College president and faculty discuss violence prevention and advocacy

Editor’s Note: This story contains mentions of sexual 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.

On Monday night, the Saint Mary’s College community continued its ongoing discussion of sexual assault, violence prevention and advocacy with a panel of faculty for a question and answer session.

During the event, panelists included College President Katie Conboy, Liz Baumann, Iesha Miller, Sarah Granger, Kris Urschel and Phil Bambenek.

Megan Zwart, an associate professor and chair of the philosophy department, began the event with a discussion about productive dialogue. She explained this may be an emotional event for those involved but that “emotion helps us understand what matters to us.”

Zwart also emphasized that the purpose of this event and something to think about was “listening to understand rather than reply.”

Next, Kris Urschel, the director of Human Resources (HR) and Title IX coordinator at Saint Mary’s, gave a brief speech about the process of Title IX reporting.

“A big part of Title IX is the empowerment of the individual,” said said.

Urschel explained the different types of reporting, such as a formal report where an investigation and hearing are pursued. She also explained that whether an individual files a Title IX complaint at Saint Mary’s, University of Notre Dame or Holy Cross College, the Saint Mary’s Title IX office can still give help and support.

“In Title IX, we believe our students. It’s not my role to investigate, it is my job to believe students,” she noted.

Kris Urshel speaks on Title IX reporting at the College during an event on Monday night surrounding sexual assault and violence prevention.
Credit: Katelyn Waldschmidt / The Observer

After Urshel’s commentary, the panel was opened to a question and answer session, with questions from both the audience and anonymous text messages. A wide variety of questions were asked, one of the first being about health options offered for victims of assault.

Sarah Granger, the director of Health & Counseling Center at Saint Mary’s, talked about how the center offers STD testing to all students. Director of the Office of Student Involvement & Advocacy (OSIA), Liz Baumann added that the Family Justice Center is available for needs that students feel Saint Mary’s may fall short of.

The Family Justice Center is a help center for victims of most types of abuse and has a 24/7 hotline specific to St. Joesph County. They can offer assistance such as trained advocates or transportation to hospitals. 

Phil Bambenek, director of campus safety, touched on some physical aspects of student safety. He discussed tentative plans on including more card readers to help limit access to outsiders.

Additionally, he explained that while residence halls are not monitored for student privacy, entrances and exits are heavily monitored. He emphasized the importance of reporting, saying “We respond to all complaints” and “If someone calls, we go and investigate.” 

The idea that the faculty cannot offer help in circumstances that they are not aware of was brought up by multiple panelists throughout the night.

Many audience members spoke up about various issues they were concerned about, but panelists continued throughout encouraging students to report instances of harassment and abuse.

The discussion also touched on what options there are for students who are willing to come forward to help remove their abuser from their life and campus. Bambenek said that no trespassing orders are available for if the perpetrator has no reason to be on Saint Mary’s campus grounds and that the Title IX office assists student with that type of request.

The night ended with a thank you from the two clubs sponsoring the event, Belles Supporting Belles and Student Government Association (SGA).

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Notre Dame alumna begins new ministry at Saint Mary’s

Nicole Labadie, who became the new director of campus ministry at Saint Mary’s in October, hopes to find new ways to evangelize and accompany students on their faith journeys during their time at Saint Mary’s College She said the job combines her passions: the charisma of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, the focus of an all women’s school and the work of campus ministry.

Labadie, originally from New Braunfels, Texas, studied social work and religious studies at St. Edward’s University in Texas before earning a master of divinity at Notre Dame. She first became involved in campus ministry at St. Edward’s, where she said she appreciated the mentorship she received on profound questions regarding her faith.

When she came to Notre Dame, Labadie was an assistant rector in Pasquerilla East Hall and she worked on liturgical and spiritual programming in the dorm.

“I really loved journeying and walking with women, so, I think in a lot of ways it’s cool that I’m back at Saint Mary’s now,” Labadie said.

Labadie entered her eighth year of campus ministry work when she took the job at Saint Mary’s. Previously, she was the director of campus ministry at University of St. Thomas in Texas and was a campus minister at the Rice University Catholic Student Center. 

