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A big step for Notre Dame’

Megan Doyle | Thursday, December 6, 2012

In March, the Faculty Senate passed a resolution pushing for improved inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning (GLBTQ) students through the establishment of a gay-straight alliance (GSA).

On Wednesday, the University announced a new plan to form an officially recognized student organization for GLBTQ students. The plan will also establish a new advisory board to replace the Core Council and hire a full-time staff member to act as a liaison between students and administration on matters of inclusion.  

While the new organization will not be the exact GSA proposed in the March resolution, Faculty Senate chair Doug Archer said he thought the plan is a “major step forward.”

“It’s part of a larger concern, just speaking for myself, part of a larger concern for full equity and full access and full equality for all persons on campus,” he said. “This was one very concrete step that could be taken.”

The Faculty Senate most recently met Tuesday night, before the announcement about the new plan had been made.

“The announcement hadn’t come out yet so I can’t give you a reaction from the Senate,” he said. “I expect that they will be very pleased and appreciative of [University President Fr. John Jenkins’s] decision, of the effort that went into it.”

The decision is sure to incite criticism from some, Archer said, but he foresaw a fairly positive reception among his colleagues.

“There will always be difference of opinion. … Fr. Jenkins said this, as quoted in The Observer, that you know some people will think he’s gone too far, some will think he won’t have gone far enough,” Archer said. “I would just say I think it’s a major positive step, and some faculty will think we haven’t gone far enough yet. I hope it keeps rolling over time.”

The change in perspective on GLBTQ issues has been significant even in the last few decades since he joined the faculty in 1978, Archer said.

“It’s hard to remember now that this issue, just including [GLBTQ] people, is new in my lifetime,” he said. “Growing up in the [1950s,] the atmosphere [on gay and lesbian issues] was certainly repressive and it has continued in that way in many places. But just in society in general, this change of attitude. We’re not there yet where it’s not an issue, but I see this huge improvement.”

A GLBTQ organization for students would be an important avenue for their voice to be heard.

“That’s what’s happening now, there will be a voice in the system,” Archer said. “And they have to determine, in a way, what their next steps will be. … How do they feel about where they are in this campus and where they would like to see things go?”

Archer said the Faculty Senate has invited Jenkins to speak at one of its next meetings about the GLBTQ issues. Their next meeting is set for February.  

While the new organization is primarily for undergraduate and graduate students, Archer said he hopes its inception will help build a more welcoming environment for faculty members who identify as GLBTQ.

“I hope this is a positive thing for them,” Archer said. “I feel that if the student population is recognized and affirmed that it’s also true, it’s got to improve the atmosphere for faculty and staff.”

 

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A big step for Notre Dame’

Sam Stryker | Thursday, December 6, 2012

On Wednesday morning, Notre Dame announced the results of a “comprehensive review” of support services for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning students (GLBTQ), stating in a press release University president Fr. John Jenkins had accepted the suggestion of the Office of Student Affairs to “expand and enhance” these support services, including forming a University-recognized student organization.

As the Progressive Student Alliance (PSA) co-president and 4 to 5 Movement leader who was actively involved in the decision-making process, junior Alex Coccia knew of the decision a few days in advance. After reading some of the documents relating to the study before the information was released to the student body, Coccia said he was excited with the decision.

“That was a pretty cool moment, because we got a sense that yeah, this is happening,” he said.

But when the press release was made available to the entire student body Wednesday morning, Coccia, an Observer Viewpoint columnist, said he was “thankful” for the output of support from current and past students, especially over social media.

“I realize how many people have been involved in this for so long,” he said. “This is a big step for Notre Dame.”

A mixed reaction

Senior Charlie O’Leary is gay and said he is cautiously optimistic about the University’s decision Wednesday. Part of his tempered enthusiasm was due to the fact the University announced the formation of an organization rather than approving a club.

“My initial reaction was excited,” he said. “The more I read, the [more] suspicious I became. I remain excited though.”

He also was not pleased with the timing of the University’s statement, as he felt it “minimized” the announcement.

“No one has a chance to respond in The Observer until after break,” he said. “Between now and the next time we are going to be talking about it, there will have been the BCS [National Championship] … and students are really busy with finals.”

Senior Julia Kohn, who currently identifies as bisexual, said she was not expecting the formation of a student organization but is pleased with the University’s decision.

“I was expecting to hear a ‘no’ eventually, maybe sort of quietly,” she said. “I was surprised that it was a different setup or structure than was under discussion. Overall … it seems the distinction between a club and an organization is pretty positive in terms of continuity.”

One important function of the new GLBTQ student organization is it will allow for the participation of graduate students, something the standing Core Council did not allow for.

Graduate Student Union president Doug Rice said in the past, many graduate students who identified as GLBTQ felt uncomfortable at Notre Dame or even left the University.

“With this now being formed, I think this is going to be a good thing for our community,” he said. “For those who want to participate in that, it will just be a more welcoming place for everybody. I know that is something that has been important in the past.”

A long time coming

Coccia said he and others have been meeting with University administration regularly since fall break and was “impressed” with the level of student input they were seeking. He said conversations with University administration were “very positive, very candid.”

“Ultimately, we understood each other,” he said. “We were really able to communicate in a way that moved it forward.”

Wednesday’s decision was several months in the making, with the unofficial gay-straight alliance (GSA) AllianceND applying for official club status in the spring. The group originally expected a decision May 1, but the University postponed the verdict until early fall 2012.
Coccia said in postponing the decision, it became “very clear” that the University was giving the decision a lot of thought.

“There was this sense of, ‘If we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it right,'” he said.

A place for all students

Coccia said he most appreciates the fact that the new student organization will be open to anyone who wishes to participate, something he says is especially important considering allies’ desire to be involved.

“Any student can join,” he said. “You also don’t have to go around and say what your orientation is if you’re not comfortable. It’s a good step for access for not only allies, but also questioning students.”

Coccia said he is enthused about the organization for several reasons, not just for the current students it will serve, but in reassuring students who are potential applicants to the University.

“I’m excited for the questioning student who sees this announcement, sees the excitement from students about it and really views this as, ‘This is a commitment from my University, to me,’ and hopefully that’s the sentiment, because it is,” he said. “I’m excited for the prospective student … that that’s going to help them in their decision to come. I think that’s a very important component.”

A key cog in the machine

As part of Wednesday’s decision, the University will hire a full-time student development staff member who, among other duties, will serve as an advisor of the new GLBTQ student organization. Coccia said he hopes students will continue to have their voices heard in the hiring process for this position.

“That Student Affairs professional is so important,” he said. “Really we want to make sure it someone who is really accessible to students, who can relate to students.”

Kohn said she believes whoever is eventually hired for the role needs to recognize student interests to ensure the success of the organization.

“I think it is kind of interesting and questionable in a sense that all official meetings and decisions have to be made in concert with the advisor,” she said. “Depending on who that advisor is and depending on what their role and involvement with the University is, I think that could maybe not be as positive as a club that is student-organized and student-controlled could be.”