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Country club Christianity

We stand on the shoulders of underdogs. Notre Dame began as a school for the poor, Irish, Catholic immigrants that were not welcome anywhere else. At every turn, we have been counted out for being “too Catholic,” in the middle of nowhere, or as “just a football school.”

For the game against Berkeley, one of my dad’s friends visited campus for the first time and said, “there’s something special here, you can hear it in the ways the students talk about the world.” 

Those who have never visited don’t understand. When I decided to go to Notre Dame, all of my friends at home thought I was making the biggest mistake of my life. One friend even went as far as to say, “out of all the schools you could’ve gone to, you choose the one that hates you.” 

I didn’t think much of it, because I saw what is so special about Notre Dame: a student body that cares so deeply about making the world brighter that it hurts your eyes. Of the top 20 schools in the country all were founded with some form of religious intention – we’re the only one that has kept it. There is something special about this campus and our students. 

However, to that beauty, there’s another side to our Lady’s university. We’ve grown in fame, wealth and prestige. Intense academic life has become a cornerstone of campus. We’re still underdogs compared to some of the Ivy’s, but underdogs with a 13 billion dollar endowment. With all this change we’ve started to lose touch with our background built in the margins; we’ve become a country club.

The official definition of a country club “is a privately owned club, often with a membership quota and admittance by invitation or sponsorship, that generally offers both a variety of recreational sports and facilities for dining and entertaining.” That’s us.

Yes, we spend our time fighting the good fights: anti-poverty work, peace advocacy, ministering to the sick, building renewable energy, improving literacy rates and so much more. Heck, 80 percent of the student body does community service while on campus. While we’ve been ready to fight for the world, we’ve been more hesitant in fighting to make our community truly welcoming and a home for everyone.

Lush green lawns, Gothic buildings, some of the smartest people in the world, impressive sports and robust religious life — Notre Dame seems like it’s own little slice of eudaemonia. However, that slice is only available to some.

As the world has begun to recognize the strength diversity can play in providing world-class education, Notre Dame has been left in the dust in truly offering a welcoming environment for those whom we do let in. A country club where if you look, think and act a specific way you’re welcomed, but if you fall out of line, it’ll point it’s golf clubs at you.

My two most memorable experiences at Notre Dame involved run-ins with the country club. 

In the fall of last year, my friend sat crumpled on the shag carpet in his room, shedding tears of shame and hurt. Over our hours-long conversation, he told me how wished to end his own life. 

A young man, who since he was a little boy has been taught that God rejected him, poisoned by a perversion of the love of God. It is something that he carries with him in the deep recesses of his bones every single day.

A feeling he’s reminded of in the dorm he’s placed into, in the shouts that were yelled after him as he walked on the quad one night, and in the University policies that tell him he’s not fully worthy of protection.

I’ve had the country club come after me too. Last year I ran for Student Body Vice President, where you’re sure to face some scrutiny. But as golf ball-sized lies and deceitful messages pilled up I called them out. 

Wrapped tightly in a blanket on the floor of my friend Zoë’s apartment watching the Chronicles of Narnia and my phone. Counting and screenshotting I saw my phone filled with over 400 anonymous pointed dagger messages until the counting got to be too much. 

Some messages were funny like, “Dane Sherman looks like he’s a used shovel salesman.” Objectively, I wish I could be that cool. But others with more insidious messages: telling me to kill myself, threatening to hurt me, making fun of my sexuality, using slurs, demeaning my character, my gender presentation, weaponizing every insecurity, fault and flaw imaginable.

When you make the country club uncomfortable it swings back. I’ve learned quickly not to care what some bigot’s on the other side of a phone think of me, but those words were also reaching into the psyche of other people’s phones who might not feel as safe and those sentiments not just confined to the keys and a keyboard. 

Our experiences are not in isolation. Every two years the University does a survey of the entire student body called the Inclusive Campus Survey where they survey and compare how students of different identity groups are doing and if they’ve experienced any adverse treatment.

This year’s numbers show a scary trend. The most important question for me is: do you feel a sense of belonging here? For more marginalized groups the numbers got worse.

49% of transgender and nonbinary students stated they did not feel a sense of belonging as opposed to only nine percent of cisgender students. Even though only a quarter as many students stated they were not cisgender in 2018, that result in 2018 was only 33 percent.   

24% of atheists and 17% of other religions said they did not feel a sense of belonging, as opposed to only five percent of Catholics.

22% of gay, lesbian and bisexual students stated they did not feel a sense of belonging as opposed to only 7 percent of straight students. Even though only half as many LGB students filled out the survey in 2018 it was only 16 percent said they did not feel a sense of belonging. 

