday it would not add sexual orientation to its non-discrimination clause.

University Spokesman Dennis Brown declined to provide an explanation for why sexual orientation would not be added and would not say who made the final decision.

The announcement came in the wake of increased pressure to create a more inclusive atmosphere for LGBTQ members of the Notre Dame community.

Student and Faculty Senates recently passed resolutions asking for sexual orientation to be included in the non-discrimination clause. The Student Senate resolution also asked that the University publicly address why the phrase is not included.

When asked when and if the University would provide such a public response, Brown declined to comment.

However, Notre Dame announced in a press release it would take other steps to enhance inclusion of LGBTQ members. For example, the University plans to reaffirm and spread awareness about the University’s existing non-discrimination policies.

The University’s handbook, du Lac, includes a “Spirit of Inclusion,” which states that Notre Dame welcomes its LGBTQ community and seeks to create an environment in which “none are strangers and all may flourish.”

University President Fr. John Jenkins affirmed the Spirit of Inclusion in the press release.

“In all of our efforts, we seek within the context of Church teaching to better realize the ideals expressed in the University’s ‘Spirit of Inclusion’ statement – to create an environment of mutual respect, hospitality and warmth,” he said.

The University also condemns harassment and discrimination toward LGBTQ individuals in its discriminatory harassment policy, which is designed to protect current students and employees.

The non-discrimination clause primarily addresses discrimination against prospective students and employees in areas such as admissions, employment, scholarships and athletics. The current clause states that the University “does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national or ethnic origin, sex, disability, veteran status or age.”

In response to student suggestions, the University will make ally training more widely available, improve hall staff training and continue communication between administration and student leaders regarding LGBTQ issues, according to the press release.

Notre Dame also plans to improve the structure and functioning of the Core Council for Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Students, a group comprised of administrators and students that advises the Vice President for Student Affairs on LGBTQ needs.

Brown also said some changes have already been made to improve inclusion of LGBTQ students, such as providing Core Council with permanent space in the LaFortune Student Center.

“There have been some things that have been done,” he said. “That’s an example.”

Brown said the University plans to solidify a specific plan for enhancing inclusion of LGBTQ students in the upcoming months.

“Those are going to be things that will be in discussion with students over the summer and early in the fall semester to put details in place,” he said.

Vice President for Student Affairs Fr. Tom Doyle said Notre Dame has made progress over the past 15 years in its support for LGBTQ students and said the University appreciates student input on the subject.

“We’ve always emphasized the desire to continuously improve and to be responsive to student concerns,” he said in the press release. “The conversations between students and the administration both recently and over the past several years have been very important.”

Sophomore Alex Coccia, co-president of the Progressive Student Alliance (PSA), said the University’s release is a step in the right direction.

“With such a statement from the University, it is important that each individual respond according to his or her own vantage point,” he said. “I believe that it is important to acknowledge the initiative of the administration both to release a public statement regarding first steps for inclusive and to recognize expressed student suggestions.”

Coccia, who is also a columnist for The Observer’s Viewpoint section, is actively involved in the 4 to 5 Movement, an initiative of PSA in which allies promote an environment of inclusion for LGBTQ students, faculty and staff.

“I want to commend all of the students, faculty, and staff who, through the 4 to 5 Movement, have worked tirelessly and at much personal expense this entire year for full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and questioning members of the community,” Coccia said.

The 4 to 5 Movement released a video in February titled, “It Needs To Get Better,” in which students, faculty and staff call for a more inclusive environment for the LGBTQ community. The video has over 20,000 views on YouTube.  

The video specifically asks that Notre Dame include sexual orientation in its nondiscrimination clause and that the University approve a gay-straight alliance (GSA) as an official club.

AllianceND, which is currently the campus’s unofficial GSA, applied for official club status in February.

Brown said the University’s decision regarding the nondiscrimination clause is separate from a decision regarding a GSA, which will be made through the Student Activities Office (SAO).  

Director of Student Activities for Programming Peggy Hnatusko, who makes the final decision regarding club status, told The Observer on Tuesday that all applications for new clubs were still under review.

Hnatusko said she hopes all decisions regarding new clubs will be made by the end of the summer and will send letters to prospective clubs when the review process is finished.

However, Coccia said he received verbal commitment from an SAO representative earlier in the semester that a decision regarding GSA’s club status would be made by May 1.

Kristen Durbin contributed to this report.