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Vigil responds to University

Nicole Michels | Friday, April 27, 2012

In response to the University declining to add sexual orientation to its non-discrimination clause April 25, students held a candlelight vigil on the Fieldhouse Mall on Thursday night. Members of the Notre Dame community expressed their personal reactions to the statement issued by the University on the non-discrimination clause and their resolve.

A University statement released Wednesday stated Notre Dame would not add sexual orientation to its non-discrimination clause, though it would work to increase the degree of inclusion of its lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) members. The University said it would do so by increasing awareness of its existing non-discrimination policies.

The statement stated there are plans to improve training of community members on treatment of LGBTQ issues and enhance the Core Council for Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Students .

Sophomore Mia Lillis, a member of Core Council, said in the wake of the statement’s release, supporters felt the need to respond collectively.

“We [held] this candlelight vigil to both stand in solidarity with those students who have experienced hardship under the current conditions at the University, and also as a response to the administration to indicate that we don’t feel as if this present dialogue is enough,” Lillis said.

LGBTQ community members and allies who have been pushing for the addition of sexual orientation to the non-discrimination clause feel this statement is not satisfactory, she said.

“Though the statement seems to have said there is going to be change to come, in reality this statement is saying that little to no change will happen, because the five initiatives outlined at the end of the statement are things that the University has been doing for the past fifteen years,” Lillis said. “We have plateaued, it is time to take the next step.”

Even more disquieting was the lack of explanation for the decision, Lillis said.

“One of the biggest problems with this statement is that the wording of the University’s non-discrimination clause remains in its current form,” Lillis said. “It doesn’t go into any detail as to why the University decided to deny that request.”

Lillis said she believes the University is unwilling to commit to its LGBTQ students, and as a result these members of the community are unable to develop a substantial relationship with the Notre Dame family.

“Obligation is a scary word, but it’s the reason that the administration doesn’t want to change the clause,” Lillis said. “They don’t want to be obligated to their gay students, they don’t want to have the obligation to stand up for us.”

Senior Samuel Costanzo, secretary of AllianceND, the unofficial gay-straight alliance [GSA] at the University, said he believes if sexual orientation were included in the non-discrimination clause, it would strengthen the sense of connection that LGBTQ students have to the campus community.

“If wording was present in the non-discrimination clause, it would contribute to a sense of trust that I don’t have something to fear from the administrative body or from the University as a whole, because legally the clause is there [that states] that I personally am an included party,” Costanzo said.

Freshman Lauren Morisseau, co-president of the Progressive Student Alliance (PSA), said LGBTQ students feel they still have to fight to belong to the campus community.

“People would feel safer, more protected,” Morisseau said. “I think it is sad for LGBTQ students that to get into this school is not the only acceptance that they’re looking for, [because] they also have to fight for another level of acceptance.”

This conditional inclusion prompted these students to look for other ways to find a home at Notre Dame, she said.

“When you look at Notre Dame, there is a huge emphasis on the ‘Notre Dame family,’ but there are a lot of people who feel that they are not included in this [Notre Dame] family for a variety of reasons, but sometimes it’s because they are considered a minority for their sexual orientation,” Morisseau said.

Sophomore Alex Coccia, co-president of PSA, said those looking to make Notre Dame a more inclusive community have had a variety of successes this year, but the conversation needs to continue. (Editor’s note: Coccia is a Viewpoint columnist for The Observer.)

“We have already seen success … this year has seen more of a push, more of a community-building movement than before,” Coccia said. “One of our goals at the beginning of the year was that the 4 to 5 Movement is about getting people to speak up because we recognize that we are a supportive majority – and we are at that point now.”

Coccia said progress has been evident through other initiatives started by both Notre Dame’s students and students at other universities. At Notre Dame, the focus should be to work to better embody its claims of community, he said.

“I think that all of [those successes] have contributed to raising awareness on campus, making clear that this should be a campus priority if we are to talk about truly being a healing, unifying and enlightening university,” Coccia said.

Lillis said if the administration approves AllianceND’s application to gain official recognition as a club, the needs of the LGBTQ community would be better addressed.

“Some students are going to need to seek help from other visible students who are not tied to the administration, who could for example be a part of a [GSA],” Lillis said.

Costanzo said a GSA would enhance the support offered by existing organizations.

“It is sometimes easier to talk with someone who might have had an experience … or who might have been related to someone that has had a similar experience,” Costanzo said. “A student group would be an additional part complimenting the pre-existing structures that the University refers to … some people need one thing, some people need another, and some people need a combination, but that shouldn’t preclude the actual club’s existence.”

Costanzo said he envisions the greatest change to the community atmosphere coming from student efforts to live out the spirit of inclusion.

“The administration can provide important resources, which are good and they have a purpose, but in terms of the student body getting on board and really accepting substantial change in the campus culture to really live out this spirit of inclusion, then everybody has to be engaged so that they think very carefully about how they act and how they treat other people,” he said.