18% of students from a household that makes less than $50,000 said they did not feel a sense of belonging, as opposed to about six percent of those whose families make more.

16% of first-generation students, as opposed to nine percent of those who are not first-generation.

14% of students of color stated they did not feel a sense of belonging. As opposed to eight percent of white students.

These numbers become jarring when put in contrast with our peer universities, and even more jarring when contrasted with the words of our administration.

In 2012, Father Jenkins stated, “At Notre Dame, we do not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.”

In 2022, the Board of Trustees released their Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion report. They stated, “we believe our over-arching aspiration is to act to ensure that EVERY member of the Notre Dame community feels not merely “welcome” here, but rather that this is truly their home.” 

In 2016, Father Jenkins stated, “We are all Notre Dame or none of us are.”

Father Jenkins and the Board of Trustees, your words cut deep because we know they ring hollow. We can’t say we don’t discriminate when we are not willing to put measures in place to protect all students. 

Examples of these shortcomings abound including:  A non-discrimination clause that doesn’t include sexual orientation, gender identity, or religious identity. An expandingly diverse class, but not the expanding resources to support them. A shaky record in supporting first-generation and low-income students. A horrendous record in dealing with cases of sexual violence

One of my favorite lines from Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail is when he states, “There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love.”

If you love Notre Dame, it’s time to be angry. It’s time to tear down the country club and for us to become a rehab center for some of the best and brightest minds in the world.

Dane Sherman is a junior at Notre Dame studying American Studies, peace studies, philosophy and gender studies. Dane enjoys good company, good books, good food and talking about faith in public life. Outside of The Observer, Dane can be found exploring Erasmus books with friends, researching philosophy, with folks from Prism, reading NYTs op-eds from David Brooks/Ezra Klein/Michelle Goldberg or at the Purple Porch getting some food. Dane ALWAYS want to chat and can be reach at @danesherm on twitter or lsherma2@nd.edu.

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

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Viewpoint

A deep hunger

I hopped on the Manhattan-bound “L” train at 10 a.m., late for work. I overslept and took my sweet time getting up. That’s what summer internships are for messing up, right? The car was lightly filled. Most of the people had already made it to their resting places for the day.

The subways are a unique way to be in a forced community with one another from very different walks of life. Our lives collide in extraordinary and soulful ways as we attempt to get to work, friends and our daily chores. Sometimes that means having a woman yell at you about God or having a stranger’s armpit right in your face.

On this particular ride, I collided with Natasha. A young woman who couldn’t be much older than I, in her early 20s, just beginning her journey with life. With a bandana wrapped around her head, dark brown hair outlining her face and giant reusable bags in her hands.

My face was stuck deep within my book. I didn’t even notice her when she sat next to me.

My grandma and grandpa live in a small cul-de-sac on county road 18 in the middle of nowhere California. They’ve lived there in the same house for 50 years, blossoming into a sprawling family full of love. Every Christmas Eve-eve making tamales with my grandma’s sisters and then having another giant feast on Christmas Eve.

Christmas is always a multigenerational, multi-family extravaganza.

My dad describes how every Christmas he can be found sitting next to his “ex-step mother in law’s ex-husband’s stepson’s wife” and how she is the most wonderful woman you could ever meet on the planet. Love palpably oozes out of every crack, corner and crevice. 

We’ve had just about everything happen within our family that might be considered anti-catholic by some of today’s loudest Catholic voices: divorce, suicide, gay marriage, babies out of wedlock, alcoholism, drug use, immigration from Mexico, prison sentences—you name it, it’s probably happened in our family. 

Life in our family can sometimes be really messy, with that many people and big personalities there are always squabbles, somebody is mad at somebody else or someone has too much to drink. 

However, given all this, I’ve never experienced more love and grace than when I’m around those five tables pushed together to make room for everyone.

Natasha looked over my shoulder and asked me what book I was reading. I was re-reading my favorite book from middle school, “The Secret Life of Bees,” by Sue Monk Kidd. It’s about a young girl in the South that finds community with her former housekeeper and three black honey farmers in the middle of South Carolina. It touches on community, race, faith and loss in really beautiful ways.

This gradually led into a conversation about our own communities, what we were doing on this Manhattan-bound train and who we were. Natasha and her family moved to New York when she was about five and she’s lived there ever since. 

She, like I, has experienced death and addiction in our families. Both of us lost two parents before we got to high school and both of us were raised Catholic. We found ourselves within and of each other in ways we would never have expected.

A lot of times when I go out to a party I have so much fun, but end up feeling unsatisfied. Or, when I repeat my majors introduction for the eight billionth time in a day. It’s similar to when I go to the dining hall and eat a burger or two. It provides me with filling, but not satisfaction. 

