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Core Council reflects on future

Kristen Durbin | Thursday, December 6, 2012

In the wake of the University’s announcement of its plans for expanding resources for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning (GLBTQ) students through the creation of a new student organization, professional staff position and advisory board, members of the existing Core Council for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Questioning Students will continue to play an integral role in the transition to the new structures of support.

Sophomore Core Council member Lauren Morisseau said the group, which has been involved in both programming and advising, will effectively translate into the proposed advisory board, which will be expanded from its current six undergraduate members to include graduate students and faculty members.

“Core Council is already in kind of an attenuated version of itself because it’s already gone back to its roots as an advisory council, so we’ll continue to be involved in that capacity,” she said. “[The council] is going to remain in place as it is needed because some things still need to be worked out and … it really is the group of people who have stood as the voice.”

Senior Core Council member Karl Abad said this group of students will bridge the current and future structures of support for GLBTQ students.

“Until [the plan] is fully implemented, we’re going to be sort of an active placeholder, a bookmark for the next chapter of our lives,” he said.

The creation of the advisory board in conjunction with the student organization will allow for increased delegation and specialization of responsibilities, Morisseau and Abad said, which will help direct the focus of each entity more clearly.

“[The advisory board] will be kind of a spinoff of Core Council, but what they’re going to focus on is advising and transferring programming out,” Morisseau said. “That’s something that will be really healthy for the community this is serving but also for the Notre Dame community in general.”

Additionally, Morisseau said Core Council members who are active in student organizations and clubs that have been involved in the conversations about GLBTQ support systems will continue to do so in the future.

“I think the members won’t cease to have a voice. Some of us I assume will end up on that advisory council,” she said. “I think the transition will be fluid and gradual, but it probably won’t be officially completed until around the time the professional is hired.”

Morisseau and Abad said while the current timeline for hiring a professional advisor for the unnamed student organization is not definite, both students and administrators hope to have that person in place by next fall.

“If someone perfect comes around, [the administration] will hire them, but it just depends,” Abad said. “Students will have a part in saying whether we agree with [appointing] this person as well, so there’s a collaboration between students and administrators … because we’re keeping a close discussion about what we want and need from someone in this position.”

That collaboration has been “unprecedented” throughout the five-month long process of formulating a strategic plan for GLBTQ resources at Notre Dame, especially after decades of advocacy on the part of students without achieving concrete results, Morisseau said.

“It’s been an extremely collaborative process, and I think that’s been extremely powerful in building trust and relationships with the administration and understanding where they’re coming from knowing they do have our best interests in mind,” she said.

Throughout the process of restructuring GLBTQ resources, Abad and Morisseau said students and administrators engaged in a necessary symbiotic relationship of education and strategic planning, the latter of which came primarily from working with vice president for Student Affairs Erin Hoffmann Harding.

“I think at first our job was very much to educate [administrators] because I feel like from their standpoint there’s a burden of knowledge to understand,” Abad said. “I feel like Erin’s prior position in strategic planning and the dialogue she had with us really pushed our thinking.”

“We all needed each other. [The administrators] needed our testimony, and we needed their position and advocacy,” Morisseau said. “They can’t know what’s wrong unless students tell them, so there was a lot of eye-opening. I would say from there it was all about balancing each other’s needs.”

Although Harding, her chief of staff, Karen Kennedy, and other administrators could identify a range of student needs, Morisseau said students helped the administrators understand their priorities.

“They could see a whole spread of student needs, but they didn’t know which were more important until students told them, ‘We prioritize this over this,'” she said. “They were able to stratify needs from there, and that’s how things like the ‘T’ [transgender] got involved.”

In some of the monthly meetings between Core Council and administrators, Morisseau said Harding identified the absence of transgender students from the conversation as an issue.

“She picked up on it and we verified it,” Morisseau said.

Abad said he felt transparency increased between students and administrators throughout the process.

“All the senior staff we worked with made clear what their purpose was in this,” he said. “They really wanted to address the trust issue between administrators and students.”

After months of open discussion, Morisseau said her initial ambivalence about the administration has faded away.

“Since this whole process began this fall, that idea of them as an adversary has really just dissolved because you kind of understand we’re all part of this community and everybody fills different roles,” she said. “We need each other in this.”

Although students who submitted a proposal for a gay-straight alliance (GSA) focused primarily on obtaining official club status for that group, Morisseau said that goal changed as a result of collaborating with administrators to determine the most effective solution.

“As a student, I don’t think I would have come up with this structure because I’m not a student affairs professional,” she said. “I think that was really where the collaboration became really valuable because there were definitely some conversations where it sounded like we made compromises, but when I look at it today, it seems like a huge leap forward.”

Engaging in an in-depth analysis of the current structures and the needs of students gave the proposed structure much more breadth and permanence due to the creation of a student organization, a new advisory board and the new staff position, Morisseau said.

“The breadth we’re getting from this broad review far exceeds what we were expecting … and in that sense, I’m very grateful,” she said. “I think the University really decided to commit and did it in a classic Notre Dame style with a lot of integrity. I’m really grateful to [University President] Fr. John Jenkins, Erin, Karen and everyone who … has treated this with respect and been extremely thoughtful and thorough.”

Abad said administrators also took care to ensure the focus of the decision process was confined to conversations between the Notre Dame community and themselves, rather than allowing for influence from outside opinions.

“[The administration] really gave their input on why they made these decisions. It was never arbitrary,” he said. “We’re trying to satiate and weaken the outside forces from affecting us here because if we don’t do this right the first time around it’s going to be negative for everybody.”

Once the new structures are more fully implemented, Morisseau said she and her peers hope to create a peer educator program similar to the Gender Relations Center’s FireStarters.

But for now, Abad said the primary focus will be maintaining the general discourse and message of current programs during the transition to more open, effective structures of support for the GLBTQ community and Notre Dame as a whole.

“We want to make it clear that we are excited for the changes, but keeping dialogue going is important because there are still things to be settled,” he said. “Past leaders of this movement have kept their vision clear and it’s been passed down, and now it’s coming to fruition.”