She is also married to a Notre Dame graduate and has two sons, who are three years and three months old. Labadie said the job at Saint Mary’s was attractive partly because South Bend was where they wanted to raise their family.

Labadie, who began her term Oct. 17, described adjusting to her new job as “a little bit like trying to drink water from a fire hose,” but has enjoyed getting to know students and learning about their needs since they arrived back on campus from fall break.

“Saint Mary’s has been so welcoming so far,” she said. “I’ve heard a variety of things from the students, like building on the strong community of Saint Mary’s and continuing on the legacy of the sisters, especially since religious communities are declining in numbers and the pandemic really affected the ability for students to be able to connect with the sisters of Holy Cross.”

As director of campus ministry at Saint Mary’s, Labadie hopes to foster productive dialogue on campus for students to grow in their faith. The dialogue, she said, could take shape in the form of small group communities, something which she said students have expressed to her over the past week. 

“We know that God is a mystery, and any way that we want to put limits on that, God is ultimately beyond those,” Labadie said. “It’s one of my great joys in campus ministry is to get to walk with students and accompany them as they sort of ask those big questions.”

Her purpose as the new director of campus ministry, she said, is centered around providing students hope surrounding faith and she is intent on listening to students to find out how best to do that.

“It’d be my desire that every student at Saint Mary’s knows how deeply they are loved by God,” Labadie said. “So whatever we can do to help bring that about, I’m open to hearing.”

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Belles volleyball swept by Manchester, lose 9th straight

The Saint Mary’s Belles hosted their fourth home game of the season Wednesday night when they faced the Manchester University Spartans in a losing match. The Belles put up a fight, but the Spartans ultimately defeated them in a three-set sweep.

The first set opened up with an early Manchester lead, with Saint Mary’s trailing behind, occasionally tightening the gap in points. The Spartans took the score from 6-4 to 10-4 with a four-point scoring streak. And while kills from junior outside hitter Colleen McCarthy, freshman right side Mia Shields, and freshman outside hitter Grace Braselton, as well as a few service errors from the Spartans, gave SMC a four-point streak shortly after that, the score remained at 11-9 with the Belles behind.

The set continued on with a number of scoring streaks from Manchester. They even took an 18-11 lead at one point in the set. An outstanding performance from McCarthy, however, brought the Belles a number of points. Four consecutive McCarthy kills brought the score to 21-18. While a catch-up was in sight for the Belles, the team lost the first set, 25-21.

Set two of the night saw Manchester running on a high with their scoring, springing to a 10-2 lead. The Spartans kept up that large lead for the duration of the first half of the set. But once the score reached 19-9, the Belles ramped up their competitiveness. Saint Mary’s went on a 7-0 scoring run, filled by kills from the same trio as the first set: McCarthy, Shields and Braselton. The Belles tightened the score at 19-16. But then they lost possession of the ball. The second set ended in the second SMC loss of the night with a 25-19 score.

SMC took the first point of the third set, setting hopes high, but while they kept the lead at a 2-3 score, they then lost the lead to Manchester, who quickly gained a 9-4 edge. Saint Mary’s had a tough time closing the gap in this set. By the time the score was at 19-7 in the Spartans’ favor, the set seemed like an easy win for Manchester. The Belles, however, made an effort to close that gap with a 9-3 point run, getting them up to 22-16. But the Spartans quickly ended the third and final set with a score of 25-17.

The Belles have faced a tough season this fall with a disappointing 3-9 record. Head coach Denise Van De Walle mentioned in post-match interviews the struggle the team has been facing. The inexperience of the team, which has a large roster of underclassmen and transfers, has been a challenge. But the streak of losses that have kept their morale down since their last win on Sept. 3 against Defiance stings, too.

The Belles host the fourth game in a string of home games this Saturday, Oct. 1 against North Park.

Contact Lucia Aguzzi at


Confusion ensues over College bookstore credit card charge label

In the first few weeks of the school year, some Saint Mary’s students who purchased books at the Shaheen Bookstore noticed charges on their bank card statements from “ACU Bookstore.”

The issue stemmed from the college transitioning from Follette, its former bookstore partner, to Barnes and Noble College (BNC), Dana Strait, Saint Mary’s vice president for strategy and finance, said in an email.

