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Work together, not apart

| Thursday, August 27, 2015

Toward the end of the spring semester, I watched from afar as Saint Mary’s students and alumnae signed a petition to get President Mooney’s attention about sexual assaults at Saint Mary’s in the wake of the viewing of “The Hunting Ground.” When students sat down with her for a meeting a few days later, she made it very clear that it was hard to work with Notre Dame. Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s have always had a special relationship, and it seems to me they should work together on this important issue.

On Sept. 10, 2010, exactly 22 days into my freshman year of college at Saint Mary’s, I came home from my Italian class only to find ambulances and police everywhere as a student was brought down in a stretcher and taken to the hospital. For the next few hours, the freshman dorm I lived in was basically on lockdown as RAs went from room to room pleading with us to stay still in light of a crisis. They did not tell us what was going on, and rumors began to circulate. Later we would receive an email from Dr. Mooney telling us a student had died, Lizzy Seeburg, the girl who lived across the hall from me.

I was not friends with her and didn’t know her beyond hellos in the bathroom, but over the next few weeks she was constantly in everyone’s thoughts. I watched as one of her closest friends cried through most of the next week of classes. I watched her parents come from the service, and I watched as all the details of the sexual assault came to light.

With every detail, Saint Mary’s students became angrier and angrier towards Notre Dame for how they handled the case, then at the end of freshman year, the story hit closer to home. One of my friends was sexually assaulted by her boyfriend and spent the next six months bringing charges against him at Notre Dame, but to no avail. She later tried to kill herself and was asked to leave by the University, transferring away in the fall.

In 2012, there was a sexual assault on a Notre Dame student near the Grotto, and the suspect was seen taking off down Saint Mary’s Road towards Saint Mary’s, knife in hand. I remember it clearly because Notre Dame was sent an alert but not Saint Mary’s. Students at Notre Dame began texting their friends at Saint Mary’s, and my wonderful boyfriend at the time told me not to go outside that night. It seems that while Saint Mary’s security dropped the ball with alerting us, the students at both campuses made up for the lapse, passing the message around until everyone knew. It would be so easy for the two security forces to communicate and yet it seems so rare.

One fourth of women in college will be sexually assaulted, and that is just the number reported; in the sexual assault training we had at Saint Mary’s, it was thought to be one third because so much is not reported. Notre Dame is the most wonderful community in the world. I have seen us come together for tragedy and victory alike. I love Notre Dame just as much as I love Saint Mary’s, though some Saint Mary’s students and staff have gotten the impression that for Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s College is the little sister in the relationship, annoying and to be ignored. This issue is bigger than any relationship problems the two schools might have and the presidents of both schools need to work together in order to help create a safer space for women of both schools for the upcoming school year and future years to come. The community is too intertwined not to.

The ring I wear every day says Saint Mary’s-Notre Dame. The founders of the two schools, who worked together frequently, would be devastated to see the divide today.

Alex Penler

Class of 2014

Apr. 29

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