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GSA gains traction

Kristen Durbin | Thursday, August 23, 2012

While most Notre Dame students left campus and their extracurricular pursuits for the summer, members of the Progressive Student Alliance’s (PSA) 4 to 5 Movement and AllianceND have worked to maintain the momentum their groups gained late last semester in their advocacy on behalf of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community on campus.

That momentum peaked when the University deferred its May decision on the approval of AllianceND, a student gay-straight alliance, as an officially recognized club until early in the fall 2012 semester, according to the group’s deferral letter from Peggy Hnatusko, director of student activities for programming. The coalition’s summer efforts included asking members of the extended Notre Dame family – students, families, friends – to share their personal accounts of why a gay-straight alliance is important to the University and its students in particular, junior PSA co-president Alex Coccia said. [Editor’s Note: Coccia is a columnist for The Observer].

“Part of what we stressed at the end of the semester when the decision came out was including student voices in this review, so we asked people to write in their personal responses through channels like Facebook and our website,” he said. “We’ve gotten 190 responses, all well-written, some of which are very short or very long, include personal stories or draw on experiences at Notre Dame.”

Coccia said several responses focus on Notre Dame’s mission as a place where “learning becomes service to justice,” as well as principles of theology. The group plans to give the collected responses to Vice President for Student Affairs Erin Hoffmann Harding.

Sophomore Lauren Morisseau, PSA co-president, said the written responses convey widespread support for the LGBT community at Notre Dame and its goals for the future.

“It’s amazing to read through names I’ve never seen before, and it shows the breadth of how far this [movement] has reached and the connection it’s made to students,” she said.

Additionally, the coalition received input from outside the Notre Dame community, Coccia said.

“People at other Catholic universities wrote in to talk about their experiences and the good gay-straight alliances have done for them there,” he said. “Boston College also reached out to us on Twitter, and a few other universities have joined our coalition and expressed their support, so that’s been great.”

Morisseau said that display of outside support demonstrates camaraderie between college students around the country.

“Sometimes there’s rivalry between colleges, but over this, there’s really no rivalry,” she said. “They want the best for us, and that’s a beautiful thing.”
Within the Notre Dame community, the 4 to 5 Movement has a “greater calling” than simply achieving club recognition for AllianceND, Coccia said.

“[Getting AllianceND recognized] is a substantial part of what we’re aiming for, but it has a greater calling to make change to the student body environment,” he said. “I think we reached a real high point last semester, so as we continue with semester activities, we will always aim to create a more welcoming, inclusive environment.”

Coccia said the coalition’s primary focus at the moment is updating freshmen and new students about the current situation on campus through several media.

“It’s refreshing to know that many freshmen already know about [the 4 to 5 Movement] unsolicited, and student initiative has been very high just in the first weekend with people taking it upon themselves to make the experience for freshmen in Frosh-O, dorm life and club life more inclusive on campus,” Coccia said.

Senior AllianceND officer Karl Abad said he hopes to see the enthusiasm continue.

“We have to keep the momentum up going into the semester,” Abad said. “All the fame and publicity the 4 to 5 Movement has gotten has been amazing for getting the message out there that something has to be done and something has to change here.”

Morisseau said the success of the 4 to 5 Movement so far has sparked dialogue among members of the Notre Dame community.

“Even the general conversation has a different vibe. When I came here last fall, nobody talked casually about issues of gender, gender identity or sexual orientation,” Morisseau said. “It’s interesting to see friends come back and all of a sudden want to talk about [LGBT inclusion] more after having something broaden their view over summer. People are casually talking about this, and it’s kind of a mainstream topic, which is amazing.”

Another way the campus environment has  changed is the creation of the Core Room in the LaFortune Student Center, which serves as a space for members of Core Council and allies to come together, Abad said.

“We really needed a physical space. The [Core Council] was really ambiguous before and no one really knew exactly what it was,” he said. “Now we have the opportunity to reconstruct it, so it’s very important to keep pressure on the administration for them to act and think about it.”

Over the past year, the Core Council underwent some major changes in leadership when Sr. Sue Dunn, former assistant vice president for student affairs, left her position at the University. In doing so, Dunn left Core Council without a co-chair from the administration. Former vice president for student affairs Fr. Tom Doyle’s departure from his position also shook up the Council’s operations, Abad said.

“Because the structure for Core Council was so deconstructed and dismantled last semester, it was confusing on one hand,” he said. “But at the same time, I think it instigated a spark in the administration, so maybe this is a time to look things over for review and see what things can be changed.”

While the Core Council succeeds in terms of administration and programming, Abad said the organization has also been used as a limitation in the approval process for AllianceND.

“We’ve been told we already have the Core Council, so why would we need AllianceND as well?” he said. “What should we be doing about Core Council if we want AllianceND to be approved at the same time? We need to figure out what we want.”

Abad said the proposed AllianceND would help bridge the LGBT and ally communities at Notre Dame in an inclusive environment.

“AllianceND would provide a sense of community which I feel is very lacking. You can come to Coffee in CoMo every few weeks, but it doesn’t feel like a community you can go back to,” he said. “It would provide a safe, welcoming environment where people can meet and learn about what they’re going through.”

Abad said the proposed club aligns with Christian beliefs, especially in terms of its service component, which would include outreach to local high schools and LGBT centers.

“We are planning to be very involved in the Michiana community,” he said. “Notre Dame is meant to be helpful, enlightening and loving, so we need to make it pertinent that AllianceND is necessary because at the moment, the LGBT community doesn’t have those resources it needs to feel like it’s getting the same treatment.”

Although the coalition is remaining “cautiously optimistic” about the upcoming approval decision, Abad said this time feels different from before due to support from all corners of the Notre Dame community.

“Before, it was just the gay community alone voicing its concerns, but I feel like the ally voice is a lot more important in this movement because it’s not directly affecting them per se,” he said. “The fact that straight students are very concerned about this issue should bring up red flags for the University.”  

More information about the 4 to 5 Movement and AllianceND, including the latter’s proposed constitution, can be found on the 4 to 5 Movement Facebook page.