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More than a statistic

| Friday, February 4, 2022

Editor’s note: This Letter includes discussions of sexual abuse and violence. A list of sexual assault reporting options and on-campus resources can be found on the Notre DameSaint Mary’s and Holy Cross websites. Additionally, per our Viewpoint policy, The Observer does not typically accept anonymous submissions. An exception was made in this case, owing to the importance of the Letter’s content to the campus conversation surrounding sexual assault.

Dear Notre Dame community, 

In August, I came to South Bend for the first time. Notre Dame was never supposed to be in the cards. I went to a very conservative, homophobic high school, so when I looked for a college, I looked for one that did not even smell of scandal. Somehow, however, I ended up at Notre Dame. After a semester of opening transfer application after application, I decided to stay here. That decision wasn’t made without reservations. In fact, the first semester of my college experience remains some of the worst months of my life. I hope in sharing this letter, the student body, and university administration begin to think about the consequences of the culture that is normalized here. 

One thing that did attract me to Notre Dame, despite my sexuality, was its Catholic heritage. Notre Dame does claim to uphold the Catholic principles of human dignity and respect, but those claims are just that: a facade. Every student here knows what a “diso” is, an underground “bonding” experience each dorm has, assimilating freshmen into dorm life. Regardless of the homophobic microaggressions and heteronormativity frat culture dorms embrace, my “diso” experience resulted in one thing: sexual assault. A senior in my all-male dorm violated those principles of dignity Notre Dame hopes to instill. He drugged me, took me back to my dorm, stripped me of my clothes and of my dignity and attempted to rape me. This senior, popular in my dorm, is involved in every dorm event, so it wasn’t just walking the halls when I had to see him; it was our SYR, our dorm games, our section comps — all events that most Notre Dame students identify as defining moments of college. These moments do define my college experience, just not in the way they should. Instead of celebrating diversity and praying for inclusion, I was excluded. Every day I enter my dorm, I enter hell. I enter into a world I thought died fifty years ago, but a world laced with homophobia remains active in the small pocket that is Notre Dame. 

But it’s not just the dorms that disregard the Catholic principles of respect. The administration is actively involved in silencing the voices of the LGBTQ+ community. The reality of same-sex dorms inherently places burdens on our community. We are taught to conform to antiquated standards of masculinity and femininity. We are forced to interact with a heteronormative culture every day we step into class or join a club. I understand how, as an outsider, it may seem I’m sensitive. But I’m not. I’ve been told the only reason I succeed in a club is because I’m gay, or I’m silenced in class for attempting to shed light on academic LGBTQ+ issues. I’ve been told by a Holy Cross priest that gay people are called to “celibate lifestyles.” I’ve been introduced to friends’ families as the “gay best friend.” I’ve read horrible reactions in the Irish Rover to university attempts at inclusivity. I am operating in a Catholic space that throws away respect and dignity for the sake of “hating the sin, loving the sinner.” 

I am so much more than a statistic, but here I am a statistic. I’m a statistic that the university uses to brag about diversity, while they let me become a statistic to hate and assault. This letter doesn’t even begin to address the lack of care for victims and those struggling with mental health. But I hope this letter encourages our community to think about how to include the diversity of all of God’s creation and disseminate God’s love to all. I pray for a better second semester, and I pray for all of the high school seniors who are joining our community, that they can feel respected and loved in the world’s greatest Catholic university. 

Yours in Notre Dame, 

A Member of the Class of 2025

Feb. 1

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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