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University looks to hire LGBTQ liaison

Megan Doyle | Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Office of Student Affairs has posted a job description and started the hiring process for a new staff member who will focus on providing services and support to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) students and their allies at Notre Dame.


Brian Coughlin, associate vice president for Student Affairs, said the administration hopes to make a hire for the position no later than July 1.

The job posting comes three months after the University took major steps toward improving the campus climate for LGBTQ students. In December, University President Fr. John Jenkins announced a plan to establish a “new support and service organization” for LGBTQ students and their allies, a new advisory committee and this full-time student development position.

At the time of that announcement, Jenkins and vice president for Student Affairs Erin Hoffmann Harding could only provide the basics of this new administrator’s job. Harding said this new administrator would be responsible for advising the planned LGBTQ student organization, among other roles.

“That person will play several roles associated with a student organization: to serve as advisor; that person will participate on a new advisory committee that will work with and give input to my office; and lastly, will be responsible for the consistency of the training and awareness that we build over time,” Harding said in a December interview.

With this job posting, however, more details about the new staff member are emerging. The position, officially titled the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) Student Initiatives Assistant Director, is listed under the umbrella of the Gender Relations Center (GRC). Coughlin said the new staff member will report to GRC director Christine Caron Gebhardt, but he or she will also be an integral member of that new advisory committee on LGBTQ issues to the vice president for Student Affairs.

The posting, which can be found on jobs.nd.edu, described this staff member as having a special focus on students who identify as LGBTQ.

“The professional staff person will spearhead and evaluate all education initiatives particularly relating to LGBTQ needs within the GRC but also in collaboration with student organizations, other departments and centers across campus,” the posting states.

One of the primary roles this position will play is that of advisor for the developing LGBTQ student organization, Coughlin said.

“In that capacity, they will act as any other advisor to a student organization,” he said. “Think of it in terms of how the [Student Activities Office] advisors work with class councils or the Shirt Project and Bookstore Basketball.”

The posting continues to emphasize Notre Dame’s Catholic character in relation to the work of this new staff member in areas such as programming.

“Last, the position requires the implementation of best practices in programming on relationships, sexual identity and sexual orientation consistent with the University’s Catholic mission,” the job description states. “Ultimately this position promotes the moral formation of college students and embraces the Catholic identity, mission and values as it relates to sexual orientation and sexual identity.”

Coughlin said this staff member and the new student group will work together to program events that encourage education, growth and development. Just like any other student organization advisor, the new staff member will provide guidance, mentoring and advice on topics and programming, Coughlin said. But the students themselves will primarily plan and execute these events.

The LGBTQ Student Initiatives Assistant Director will also train students as peer educators, like the FIRE Starters in the GRC or Pillars members in the Office of Alcohol and Drug Education, who can speak specifically to LGBTQ issues. He or she would also collaborate with other departments on pastoral care concerning sexual identity, as well as lead outreach through social media and other communication resources.

Junior Alex Coccia served as the co-president of the Progressive Student Alliance (PSA) and helped found the 4-to-5 Movement during his sophomore year to increase campus conversations on inclusion at Notre Dame. When he reviewed the posting for the LGBTQ Student Initiatives Assistant Director, he called the position description “very fulfilling.”

“I appreciate the emphasis on collaborative nature and building these relationships between the staff advisor and all different offices and different student groups,” Coccia said. “I think that’s one of the most important aspects in making sure the conversation of LGBTQ concerns … does not die down.”
Coccia is now preparing to assume the role of student body president April 1. His administration will be critical to the development of the proposed LGBTQ organization, and Coccia will most likely work regularly with this new administrator.

“It’s got to be someone that is very comfortable working with students and working with students on a one-on-one level, not as an advisor but as a mentor,” Coccia said. “Someone who is extremely approachable, someone you could easily stop … for conversation.”

The range of background experience in the job posting lends itself to a “holistic” approach to personal development and LGBTQ issues, Coccia said.
The minimum qualifications for applicants include a bachelor’s degree ideally in theology, gender studies, psychology, sociology or a related field with three or more years in ministry or administration, the job description stated, and a master’s degree is a preferred qualification.

Applicants should also have “awareness of Catholic character, mission and values as it relates to issues of relationships, sexual identity and sexuality” and “specialized training in sexual identity and moral formation.” Experience working with both male and female college students is also required.

“The fact that this person would have experience with working with students in all different areas … they mentioned in terms of theology, sociology, gender studies, I think that’s a very healthy background coming into a position like this where you’re going to have to be, as an advisor, very respectful of people’s identities,” Coccia said.

Sophomore Lauren Morisseau, current co-president of the Progressive Student Alliance (PSA) and a member of the Core Council, said she is “very pleased” with the job description for this new position.

“I think that it reflects the level of care and the thorough job the administration has done so far,” she said. “They’ve really taken our feedback … into consideration, and I’m extremely hopeful as to what that will yield.”

As the hiring process begins, Morisseau said she also hopes the new director will be a “warm and open person who is comfortable relating to and communicating with young people.”

“Dealing with sexuality in Catholicism can be complicated, but as long as we can all communicate and be open to each other’s stories, we can build a strong organization that can serve the needs of the Notre Dame LGBTQ and ally communities for years to come,” she said.