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The hypocrisy of inclusion at Notre Dame

| Thursday, March 4, 2021

One of my favorite things to do when returning to campus after a long break from school is to walk or drive directly up Notre Dame Avenue. Along this route you are greeted by Mother Mary standing atop the Golden Dome, arms open at her sides. Closer down God Quad, you are welcomed by the statue of Fr. Basil Moreau, his hands clasped, facing South Quad. Turn right and past North Quad, you find yourself staring up at the Word of Life Mural, more commonly known as Touchdown Jesus. Here, Christ the Redeemer’s arms are wide and raised, seemingly in a symbol of praise or triumph. This path reminds me of the beauty of campus and just how lucky I am to be here. I feel embraced and welcomed by Mary, Fr. Moreau and Jesus Christ. But this embrace is not for everyone. For those in the LGTBQ+ community taking the same walk, the arms of Mary, Fr. Moreau and Jesus are crossed.

Notre Dame can legally discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity when it comes to hiring and admission practices.

How so? Our Lady’s University specifically omits those two identifiers in its statement on Equal Employment Opportunity. As a note, as of 2020, Notre Dame does include sexual orientation and gender identity in its policy on Discriminatory Harassment, but the same protections are not applied in its statement on Equal Employment Opportunity. Namely, once at Notre Dame, all individuals are protected against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity but not throughout the application process. 

Now some might think that discrimination of this nature is commonplace among Catholic universities in the United States, and decades ago, it might have been. But not anymore. Ten catholic colleges and universities specifically outlawed discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in their statement of non-discrimination (Fordham, Villanova, University of San Diego, Loyola of Chicago, Marquette, University of Missouri-Saint Louis, Holy Cross, Santa Clara and Loyola Marymount). Four Catholic colleges or universities specifically outlawed discrimination based on sexual identity and gave no mention of gender identity (Georgetown, Boston College, Saint Mary’s and University of Portland). One university (Catholic University) follows Notre Dame by not including any mention of sexual orientation or gender identity. This is not a Catholic problem; this is a Notre Dame problem. Almost all of our peer institutions have come to understand the importance of diversity and inclusiveness, and they have opened their hearts to change. Meanwhile, Notre Dame remains steadfast in its desire to discriminate, its back turned against acceptance. 

Nelisha Silva | The Observer

This discriminatory policy is not only harmful towards members of the LGTBQ+ community — and therefore harmful towards all of God’s children — it’s harmful to the University of Notre Dame. According to a recent Gallup Poll, 15.9% of Americans between the ages of 18 to 23 identify as LGBTQ+. That number is up almost 7% compared to millennials, and most experts predict it will continue to rise. While the rise in those numbers should be celebrated across the United States, they spell disaster for institutions stuck in outdated and exclusionary practices. Our University is missing out on incredible talent and much-needed diversity; it’s a lose-lose.

Here’s something even more troubling for Notre Dame. No other top-tier university is experiencing this same challenge. According to the U.S. News and World Report, Notre Dame ranks 19th in best undergraduate U.S. colleges and universities. Of the 18 academic institutions ahead of Notre Dame, 17 of them outlaw any discrimination in their hiring or acceptance practices based on sexual identity and gender orientation. The single other university, Columbia, bans discrimination based on sexual orientation, just not gender identity. Notre Dame is alone — a relic of an exclusionary and embarrassing past. To survive, it must adapt. Whether or not Notre Dame actively discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identification, the very fact that they could will likely serve as a deterrent for many possible applicants.

Possibly the most frustrating thing about this policy is Notre Dame’s hypocrisy on the issue. On the Office of Institutional Equality webpage, there is a document titled “Spirit of Inclusion.” It states, “We prize the uniqueness of all persons as God’s creatures. We welcome all people, regardless of color, gender, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, social or economic class and nationality, for example, precisely because of Christ’s calling to treat others as we desire to be treated.” It goes on to laud the importance of inclusion and community, frequently evoking Christ as the motivation of such acceptance, and I agree! The only problem is that The Spirit of Inclusion isn’t a legally binding policy.

The legally binding policy is Notre Dame’s Equal Opportunity Statement, and that is the one that remains discriminatory. It makes my head spin that in one breath Notre Dame can recognize the importance of inclusion and equality and then in the next exclude sexual orientation and gender identity in its employment process. Notre Dame knows the right thing to do; it is mentioned by name in the Spirit of Inclusion.

Even beyond the Spirit of Inclusion and the example set by other Catholic institutions, I implore Notre Dame to follow the Bible and the example of Christ. Romans 15: 7 will get you started, “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” After that, I encourage: Galatians 3:28, 1 Corinthians 12:12-27, James 2:1-4, Colossians 3:11 and Exodus 4:11.

As an important disclaimer, I am a white, heterosexual, Christian male. Students and faculty at Notre Dame face unfair bias, discrimination, stereotyping and even hate based on their gender identity, sexual orientation, race and religious preference. I have not experienced any of this unfair treatment, either as a student or applicant, and do not pretend to speak on behalf of the individuals who have.

Catholic Colleges/Universities that Protect Against Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Fordham, Villanova, University of San Diego, Loyola of Chicago, Marquette, University of Missouri- Saint Louis, Holy Cross, Santa Clara, Loyola Marymount

Catholic Colleges/Universities that Protect Against Sexual Orientation

Georgetown, Boston College, Saint Mary’s, University of Portland

Catholic Universities that Protect Neither Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity

Notre Dame, Catholic University

Non-Catholic Schools that Protect Against Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Princeton, Harvard, MIT, University of Chicago, Yale, Stanford, Duke, UPenn, Johns Hopkins, Northwestern, Cal Tech, Dartmouth, Brown, Vanderbilt, Cornell, Rice

Non-Catholic Schools that Protect Against Sexual Orientation



Clark Bowden is a senior political science major. When he is not sleeping through his alarm or reminding people that he studied abroad, he can be found having heated political debates or watching the Washington Nationals play baseball. He can be reached at [email protected] or @BowdenClark on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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