Talking with Natasha provided something new: connection with other people in a really substantive way. New York is enormous and often times felt overwhelming in the number of people around with connections sometimes fleeting or nonexistent. 

Social intimacy and commitment are often a lot harder to come by and less prevalent than most of us think it is in our lives. We have fewer close friends than ever before. Reported loneliness at record high levels. Deaths of despair are higher than ever in our history.

Earlier this week, I picked up Mitch Albom’s “The Five People You Meet in Heaven.” A book where Eddie, a grizzled war veteran who dies a terrible death, meets five people who illuminate the unseen connections of his life. Albom’s premise is his version of heaven is a wish to have “people who felt unimportant here on earth- realize, finally, how much they are loved.”

In the book, Eddie meets someone who’s life he didn’t even know he had impacted so deeply and is told, “strangers are just family you have yet to come to know.”

I’ve never felt more holy or more Catholic than being around the table with the communion of saints on earth. Filling my soul with the deeper hunger that I have, that we all have. 

This table can be different for each of us, for some it might literally be saint-like figures in our lives, for some it might be playing a video game in a quad with dear friends or around a charcuterie board talking about our deepest worries. 

For me, it’s when I’m around those five tables pushed together to fit everyone in. I think about Natasha joining us at that table. A task that might even require pulling up a sixth table. So that my cousin one day might say, “I was sitting next to my step mom’s, step dad’s, grandson’s friend from a subway.” 

In my opinion, filling this deeper hunger requires two things, (1) being more intentional about the ways we connect with others and (2) being more open to the unknown gifts of others. 

Natasha and I accomplished something on the short subway ride this summer. We filled a deeper hunger. Something that can’t always be accomplished with an all-you-can-eat buffet or a 300-person party.

Dane Sherman is a junior at Notre Dame studying American Studies, Peace Studies, Philosophy and Gender Studies. Dane enjoys good company, good books, good food, and talking about faith in public life. Outside of The Observer, Dane can be found exploring Erasmus books with friends, researching philosophy, with folks from Prism, reading NYTs op-eds from David Brooks/Ezra Klein/Michelle Goldberg or at the Purple Porch getting some food. Dane ALWAYS want to chat and can be reach at @danesherm on twitter or lsherma2@nd.edu.

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

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Viewpoint

Women saints of Notre Dame

The closest people to saints I’ve ever met are my two sassy loudmouth lesbian grandmas from rural Washington. Known as Moo and Ne, they represent the best and most thoughtful Christians I know. 

Moo, a veteran, spent most of her adult life running the chicken soup brigade, offering hospice and medical care for people living with and dying of AIDS. Spending long days and nights ministering to and serving as a shoulder to lean on when they had no one else to turn to as they were dying.

Ne, who is always caring for others: nurturing those excluded (people and animals) and assembling menstrual kits those without access. She’s a magical crafter and makes quilts for friends sick in hospitals — carefully sewing each string and getting everyone that loves the person to sleep with it to fill it with love for them.

Neither would have been able to go to Notre Dame or to share their gifts with the Notre Dame family 50 years ago because women were not admitted. 

In discussing the 50 year anniversary, Professor Kathleen Cummings, Director of the Cushwa Center and Professor of American Studies wrote about how Holy Cross Sisters were foundational to the existence of Notre Dame. Women have been integral to the creation of the school, well before they were admitted. However, it’s not hard to see the ways that our community has grown stronger since women have been admitted. 

In the past 50 years Notre Dame women have made campus and the world a better place. Condelezza Rice became the first black woman to be secretary of state. Brooke Norton, the first woman ever elected student body president became one of the most consequential in history then had a successful career in political communications. Jenny Durkan served our country as the first Lesbian woman to become state attorney in Washington and was later elected mayor of Seattle. Women have made their mark since being admitted.

While we as a community have grown stronger, we haven’t always provided the best environment for all women who we let in. While some have found their home and others have been excluded from Notre Dame feeling like their home. 

In 1996, before she was a famous journalist and academic, Nikole Hannah-Jones was a junior at Notre Dame. She spent long nights in Hesburgh reading, cheering on the football team on the weekends, and trying to find her people.

One night when she was finally starting to feel like she belonged on campus, she had the n-word hurled at her by a white student, causing her to write how, ‘Notre Dame is yours but the world is mine’. Hannah Jones felt like Notre Dame fundamentally wasn’t built for her, that she didn’t belong. This reality still reflected today in 14% of minority students stating they don’t feel like they belong here, while only 6% of white students say the same.

