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PrismND establishes bylaws, unites allies

MARISA IATI | Thursday, December 12, 2013

Although student body president Alex Coccia does not identify LGBTQ concerns as a priority of his administration, he said student government supported the implementation of the University’s “Beloved Friends and Allies” pastoral plan. 

Specifically, Coccia said he and student body vice president Nancy Joyce sat on the selection panel for the assistant director who would address LGBTQ student concerns. He said he also named a student representative to the advisory committee on LGBTQ issues to Vice President for Student Affairs Erin Hoffmann Harding.

“One of our recommendations in the [Oct. 17] Board of Trustees report was that the [advisory] council meet regularly … that it gets off to a good start,” Coccia said. “The purpose is essentially to gauge campus climate on LGBTQ inclusion and help make recommendations to [Hoffmann Harding] as we move forward on this issue.”

In the report to the Student Affairs Committee of the Board of Trustees, Coccia’s administration recommended the advisory committee meet for the first time no later than Thanksgiving break and gather four times in the spring 2014 semester. The administration also suggested the Office of Student Affairs “engage in action-oriented conversation regarding transgender students in the University housing system.” 

In his May 1 State of the Student Union address, Coccia said his administration backed the LGBTQ student organization PrismND, and reiterated his administration’s support in an interview with The Observer.

“We plan to fully support the implementation of the new LGBTQ and ally student organization as it is incorporated into the student unions… and we look forward to the honor of co-sponsoring one of their initial events,” Coccia said in the address.

This group now can assume the role played by the former LGBTQ student group, which operated without official University approval.

“Students had a huge victory a year ago, which was the recognition of the LGBTQ student group,” Coccia said. “Many of the efforts that I think were necessary [before] … can now be facilitated by PrismND.”

The founding members of PrismND began to develop the group’s bylaws last semester, Coccia said. 

“Then we started to formalize them a bit more, make the language consonant with what organization languages are and what organization bylaws look like, which includes components of funding and membership and meeting logistics,” he said. “Then it was back-and-forth conversation … to ensure that the bylaws were solid and reflective of what the purpose of the organization was.”

Sophomore Connor Hayes, co-president of PrismND, said the club finalized its bylaws in early October, with the exception of one part that was solidified earlier this week. 

Co-president Bryan Ricketts said PrismND’s first major event was a celebration of National Coming Out Day on Oct. 11. The group set up “closet” structures outside DeBartolo Hall and the LaFortune Student Center and encouraged students to “come out” as anything – a member of the LGBTQ community, a fan of country music, a peace studies major or something else. 

Ricketts, a sophomore, said PrismND also sponsored a National Coming Out Day lunch with Pasquerilla East Hall. He said two speakers at the lunch discussed the concept of coming out both from an academic perspective and on a personal level. 

PrismND’s other main event this semester was StaND Against Hate Week from Nov. 4 through 8, Hayes said. The week, which the Gender Relations Center and Multicultural Student Programs and Services co-sponsored, featured a “What It Means to be an Ally” dinner, two lectures and a candlelight prayer service. 

Hayes said,between 20 and 30 people attend the group’s organizational meetings, every other week. He said next semester PrismND will hold separate meetings in which people can discuss issues they face.

The organizational meetings do not serve this function because they are mainly meant as time for planning events, Ricketts said.

“They’re not necessarily a space where community can grow,” he said. “We want to have a space where people can just come and talk about issues on campus, issues they’re having, issues they see in the world outside of the Notre Dame bubble.” 

PrismND aims to be a welcoming space for all parts of the LGBTQ and ally communities on campus, Hayes said. 

“We want to make sure that [the group] doesn’t develop some sort of reputation of being associated with certain things, associated with certain parts of the University. Someone could be like, ‘Oh, that’s a liberal part of the University, and I identify as gay, but I’m kind of conservative, and I don’t think I feel at home there.’ 

“That kind of thing – making sure that it is as inclusive as possible. … I think that’s kind of a guiding principle to a lot of things that we do.”

Hayes said now that PrismND’s working dynamics are established, the group aims to host more programming next semester. 

LGBTQ concerns remain a “very personal priority” for Coccia, he said. 

“We’ve really come to a new step in campus culture,” Coccia said. “The way I like to frame it … is two-and-a-half years ago, the question was, ‘Are you an ally?’ … The question now is, ‘Why wouldn’t you be an ally?’

“Student government’s role in this respect, I think, is continually providing a support for that.”

Contact Marisa Iati at [email protected]