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Jenkins to meet Obama invite supporters

Aaron Steiner | Thursday, April 23, 2009

Fifteen students, representing over twenty student groups, are scheduled to meet with University President Fr. John Jenkins at 3:30 p.m. today to present a petition and letter in support of his invitation to President Barack Obama to speak at Commencement on May 17.

A student involved in organizing the meeting, College Democrats President Henry Vasquez, said that the Progressive Leadership Council, which is composed of leaders of progressive campus clubs, got over twenty student clubs to sign the letter supporting the invitation.

“It’s mostly a symbolic gesture of support,” Vasquez said. He and senior Michael Angulo gathered the support of the clubs – including the Progressive Student Alliance, College Democrats, Feminist Voice, the Notre Dame NAACP chapter, Students for Environmental Action and the Black Cultural Arts Council (BCAC).

The letter states: “As Notre Dame students, we strive to be a concerned community that recognizes the complexity of the many issues that face our nation and our world. We respect diverse viewpoints on issues and we also believe in concerned and genuine dialogue.”

The letter also states that as “students concerned with the issues of social justice,” the supporters look forward to hosting Obama and “continuing our University’s mission to ‘create a sense of human solidarity and concern for the common good that will bear fruit as learning becomes service to justice,'” citing the University mission statement.

A petition – started by BCAC – gathered signatures from students, faculty and outside supporters over several weeks.

Khai Thomas, incoming president of BCAC, said not only are there many student supporters, “there is avid support among people outside the community for this petition.”

Thomas said his group decided to try to meet with Jenkins in order to present the petition personally.

He said Jenkins’ office was receptive to their request to meet.

“This is something they wanted to happen, because this doesn’t happen very often,” Thomas said. He noted that students often request to meet with Jenkins to discuss their concerns – including those about sustainability and labor unions on campus – but students rarely ask to meet to show their support.

Vasquez said he too asked to meet with Jenkins to present the letter they had written, and Jenkins’ office suggested he and Thomas’ groups combine their meetings.

Vasquez said his group thought it would be good to have a letter “to express some of the ideas that we have … and to show a contrast to ND Response.”

ND Response is a coalition of 11 student groups that opposes the invitation to Obama. Jenkins recently rescinded a prior invitation to meet with ND Response after its leaders made several specific requests in a reply to his invitation.

Vasquez said it was important to show that the majority of students support the decision.

“We know that there’s much more support than opposition out there,” he said.

Angulo said Jenkins “might feel isolated, like he made the wrong decision,” based on the opposition. He hopes to convey that many students support the decision.

“There are a lot of [students] who are more moderate, who say, ‘I’m pro-life, … but you’re not going to get anywhere if you just reject people out of hand,” he said.

Angulo said, however, he is open to dialogue and even supports those dissenting the University’s actions.

“We’re going to be open to dialogue, you can dissent,” Angulo said.

Angulo said the discussions going on around campus are a sign of the concerned nature of Notre Dame students.

“We consider ourselves a concerned community,” he said. “We understand the complexities of all the issues going on our country.”