Grotto service reflects on sexual assault
Rachel O'Grady | Monday, March 21, 2016
Students gathered to pray for healing Friday afternoon at the Grotto in response to a Feb. 24 off-campus sexual assault reported by a Notre Dame student to the South Bend Police Department.
Dan Sehlhorst, former student body chief of staff, offered a reflection on the reported assault.
“Community, charity, hope, heart, zeal, family, love. As we stand here together in this beautiful grotto, these words awake within our hearts a feeling of what it means to be a member of the Notre Dame community. At Notre Dame, we always hear that we stand for more than just learning in the classroom, success on the field or discovery in the lab,” Sehlhorst said.
Sehlhorst said Notre Dame stands for justice, unique human dignity and “standing for each other.”
“As I look at the group of us today, I sense that that feeling runs deeper in our hearts. Today, however, we also grapple with another set of feelings,” he said.
According to Sehlhorst, the University community fell short of its “mandate and our collective responsibility to meet the demands of our Catholic mission.”
“It is imperative to accept our burden in a culture that does not do enough to prevent violence,” he said.
Sehlhorst said public support for preventing sexual violence on campus was strong at the beginning of the fall semester.
“It was bolstered further by a string of reports of sexual assault during the first weeks back on campus. Students, faculty and staff called for change. Students began to mobilize, many impassioned discussions were held, and the anger around sexual violence was palpable on campus,” he said.
Sehlhorst said he felt that same feeling deeply, and saw it in others on campus. However, he said he saw this anger fade as the year went on.
“Then midterms rolled around. Then finals. Holidays crept closer, which meant for me … a growing list of to-dos. Job applications stacked up, as did the assignments and the reading materials. And with the distractions of my day-to-day life, I stopped asking questions about what was next in the fight against sexual violence,” he said.
Sehlhorst said he forgot what it meant to be part of the community and thus what it meant to stand for one another.
“Perhaps you’ve felt the pressure for change lessen in your heart too. Perhaps you, too, forgot. Let this moment together serve as a wake up call for all of us. Today is not only a moment of shortcomings and brokenness … our presence here today sends another signal,” he said.
The prayer service sends a message of hope across the community, Sehlhorst said.
“We hope for a fuller, stronger, more just Notre Dame — safe from the threat of sexual violence and healed from the wounds of sexual violence,” he said.
Sehlhorst said he dreams of a Notre Dame fully devoted to the care of each individual and a community unified in its commitment to preventing sexual violence.
“This commitment of heart must also translate into tangible action. When you hear an inappropriate sexual joke, speak up. When friends put themselves in unsafe situations, do not let it slide. Write the Viewpoint demanding greater transparency on sexual assault cases. When the weekends come around be aware of your surroundings. Don’t let friends leave without the group,” he said.
The prayer service concluded with the Alma Mater, and attendees each lit a candle in solidarity with survivors of sexual assault.
At the end of his reflection, Sehlhorst said he encourages students to take responsibility for one another.
“This task will not be easy. It will not be quick. But it is our task, our calling … let us never forget who we are as a Notre Dame family. Let us never forget to stand for each other,” he said.