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What Notre Dame risks in its tilt to the political right

| Monday, September 28, 2020

“Did you watch the game last weekend?” my family and friends ask me. “Us against Florida State — we shut them out.”

“No,” I reply. “I had a really busy weekend, and I was running some errands.”

The honest answer? As a queer woman married to another woman, as a former senior-level employee at Planned Parenthood who cares deeply about women’s rights and as a proud Catholic, I find it harder and harder for me to donate to or to meaningfully engage with my alma mater, much less don the Shirt and cheer on our football team every Saturday.

At our core, we are a Catholic university — our identity should transcend political party lines and our words and actions should center around a spirit of inclusion. By these two measures, though, Notre Dame leadership has recently failed on both counts: First, in recent months they have brought Notre Dame more narrowly down one particular political path; second, and more egregiously, they have failed to stand up for the basic rights of those in our University family.

I have always appreciated that you shouldn’t be able to reduce Catholicism to a clear-cut political label. In my time as a student, these characteristics of campus led to rich discussion, appreciation for diversity of thought and — in a good way — occasional discomfort. However, as I read about Notre Dame faculty members’ attendance at Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination announcement this weekend and saw the news that Notre Dame negotiated a settlement with the Trump administration to allow them to deny birth control coverage to students and employees, I was disappointed by my alma mater. In engaging more and more deeply with the current U.S. president, the Republican party and politically conservative ideologies, Notre Dame increasingly ties itself to a particular political slant.

The University may say their support for Judge Barrett only goes as far as supporting her skills as a jurist and that the birth control settlement was an important defense of religious freedom. That’s fair. In an abstract way, this gentle alignment could be construed as neutral or harmless.

However, these words and actions are concerning when considered against the context of what is not being said by University leadership. As a member of the LGBTQ community, for example, my right to not be discriminated against is still not fully acknowledged. It is confusing and hurtful to see Notre Dame recently update its policies on discriminatory and sexual harassment but continue to fail to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” from its notice of non-discrimination, especially in light of Fr. Jenkins’ support of public figures, such as Judge Barrett, who seem to oppose marriage equality. When not paired with a full-throated defense of basic human rights, members of the Notre Dame family and the broader community are left to read between the lines of the university’s recent “neutral” words and actions.

It is now almost October and the fall season is upon us. Yet far more is at stake than our standing in the college football rankings this autumn: It is a critical election year, up and down the ballot. I am not being hyperbolic when I say that our basic rights — the rights of women, the LGBTQ community, immigrants and vulnerable people across this country — are at stake this fall. Whatever your political slant (or your religious beliefs, for that matter), I urge you to “open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:9) in the ballot box, and in your day-to-day concern for fellow members of the Notre Dame family.

Emmie Mediate

class of 2015

Sept. 27

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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