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One step at a time

| Thursday, December 6, 2012

University President Fr. John Jenkins announced Wednesday Notre Dame will create a new student organization to support gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning (GLBTQ) students at Notre Dame. With this step, we are walking in the direction of greater inclusion and a more welcoming climate for GLBTQ students at Notre Dame.  
For more than 25 years, Notre Dame students have asked the University to officially recognize a student organization that would address the needs of our GLBTQ population. Each time, the University has rejected the request while affirming its commitment to meet the needs of the GLBTQ population in other ways.

The Spirit of Inclusion, added to the student handbook in 1997, reaffirmed that support.

“We value gay and lesbian members of this community as we value all members of this community,” it states. “We condemn harassment of any kind, and University policies proscribe it.”

Last spring, students submitted the most recent application for a gay-straight alliance. In response to that application, Jenkins asked the Office of Student Affairs to review the University’s support of and services for GLBTQ students.

Wednesday’s announcement is a result of that review, an ongoing conversation about homosexuality unlike any before between students and administrators. Vice President of Student Affairs Erin Hoffmann Harding jumped into her first semester on the job with nearly 50 meetings to talk with students and focus groups about GLBTQ life here.

The new plan establishes the student organization and a new advisory board to respond to the real needs identified in those meetings. The Core Council, established as an advisory council for Student Affairs in 2006, has made important strides in training hall staff on GLBTQ issues and programming events, but the group of only eight members has been stretched too thin in recent years.

The student organization, though loosely defined, will be open to any student, elect its own officers and write its own constitution to be approved by the administration. Like student government or the Student Union Board, this organization will be tied more closely to the administration than a club, but it will also be guaranteed more stability than a club that might ebb and flow over the years.

The plan also calls for a full-time staff member to advise the new organization and address other concerns brought forth by GLBTQ students. This individual will step into an unprecedented role as a specific point person in the administration for GLBTQ students, and the person hired to fill this position will be critical to this new plan’s
success.

This organization can be built to last, and to make lasting change at Notre Dame.
One step. One foot in front of the other.
This plan is a good one. This plan also has more steps to be taken before it becomes a tangible presence on our campus, and there are still many questions to be answered. We walk forward with cautious optimism, proud to see the University more fully embrace its GLBTQ members and uncertain what the future will hold.

How much influence will the administrative advisor have over the club’s activities? How will this group be structured and funded? What type of programming will be allowed – and what will not?
Will students carry on these conversations that have been so productive already to improve our climate of inclusion in the future?

The openness of this semester’s review needs to continue as the University begins to implement this new organization. The desire to talk honestly about what it means to be a gay or lesbian student at Notre Dame needs to continue as students pen the group’s first constitution.

The conversation needs to continue. We need to keep walking forward together.

One step. One foot in front of the other.