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A sophomoric farewell column to an unforgettable assignment

This column mentions issues relating to sexual violence.

Last year, two of the most powerful inside columns I read were farewell letters from editor-in-chief Adri Perez and the iconic photography editor — who is an even better water pong partner — Allison Thornton. 

It’s absolutely ridiculous, considering that I’m probably the most sophomoric sophomore on this newspaper’s staff, but I have my own farewell letter. Recently, I switched from Saint Mary’s associate news editor to the same position in the Notre Dame news department. I think my experience working at Saint Mary’s is worth sharing.

But buckle up, because the ride will get rough.

As a Gateway student at Holy Cross, I became good friends with then-Saint Mary’s editors Gen Coleman and Crystal Ramirez. I took a Chinese course at Saint Mary’s that fall semester, and the editors kindly took me under their wing.

I say “kindly” because, though I’m still sophomoric, my freshman self was a full-on menace working at The Observer. Loud, obnoxious and quite inefficient while working at production shifts, I lacked any trace of professionalism. But, thanks to their kindness, the newspaper was nothing but fun for me.

When I applied for Notre Dame associate news editor, I didn’t land the job. Isa Sheikh, who I’m now besties with, got it over me. For that, Isa, you suck, but I still love you, obviously (with a heart-eyes emoji).

In a turn of fate, the Saint Mary’s department needed help to keep the ship sailing last spring. The department’s new editor, Meg Lange, then turned — for the first time in The Observer’s history — to a man, me.

Some may have thought a male Saint Mary’s associate news editor was kind of weird, but I loved it. Out of the 50-something stories I’ve written for The Observer, Saint Mary’s stories make up by far the most important and heavy-hitting reporting I have done since joining the Observer. 

I reported on enviable assignments. For one story, I cleared up confusion about an error on customers’ bank statements at the Saint Mary’s Shaheen Bookstore. It required nonstop communication with public relations director Lisa Knox as well as countless interviews with students to get to the bottom of the matter. In another story, I covered the College’s updated COVID-19 policies and its students’ reactions to them. The stories felt important to report on, something we reporters thirst for while covering news.

There was, however, another aspect of the job that changed my life: the assignments I covered about sexual violence issues and events around the tri-campus, often led by Saint Mary’s organizations.

Being a Notre Dame guy, I can admit that it is easy to forget how real sexual assault issues are.

It sounds ridiculous, but we live with a bunch of good, genuine guys. Despite quiet rumors which circulate about some specific men in our halls, we generally feel good about the rest.

But at Saint Mary’s, I encountered a very different reality. Sexual assault issues aren’t forgotten about; they are felt in a very painful and genuine way. 

Last April, I attended Take Back the Night as a reporter and held back tears as I wrote the story. It sounds dramatic, but I surely wasn’t alone. The night was necessary but incredibly scarring. 

Seeing survivors and supporters gather, hearing those dark stories and witnessing them raise each other back up with prayer, chants, hugs and tears were some of the most intense, most powerful moments of humanity I’ve ever observed.

I also covered several lectures and open-discussion events on the topic of sexual assault. The events included alumni authors, student researchers and Saint Mary’s leadership, who all dove into the topic of sexual violence with unforgettable courage and care for their audiences.

On one hand, the events and stories I wrote left me feeling empty. The utter lack of respect displayed by perpetrators of this heinous type of violence was discouraging for my general worldview. Simultaneously, however, I witnessed some of the strongest, most powerful voices I’ve ever heard through the survivors’ responses.

They all struggle in unique ways but for these events, they fought back. I got to see them build each other back up and battle, literally fighting with their whole hearts, against the unfortunate realities of sexual violence in our society. 

The pain is felt at Saint Mary’s; we must not forget.

I know this column took a dark turn of subject, but I am genuinely grateful for everyone in the Saint Mary’s News Department, from former Saint Mary’s associate news editor, editor-in-chief and journalism icon Maria Leontaras, to Gen, Meg, Katelyn, Cathy, Cora, Rose and the rest. Working for less than a year in the department with them, I can say that Saint Mary’s News is among the most important and sensitive work this paper produces.