“BNC launched its new website on August 1 for the Saint Mary’s community,” Strait wrote. “Several students and their families who used the website prior to move-in for electronic course material rentals and purchases noticed charges on their bank card statements under the name of a different bookstore (ACU Bookstore).”

ACU, she added, refers to Abilene Christian University, which sources all of BNC’s digital course materials.

“20 to 30 students reported similar, confusing charges,” Strait wrote, and BNC was able to quickly remedy the issue after looking into it.

Not knowing any of this information, however, students were initially confused.

“I got a text from my bank, Chase, and they said that someone tried to spend $200 from like ACU or something,” senior Kate Murray said.

Junior Luann Hernandez-Montano said her books were paid off by a scholarship, but she had to put her card information anyway.

“It did say to plug in the credit card information or debit card information just to be able to rent out the books,” she said. 

Hernandez-Montano was intially a bit surprised to see a $1 charge from ACU Bookstore even though she hadn’t actually spent money through her card.

“Then I kind of just didn’t really pay attention to it, and so I saw it was only $1, so I was kind of confused about it at first.”

This, Strait wrote, is standard procedure for when a student rents materials from bookstores. 

“When students rent electronic course materials, bookstores place small holds, in this case in an amount of $1,” Strait wrote. “The Saint Mary’s bookstore has always done this, even with our previous partners, as do the bookstores of our neighboring campuses.”

Confusion swirls over Facebook

Worry over the labeling issue, however, snowballed Aug. 24 as students took to the “SMC Buying/ Selling Textbooks and Materials” private Facebook group.

Senior Grace Paciga opened up a thread in the group because of worrisome activity she noticed in her account. 

“Hi so just a heads up – I just got a fraud alert on my card for $880 and we are pretty sure its from the bookstore,” Paciga wrote to the Facebook group. “So if you used your debit/credit card at the bookstore recently I would be sure to check your charges!!! Or just don’t use your card there.”

Paciga said she immediately sent the alert to her parents, who both have worked at banks “for over 25 years.” 

Her card’s charges, she said, showed a $1 charge from ACU Bookstore in Texas followed by a $0 charge from “Brix Wine and Spirits” in Loveland, Colorado. 

“We think it was they were testing out the card at another place to see if it would go through,” she said. “And then after that came the (charge) for $880.02 in Bentonville, Arkansas. So, three different states, which was actually pretty crazy,” Paciga said.

After speaking with her parents, she wrote her post to the Facebook group in order to see if other students were experiencing similar issues. 

“I didn’t know if it was happening to anyone else because I hadn’t used my card anywhere besides that bookstore purchase for like the week before,” Paciga said.

When she wrote to the group, her post received 18 comments from other students reporting confusing activity in their accounts. 

Many students reading the page, including Hernandez-Montano, canceled their bank cards out of fear that they would also have their information stolen.

“I saw other girls posting about it, and there’s other girls that are saying, ‘Oh, they took like 800,’” Hernandez-Montano said. “So I was just being precautious, and I actually went to cancel my card at the bank.”

Many students have reported the confusing “ACU Bookstore” name on their bank card statements to both Saint Mary’s and The Observer, but Paciga is the only person who reported activity that included her card being used elsewhere. Paciga’s unauthorized charges did not appear under the “ACU Bookstore” label.

College director of public relations Lisa Knox said that the bookstore credit card confusion involved only an incorrect label and not an incorrect amount charged.

“The charges were correct, it was only the name that was wrong,” Knox said.

Hernandez-Montano said she would have liked more information from the school about what was happening with the issue because most of what she heard came from the Facebook group.

 “I think the school could have done, like, a little bit better in trying to inform everybody about it,” Hernandez-Montano said.

Paciga was less frustrated with the college. “I feel like they handled it as best as they could,” she said. “I think it was just a difficult situation.”

Strait wrote that BNC worked to resolve the naming issue as soon as they knew there was one.

“Unfortunately, the bookstore was not made aware of the ACU label until weeks after the website opened for course material purchases,” Strait wrote. “An explanation was immediately posted by Student Affairs staff on social media.”

Contact Liam Price at