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viewpoint

Fighting for every inch of existence 

| Friday, March 12, 2021

Growing up, Notre Dame was the ideal school for me. Catholic education, football, hard classes, amazing professors, the most fantastic students on the planet and incredible merch — what more could you ask for? 

But as I got older and started discerning more about who I am in the world, I started to worry about what I had always seen as my beacon of opportunity. 

This process started as an 8th grader when I celebrated Halloween at my elementary school best friend’s house. Of course, instead of trick or treating, we played the greatest game of all time: spin the bottle. 

As I watched my friends spin I waited eagerly until it was my turn, my palms a little sweaty and my mind racing. When I spun I couldn’t believe it, I landed on a dude. My heart sunk with disgust; there was no way I was kissing another guy. So my friend to the left kissed him instead, and then she went again.

However in the days, weeks, and months that followed I had this feeling eating me up from the inside: I regretted not kissing him. 

As I dipped my toe into the scary arena that was high school I reckoned with the fact that I could possibly, maybe, potentially like guys. At the same time part of me thought that just could not be true—I, a Jesus-loving, football fanatic and Notre Dame enthusiast, couldn’t possibly be gay.

Years of fighting with myself, praying, and cursing my being pushed me towards a place of truly figuring out who I am. 

When the college process started I decided I would apply to Notre Dame, but was confident that I’d never actually end up going here (look how that turned out). Why in the world would I go to a medium-sized Catholic school in the Midwest? If I couldn’t feel comfortable with myself in uber progressive Seattle, how was I supposed to at a conservative Catholic school like Notre Dame?

However, through lots of debates and discussions with alums, family and friends, I decided Notre Dame really was the place for me. Choosing Notre Dame was difficult, not because I didn’t love it or because I didn’t think I would thrive here, but because I was worried I wouldn’t be able to be myself. 

I love Notre Dame with my full and entire being, but there are a lot of times where I feel that Notre Dame doesn’t love me back.

From Notre Dame still not changing the Non-Discrimination Clause (even after 50 years of student organizing) to having structures like parietals in place that disproportionately impact marginalized and low-income students. From hearing a guy at the dining tent table next to mine saying he wished he could “punch the crap out of all the f-slurs” to being put in a history class with a professor who has written articles attacking the “normalization of the LBGTQ [sic] agenda” and who in our first discussion group of the semester stated that my lesbian grandmas were “not a real family.” 

I’m not saying these personal experiences represent the Notre Dame community as a whole, but the structures and culture at Notre Dame make these instances more frequent and widespread. That makes it harder to truly feel comfortable with myself on this campus. 

It hurts so much to work so hard and for so long to get to a place where you feel comfortable with yourself to then backtrack on that progress because you feel like you can’t be your true self. This is what coming to Notre Dame has felt like, instead of tearing down the closet walls, slowly replastering and repainting the inside of the closet. 

We might be the Fighting Irish, but a community that forces some of its students to fight for every inch of their existence isn’t what we should aspire to be.

Yes, I as well as nearly everyone else here, chose to come. But maintaining structures and a culture that force students of color, queer students, low-income students, and other marginalized groups to continually make space for themselves and their voices makes it so Notre Dame can’t possibly be living up to its mission. A learning environment structurally invalidating certain groups, forcing students to fight to learn, hurts the entire intellectual community.

My story at Notre Dame has only just begun, but there are thousands more already lived and waiting to be told. In order to fully understand where we need to go as an institution towards truly making everyone feel welcome in the Notre Dame family, it’s imperative we understand where we have come from. 

These stories have power to enable understanding on where we stand as a community, a concrete illustration of how we can do better, and history gives us the knowledge necessary for progress.

Similar to the Black Domers book, a 2014 narrative collection of African American students at Notre Dame, we’re looking to compile stories of LGBTQ+ students, faculty, staff, and alums in the format of a book. You can nominate your story or a friend’s story at LGBTQDomers.com and help us in becoming more of the university we want Notre Dame to be.

Let’s work towards an environment where queer existence is a given and all of us can flourish in our most complete selves.

Dane Sherman

first-year

Mar. 3

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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