Now, my position is simply as an associate news editor in the Notre Dame department. It’s easier for me as a student here, and not at Saint Mary’s, so my lazy self enjoys it. But one thing is for certain: I’m lucky to have been given the chance to work across the street.

So, as an over-passionate writer of this newspaper, take one piece of advice from me: follow their work; or, at least, please don’t disregard them any more than you disregard the rest of this newspaper and print journalism as a whole.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this column referred to Maria Leontaras as the former Saint Mary’s news editor, a position she never held. The Observer regrets this error.

You can contact Liam Price at lprice3@nd.edu.

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

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News

Professor outlines how Christian salvation can aid survivors of sexual violence

Creighton University theology professor Julia Feder spoke Tuesday night in Carroll Auditorium about using a Christian worldview to deal with human suffering, especially with regards to sexual violence.

Theology professor Julia Feder spoke on Tuesday evening in Carroll Auditorium on Saint Mary’s campus. Credit: Liam Price | The Observer

In her lecture, which was the final part of the Center for Spirituality’s “Developing a Spirituality of Resilience” series, Feder sought to distinguish between the theological notions of God being goodness and God being “all powerful,” arguing that the former is stronger. 

“It’s only a God of love, and one who never desires human suffering, that can provide a foundation for a proper Christian spirituality of resilience,” Feder said. “The God of love opposes human suffering and empowers humanity to resist dehumanizing violence by sharpening our powers of perception of evil and feelings of indignation.

Feder, author of the forthcoming book “Saving Grace: Sexual Trauma in Christian Salvation,” also distinguished between forms of stress which “are good for us,” using a weightlifter’s improvements as an example and other forms “which are not good for us in any quantity at all.” 

Sexual violence, Feder said, does no good and doesn’t have a role to play in God’s plan for humanity.

“Rape is an authentic breaking-apart of the human person and is never willed by God. Rape is senseless suffering,” Feder said.

Feder used the story of Jesus suffering on the cross in order to illustrate God’s role in dealing with human suffering. The brutal, painful suffering was inflicted on Jesus by sinful humans, not by God, she said. 

The power of resurrection, she argued, does not derive from Jesus having suffered on purpose, but rather by how Jesus overcame that suffering.

“At the last supper, Jesus places his confidence in God as one who champions humanity and places his trust in this God in the face of death,” Feder said. “Despite his torture and death, Jesus trusted, somehow, some way, that his life’s work would not amount to nothing.”

Applying this to the interpretation of sexual violence, Feder said survivors could be better equipped against the propensity of self-blame.

“Our history of sexual violence can be a part of our story of being saved by God only insofar as it marks the evil that is committed by human beings that God is overcoming, not which God has given to us as a test,” she said.

Feder said responses of pain, anger and disappointment of traumatized survivors are caused by a “negative contrast” with God’s goodness and reflect “what God does not want for us.” 

“Salvation is not just this spiritual and personal process, promising some other worldly reward, but instead is a restoration of the whole human person as she was created to be,” Feder said. “Salvation concerns the whole human person and all her created dimensions, physical, material, interpersonal, social, political and spiritual.”

Feder used this idea of salvation to recommend steps for Christian communities to take on the issue of sexual violence. She also acknowledged that the measures she recommended wouldn’t solve the issue once and for all, but at least would constitute good work with real influence.

“I would say Christian salvation must then include community denunciation of sexual violence. It must include clear reporting guidelines… and free psychological resources for survivors,” she said. “The sum of these measures doesn’t cause doesn’t constitute the fullness of Christian salvation, but salvation is at least in these measures.”

Contact Liam at lprice3@nd.edu.

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News

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).

Contact Katelyn at kwaldschmidt01@saintmarys.edu.

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News

Explained: University leaders talk about the history and purpose of SpeakUp

SpeakUp Notre Dame is a call to the campus community to not be silent but heard.  

