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Father Jenkins, this is not about an agenda’

Sam Costanzo | Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Earlier this semester, I gave an interview to The Observer in which I shared intimate details of an attempted suicide during my freshman year. Frankly, I gave the interview hoping to bring light to the gravity of a situation about which the University has acted cowardly. I’m not referring just to depression and suicide on college campuses – though these are issues about which I remain very concerned – but rather to the condition of GLBTQ students at Notre Dame. And honestly, I also gave the interview in part to make good on my past failure to speak up in your office hours last semester.
I’d applied multiple times for the chance to attend your office hours (which we all know are a limited, highly-selective affair), so you can imagine my happiness this past fall when I was notified of my successful application. I had fifteen minutes to sit with you and one other student in your office, so there was clearly not much time for meaningful dialogue between us. I, a cowardly fifth-year senior, shrunk from the opportunity to speak freely, though, as we ran through the usual exchanges and you eventually asked, “How has your time at Notre Dame been?”
I don’t question your genuine interest in student life, but instead of saying, “Good, but …,” I simply said, “Good.” We shook hands a short while later and my guilt grew as you wished me good luck on my way out. “What waste of time,” I thought. In failing to be honest in describing my time here, I failed to accurately pay witness to the reality some students face. I failed to give a voice to my peers. My response was a lie.
I should have looked you in the eye and said, “It has been difficult, and here is why,” because Father John, you need to understand what is at stake here. You and the administration cannot afford to make vacuous public statements of support and intent that are actually of no real substance. The University cannot continue to prioritize a desired public image over the welfare of its student body. Some of my fellow students are suffering the same feelings of isolation and depression that led me to make a dangerous decision four years ago. These students can barely trust their residence hall staff, much less a clergy person or someone on one of your administrative committees. Some of these women and men remain in the closet, and we may never know their identity. But I know how they feel because I was once one of them, and out of silent desperation I eventually tried to kill myself.
I failed to do the right thing when I met with you, but I am graduating soon and cannot afford to waste any more time with empty words. What I and the student body need from you is the opportunity to make a significant change in the lives of Notre Dame’s students, most especially those students who feel they are losing their tether to the world.
So amend the non-discrimination clause. Officially recognize the student club. You and the administration must not contribute to a situation in which a student does not make it out of here alive, and I dread the day when my University springs to action too late, and only after a student takes their own life out of despair.
Father John, this is not about an agenda – it is about people. Stand up to the political and derisive opposition, and rally your fellow University leaders. We can never stop trying to make life better for those present and future Notre Dame students to whom I so powerfully relate. I hope you can find the courage to do the right thing.

Sam Constanzo is a senior. He can reached at scostanz@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.