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Movement opens campus dialogue on GLBT issues

Marisa Iati | Thursday, January 19, 2012

Through the 4 to 5 Movement, the Progressive Student Alliance (PSA) is trying to bridge the gap between students that identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender (GLBT) and their straight allies, said senior Jackie Emmanuel, co-president of PSA.

“Sometimes a lot of straight students really aren’t aware of the problems that GLBT students face, or if they are aware and want to be supportive, don’t necessarily know where to go or how to be supportive in the correct way,” Emmanuel said.

Senior Joanna Whitfield, vice president of PSA, said the Movement aims to inform students about GLBT civil rights and mobilize them to action.

“PSA [in general] tends to be about large gatherings, and 4 to 5 is more about awareness, education, more minor changes around campus,” she said.

Although the 4 to 5 Movement officially began in August, Whitfield said it was sparked by a campus visit on March 28 from Brian Sims, the first openly gay college football captain in the NCAA.

Sims told attendees that four out of five college students or college-educated people between the ages of 18 and 30 in the United States support the general package of gay civil rights, but believe only one out of three support that package.

Emmanuel said this creates the illusion that supporters of GLBT rights are in the minority.

“The remaining fifth person is often very loud, and because there’s almost this silent majority, they don’t necessarily think their peers will agree with them if they stand up to the fifth person,” she said.

Emmanuel said PSA hosted a panel presentation about how allies can support members of the GLBT community in December. PSA also sponsored Notre Dame Coming Out Day in October, created informational signs and posters, co-sponsored events with the Core Council for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Questioning Students and distributed promotional T-shirts and pins.

PSA plans to host another speaker or panel discussion this semester, Emmanuel said.

“We’ll probably do at least one person-to-person event like cookouts [or a] picnic on the quad to invite people to open up discussion with each other,” she said. “Often, having a place to have dialogue is a big step. We’re probably going to have another education session sometime this semester.”

Emmanuel said these events are meant to ease the sensitivity of GLBT issues, especially in a conservative campus atmosphere that poses challenges for PSA.

“Occasionally, there are a couple of people that are outspoken against us, but overwhelmingly, the campus is supportive,” she said.

Whitfield added that some people did not support their view, but ultimately their combative actions helped PSA in the end.

“When we put up the ‘Did you know?’ posters [to promote GLBT civil rights], there were a few locations where people tore them up, but the counter-response was so supportive,” she said.

PSA members also checked with teachers and campus administrators to ensure the language used in their programs was appropriate, accepting and not confrontational, Whitfield said.

Emmanuel believes the way students perceive GLBT issues has changed since she came to Notre Dame three-and-a-half years ago.

“Since PSA has been working on changes, we’ve definitely seen a difference in general in attitudes on campus,” she said. “We had a couple of goals last year that were eventually realized, like Core Council getting a space on campus in [the LaFortune Student Center].”