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AllianceND still seeks club status

Mary Kate Malone | Thursday, March 2, 2006

Leaders of the unrecognized gay and lesbian student group AllianceND are heartened by the recent restructuring and renaming of the University Standing Committee on Gay and Lesbian Student Needs, but said they will not back down from pursuing club status – a privilege the Office of Student Activities has denied in recent years.

AllianceND and the newly-named Core Council on Gay and Lesbian Student Needs have similar goals – both seek to meet the needs of Notre Dame’s gay and lesbian students – but their means of achieving those ends are quite different.

University officials said the recent changes made to the committee do not necessarily imply the Office of Student Activities will recognize AllianceND when it applies for club status this spring.

“This is not [club] recognition, it really isn’t,” said Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs Sister Mary Louise Gude. “I don’t know if it’s a step forward toward recognition or not, but it’s certainly a step forward toward better support for gay and lesbian students.”

Gude has served as chair of the Committee since the fall of 1998. She hopes the restructuring will lead to increased communication among different gay and lesbian student groups – like AllianceND, Outreach and Feminist Voice – which will all be represented on the Council, she said.

“While there is absolutely no talk – at least out of the administration – about [AllianceND] club recognition, once you get people talking to each other and communicating, it’s hard to know exactly what will happen,” Gude said. “Our gay community will be more effective with the input of all these groups finally being able to talk to each other – having structure in which they can communicate.”

The University announced the changes Feb. 24. Instead of six student members, the group will now have eight – one of whom will be a student co-chair. Four administrators will also sit on the Council.

Gude said the restructuring will allow for AllianceND to perhaps seek funding from the Council for certain events.

“What we think will happen is that Alliance might be able to plug in some of its activities and get support from the Core Council depending on what these activities are – they must be within the parameters of Catholic teaching,” Gude said.

But AllianceND member Curtis Leighton said this restriction on the Core Council intensifies the need for a student group like AllianceND to be granted club recognition – as well as access to money for staging events that the Core Council would not be allowed to support.

“I worry that the Standing Committee … can’t have the same impact because they’re hindered by ‘academic freedom’ or any of those types of things,” Leighton said.

Still, the change in composition is no doubt an improvement on the current Council setup, said Leighton – who is also the co-chair of Outreach.

“For now at least, the Standing Committee doesn’t provide a lot of support or advocacy for gay students on campus,” he said. “I hope the new Core Council will do some of that by expanding the membership and having some connection with student organizations.”

AllianceND co-coordinator Anna Gomberg said she fears the recent steps might show that the University feels the Core Council will be adequate enough to address gay and lesbian student needs – and that groups like AllianceND do not need recognition. She insists the groups are very different.

“Frankly, AllianceND is more concerned with student needs than a[n] [administrative] student group [like the Core Council],” she said. “The student group is going to be different than an administrative body [because] it is normalized, it’s the same as all student groups … I don’t think anything that the Standing Committee would do or restrict would make that different.”

AllianceND has applied for and been denied club status each of the last two years. According to a March 22, 2005 article in The Observer, similar proposals have been denied nine times in the last 10 years, with no gay and lesbian student group successfully securing official status.

AlllianceND’s members sponsor a “Coming Out” closet in the fall, create and distribute orange “Gay? Fine by Me” T-shirts and often make bold public statements to advance their cause.

The Council, however, is an arm of the University and advises Vice President of Student Affairs Father Mark Poorman on gay and lesbian student needs.

Despite the differences, AllianceND officer Aine Richards is optimistic the measures are a step in the right direction for both groups.

“It just gives me a lot of hope because I think the administration is trying to expand its understanding of the students’ needs,” Richards said. “I think Alliance is one of those needs, and hopefully [the University] will come to that realization [to recognize us as a club] … if we continue to do what we’re doing – doing our work and keep applying [for club status] hopefully we’ll be successful.”

Gomberg said she wasn’t sure what the mission of the new Council will be, but she believes it has potential to improve communication between gay and lesbian groups on campus.

“As things come together more and the communication increases across all these groups, I think that’s generally a very good thing – that they’re integrating these groups and encompassing a broader spectrum is a really good thing,” Gomberg said.

“We’re going to have to wait and see what it ends up looking like … allowing for more structure and allowing standing committee to involve more people is a step in the right direction.”