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Group starts petition in support of Obama

Robert Singer | Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The outrage expressed on The Observer’s Viewpoint page and across the Internet over the University’s invitation of President Barack Obama to be Commencement speaker is not representative of the Notre Dame community, according to Matthew Tipton and Briana Miller, senior co-presidents of the Black Cultural Arts Council (BCAC), who organized a petition drive Monday in LaFortune to support the decision.

“We basically wanted to offset the negative light,” said Tipton. “The numbers reflecting the people who want him here are not standing up.”

“I think the opportunity is there for both viewpoints to speak, but I think most of the people are taking a lackadaisical role because they know that the University isn’t going to rescind the invitation,” added Miller.

To carry out an idea proposed by senior BCAC member Brittany Clark, Miller and Tipton plan to add more signatures in support of Obama’s invitation to the 360 they collected Monday night. They will expand their drive to the dining halls and will unite with other like-minded organizations. In the last week of April, a coalition plans to submit the petition to University President Fr. John Jenkins.

The College Democrats, the NAACP, the Black Students Association, La Alianza, the First Class Steppers and the Hispanic alumni group MEChA have given their support to the petition drive, according to Miller.

“It’s overwhelming how much support we’ve gotten from organizations that don’t have anything to do with politics,” Tipton said.

In the near future, the BCAC plans to set up a forum with group leaders who oppose Obama’s invitation to deliver the Commencement speech to discuss the event in the larger context of Catholic teaching and national politics, according to Miller. But she and Tipton did not hesitate to share the views that motivated them to organize the petition drive.

“Being a Catholic isn’t based on one particular thing and I just think that more tolerance is needed in this community,” said Tipton.

“I want people to realize that this is the President of the United States that they’re trying to refuse,” added Miller. “American society is looking at us like we’re an anomaly.”

Sophomore signee Brandon Boston emphasized the importance of maintaining an exchange of ideas on campus.

“I have a lot of friends who have spoken out against Obama coming,” he said. His support for the petition is “just to show that we can be a democratic kind of school.”

Senior signee Kaitlin Ivester disputed the idea that support for Obama clashes with Catholic values.

“He doesn’t represent all of the Catholic values, but he represents most of them. I want to show [Obama] that there are a lot of people want him to create a welcoming atmosphere.”

For Tipton and Miller, Obama’s Commencement speech will be an experience of personal fulfillment as well as an opportunity to think about abstract notions of Catholic identity.

“I think it’s an honor,” Miller said. “With me approaching the real world only in a couple of weeks, who’s better to welcome me into it than the President of the United States? You’ve got the most powerful man coming to say ‘congratulations on a job well done.’ It’s motivational, especially since he overcame so much adversity.”

“When I got word of it, I was almost in tears – it’s my graduation,” Tipton said. “It’s the President of the United States and that is special in itself. For it to be the first black president, it adds another layer to it. He’s a beacon of hope that we can come out of poverty and come out of these situations that we’re in.”