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Signatures support PSA petition

Kristen Durbin | Monday, January 31, 2011

Members of Notre Dame’s Progressive Student Alliance (PSA) and other student groups gathered Thursday at the kickoff event for the PSA-sponsored petition to add sexual orientation to the University’s nondiscrimination clause, but this year’s petition includes another goal for the group, senior and PSA treasurer Mary Dewey said.

“The petition to include sexual orientation in the nondiscrimination clause has been circulated nine times in total, but this year we added a statement about the recognition of AllianceND as an official club on campus,” Dewey said.

AllianceND, the proposed campus gay-straight group, has applied for official club status 14 times since the 1990s but has been rejected by University administrators each time, senior and acting vice president of PSA Julia Duranti said.

Past petitions have garnered over 2,700 student, faculty and staff signatures, Dewey said. PSA decided to include support for AllianceND in this year’s petition to make a more focused statement about the current environment on campus regarding sexual orientation.

“We realized that there hasn’t been a positive response from the administration in the past, so we were trying to think of new approaches,” Dewey said. “It’s a demonstration of support from a majority of the student body and faculty, but we’re mostly pushing for AllianceND to get official club status.”

Dewey said the large number of signatures in support of adding sexual orientation to the nondiscrimination clause demonstrates the need and desire of both students and faculty to have an informal outlet for discussion between gay and straight members of the Notre Dame community, ideally in the form of AllianceND.

“There’s a general level of discomfort for straight students in learning and talking about [sexual orientation],” Dewey said. “A lot of people don’t know what they think about it, so we want a space where people can meet each other and talk in a comfortable environment.”

Duranti said the University has countered the push to make AllianceND an official club by emphasizing the existence of the Core Council for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Questioning students — a University committee made up of students and faculty.

There are currently 12 council members.

“The University’s biggest argument against the recognition of AllianceND is the Core Council, but it’s not really a space for gay and straight students to meet, talk about issues and form friendships,” Duranti said. “Core Council is directly controlled by the administration, so AllianceND would be an informal place for students to come together and break the ice about these issues.”

Without official club status, AllianceND doesn’t have access to University funding, can’t meet officially in public places on campus and can’t set up a table at Activities Night, Duranti said.

PSA also hopes to collect at least 3,000 signatures for the official presentation of the petition to the University administration at the end of March, junior and PSA co-president Jackie Emmanuel said.

“While our most immediate goals for this campaign are changing, the nondiscrimination clause and getting recognition for AllianceND, the overall movement aims to create a more tolerant, accepting environment on campus for [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] students,” Duranti said.

Emmanuel emphasized the importance of the sexual orientation clause in creating a more comfortable environment for both students and faculty members.

“Currently, much of campus doesn’t realize the trials gay faculty and students go through every day,” Emmanuel said. “Untenured faculty members may hide their sexual orientations for fear of being rejected from campus or losing their jobs with no explanation, and closeted students may have to hide who they are from their friends for fear of being cast out of their friend groups.”

Boston College, Fordham University, Georgetown University and Saint Mary’s College, all Catholic universities, include sexual orientation in their respective nondiscrimination clauses.

Duranti said the proposal to change the University’s nondiscrimination clause should not be construed as an attempt to challenge Church teachings.

“There’s a misperception that we’re challenging Church doctrine, but it’s more of a question as to how strong the protections are for students who deal with harassment combined with an overall culture that isn’t the most accepting,” Duranti said. “We’re trying to hold Notre Dame to its Catholic ideals of nondiscrimination and universal love for all people, so Notre Dame has a long way to go to live up to that.”

Dewey said the changes proposed by the petition may seem small but could prompt significant changes in the future.

“It’s really not that controversial, and it’s a pretty small change, but it could go a long way in making a difference in campus culture,” Dewey said. “All of us love being at Notre Dame, so for most people the absence of AllianceND doesn’t matter much, but it’s important for LGBT students.”

Emmanuel said several other student clubs are in favor of the petition, including MEChA, College Democrats and Feminist Voice, all of which have been helping to pass out petitions and to spread the word in general.