A story echoed in another experience just a few years later: Jeneka Joyce was on the women’s basketball team in the early 2000s and was often described as a “study in success”, a woman who electrified the basketball court and had engaging academic conversations after the game.

In 2003, when she was a junior, Jeneka began questioning their sexuality; coming out as queer, which she defined as more all-encompassing for everything not deemed heterosexual. She got more involved with LGBTQ+ communities on campus and spoke out against the ways that the campus does not always fulfill its mission of being home to its students; for her feeling like queer students were excluded from much of campus life.

These two brought unique and wonderful gifts to the Notre Dame community. Throughout my time at Notre Dame, I’ve been lucky enough to come into contact with similar saintly folks who have changed the trajectory of my own life here. 

Last year I wrote an article discussing the perils of my friend. A person so filled with love and kindness for others but so filled with pain from feeling that Notre Dame doesn’t love him back. A reality felt in campus policies that force him into dorms and housing situations that don’t match the lived reality of his gender identity.

Hannah Jones, Joyce and my friend’s stories are not universal for folks of different backgrounds, but are also not sillowed from the lived realities of many on campus. And with just small tweaks to how we run as a institution we can make a community 

This year further marks 50 years of the federal regulation Title IX being signed into law, which enshrined protections for women in educational institutions in classrooms and playing fields. 

This summer, the Biden administration announced reforms to Title IX; to roll back Trump-era rules, expand protections for survivors of sexual violence and protect LGBTQ+ students from sex-based discrimination. 

One of the most controversial parts of these new regulations is the expansion of Title VII employment protections for LGBTQ+ employees to Title IX by defining sex-based discrimination to include discrimination based on sexuality and gender identity.

After new regulations are announced there is a 60-day period for public comment on the regulations, schools or organizations of schools will announce their responses to the rules and then within institutions there arises much debate over how the regulations will be implemented.

Notre Dame choose not to write a comment of their own and instead is signing on to another schools comments. Legal council and the Office of Institutional Equity are currently in debates about whether or not we should, as a University, take a religious exemption to the sections of Title IX around LGBTQ+ discrimination for the first time in our institutions history. 

If we decide to take a religious exemption we make ourselves poorer in the spirit, we close our doors and ourselves to so many potential students, faculty and staff because of who they are. And, for those who do still end up coming to Notre Dame, we turn our backs on them.

Notre Dame isn’t, and shouldn’t, be made for everyone, but it should be a place where more feel this is their home. No school can possibly be made for every individual and unique soul. However, it is foolish to think our best days are from when this school was only wealthy, white, straight, Catholic men. Our faith and our school is strengthened by the diversity of our heritage.

According to recent inclusive campus survey numbers, many students from non traditional Notre Dame backgrounds: students of color, disabled, first generation, low income, from different nationalities, queer students and feel like they don’t belong at much higher rates. 

Creating a community where ALL women are able to thrive should be a central aim of the next 50 years of women at Notre Dame. It’s not enough to just admit people, we fundamentally have to make everyone feel like this is their home too

To take one step towards making the next 50 years even a fraction better, send an email today to the Assistant Vice President of Institutional Equity, Erin Oliver, (eoliver2@nd.edu) and the Assistant to the Vice President of Student Affairs, Laura Connelly (laura.connelly@nd.edu), expressing your desire for Notre Dame to be compliant with the new Title IX regulations as a testament to our faith as a Catholic University.

We can do better Notre Dame and we have to. We risk losing the immense sacred gifts of queer saints like my grandmas, Nikole Hannah-Jones, Jeneka Joyce or my friend put in the wrong dorm. Take one step today to make a better home for them tomorrow.

Dane Sherman is a junior at Notre Dame studying American Studies, Peace Studies, Philosophy and Gender Studies. Dane enjoys good company, good books, good food and talking about faith in public life. Outside of The Observer, Dane can be found exploring Erasmus books with friends, researching philosophy, with folks from Prism, reading NYTs op-eds from David Brooks/Ezra Klein/Michelle Goldberg or at the Purple Porch getting some food. Dane ALWAYS want to chat and can be reach at @danesherm on twitter or lsherma2@nd.edu.

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Soggy dog kibble Saints

Editor’s note: This column includes discussions of suicide and drug addiction.

Do you ever wake up and feel something is wrong? 

On Aug. 18, 2014, the birds chirping, the sun shining brightly over Lake Washington and a fully planned day of hanging out with friends. The perfect way to end the summer. The recipe for a perfect day, yet something chewed at me.

I bounded down the stairs and slammed into the door excited to talk to my mom about the day ahead. The chewing was providential, I ran in and found my mom dead, stolen from me by a cocktail of suicide, opioids and depression.

This August was the eight-year mark since my mom’s death. I woke up early again expecting it to be like any other day. Birds chirping, the sun high up in the sky peeking through my windows and my dog licking my face. 

I walked slowly downstairs and got ready to feed the dog. As the brown little droplets poured into the bowl, I realized I was filling the water bowl with kibble. Tears tore out of my eyes like a day hadn’t passed since I lost my mom.

I found God in the water bowl with the puffed-up dog food pellets floating and breaking apart. I found my mom in the bowl, too. 

If we were to imagine God as a food (besides communion) we would describe God as steak, truffles or some otherworldly food item, but I found her in the broken, discarded and disgusting mush in the water bowl.

My mom is not a saint in the traditional sense of the word — she was an on-and-off-again lesbian who had three children out of wedlock with three different men (two of them gay!), she held tightly onto many different prejudices and flip-flopped between the Mormon and Catholic churches depending on which was able to give better aid. 

However, she was a saint to me. She suffered a lot, was kicked out of her house when she was 17, worked three jobs to push her kids through school, endured 49 back surgeries and had a severe opioid addiction. When the coroner was cleaning up the house, he told us he’d “never seen so many pills in my life.”

Despite this, she possessed an almost effortlessly self-deprecating sense of humor that would make a whole room turn into a jubilant cackle of hyenas. One time while shopping in a Walmart superstore with me, my niece and my sister, Mom got us to play hide and seek from my sister. The three of us running and ducking between aisles and avoiding her for hours.

She would summon the whole U.S. army if she had to, if someone threatened someone she loved or if they were doing something she deemed unjust. My brother has autism and our local public school wasn’t providing education that was accessible to his learning. My mom, fuming, grabbed a ream of paper, smacked a few pages of meticulously documented wrongdoing on top, marched to the district office and wouldn’t leave until they were able to provide him with the resources to succeed. She forced the district to change how they helped my brother and other folks with disabilities. 

And, she never gave up. Deciding to go to college in her late 40s to prove to her kids that she wasn’t a quitter. She persevered through neck braces, poverty, addiction and other crosses she bore every day.

It’s been eight years, but the tendrils of her life still linger throughout my own. She lives in the ashes necklace I wear around my neck every day, the 65 emails left unopened since the night she died, the books I read, the forests I go to find peace and the work I seek to do for the rest of my life. She’s never let go, her arms still tightly wrapped around me.

Some of the people we admire in the church can (and should) be more broken than a shattered vase, have more flaws than possible to count and more parking tickets than mass attendances.

When she wasn’t at church, she was leading the PTA even though she was working three jobs and had no time to herself. I remember some nights, the family stayed up until two in the morning to finish up buttons for a function the next day or cupcakes for a kid’s birthday. She poured herself into service for others even when she probably should have been focusing on her own well-being. 

God meets us where we’re at — in dark alleyways, in our weary hospital rooms, on shag carpet flooring and on dirty bathroom mats. 

I want my saints scrappy like my mom. I want my church with all of its flaws shining through the stained glass. God accepts us all not in spite of our brokenness, but including that brokenness. I can think of nothing holier than to discuss the truth in the stories of folks around us who try to do a little bit better than they did yesterday.

I am not holy, nor would I ever pretend to be. I sin like all of us 1,000 times every single day. However, I spend a lot of time in community with those who are so holy it tingles your toes, and they help me take one step closer to God every day.

In this column, I will look at the cases of some people I’ve met who are so close to the divine that it tickles you. Through looking at the lives of these saint-like individuals, I hope to understand better what it means to bring the kingdom of heaven here to earth.

We’ll explore the lives of people from every faith and no faith. Conservatives and liberals. The wealthy and the poor. Straights and gays. Women, men and nonbinary folks. The Holy Spirit exists within each of us, and I’ve met everyday saints in each and every one of these groups.

The stories we tell can have power over how we see faith interacting in our lives. I think there are more saints like my mom than we’d like to admit, who did a pretty damn good job for the circumstances they were given. Who devoted their life to God and to others in profound ways. More saints that remind us of bloated, falling apart kibble in a water bowl than of steak with truffles.

Dane Sherman is a junior at Notre Dame studying American Studies, Peace Studies, Philosophy and Gender Studies. Dane enjoys good company, good books, good food and talking about faith in public life. Outside of The Observer, Dane can be found exploring Erasmus books with friends, researching philosophy, with folks from Prism, reading NYTs op-eds from David Brooks/Ezra Klein/Michelle Goldberg or at the Purple Porch getting some food. Dane ALWAYS wants to chat and can be reach at @danesherm on Twitter or lsherma2@nd.edu.

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