Following the Inclusive Campus Survey, which uncovered that only 15% of the student body knew how to use SpeakUp, the Observer spoke to University administrators and other leaders to dive deeper into the history behind the tool, the intended purpose and how it works in practice. 

Historical Significance 

SpeakUp was first published as a resource for the Notre Dame campus in 2015 after recommendations from the Diversity Council and the Division of Student Affairs. 

Director of communications for the division, Kate Morgan, explained that around the same time, student affairs was made aware of several “concerning” incidents surrounding racial discrimination on campus. 

“The roots are in really related to race,” she noted. 

They realized, she said, there was a need for a space where anyone on campus could file a complaint or report an issue to the correct office. 

“[The division] wanted to make a space for people to be able to report and have more ease doing that, because [anyone needing to report] didn’t know where to go,” she said. 

After the first iteration, SpeakUp underwent a reorganization in 2019. Morgan said she oversaw the redesign that was informed by the 2018 Inclusive Campus Survey. 

“We revamped it based on the student feedback, and I think it’s a lot easier to follow once you get on the site and really realize that it is a reporting tool,” she explained. 

As part of the reworking, Morgan said she and Office of Community Standards (OCS) director Heather Ryan worked together closely to make the site more user-friendly and answer common questions about the reporting process, including detailing the difference between confidential and non-confidential resources on campus, options for reporting and what reporters can expect next. 

Morgan noted specifically that anyone who works with the University is a non-confidential resource, with the exception of medical staff, anyone within the University Counseling Center (UCC) and a vowed religious acting within the capacity of their vows. One example Morgan used was a priest who also serves as the rector of a residence hall. She explained that he would be considered a non-confidential resource because he is not specifically working within his duties as a priest. Morgan also mentioned there is a difference between being a non-confidential resource and a mandatory reporter. 

Morgan said she is very proud of how the SpeakUp site is organized now and believes that students will have an easier time navigating the site to learn the tool’s purpose and filing a report correctly if the need arises. 

The Mechanics

Anyone with a Notre Dame NetID (the beginning part of any Notre Dame email address) can access SpeakUp and file a report. 

Ryan referred to the tool as a “landing page,” explaining that from the SpeakUp website, a student can file a variety of different reports based on the specific incident. On the reporting page, a reporter has five different options of which type of report to file: an incidence of racial or discriminatory harassment, anything related to sexual harassment and wrongdoing, hazing or initiatory events, retaliation or violation of a University order, and any other type of incident. 

Based on which report is chosen, the completed form is routed to the corresponding office. For example, an incidence of sexual harassment that was reported would go directly to the University’s Title IX office. 

Director of diversity and inclusion for race and ethnicity Faith Woods explained that the purpose of SpeakUp is to be a “direct connection” between the administration and anyone who has been involved or witnessed an incident of wrongdoing. 

Ryan and Morgan both emphasized although the process varies within the circumstances of the incident, someone from the addressing department on campus will reach out to those involved in a timely manner about the next steps. 

“I think one piece that’s important to note is that [within 48 hours], you will hear from someone to go through what next steps would be appropriate for that particular complaint or grievance,” Morgan noted. 

Ryan said that specifically within OCS, outcomes of a filed complaint will take one of three routes: the meeting, the conference and the hearing. She said the meeting is the least formal, consisting of a meeting with a rector or hall staff for a first-time offense; whereas, the hearing is a more severe outcome with possible University dismissal in the realm of decisions.

“The conference is the middle part, it’s sort of a middle ground with a lot of formation and growth can occur,” she said. “It still has some disciplinary status outcomes available, but that’s not maybe the first place those conversations start.”

Future Directions and Drawbacks

Both Morgan and Ryan acknowledged there is still work to be done to publicize the SpeakUp tool. 

Outside the student-led focus groups coming out of the Inclusive Campus Survey, another of the steps taken recently was a joint campaign with the Division of Student Affairs and Notre Dame student government, specifically student government director of gender relations for Title IX and woman’s initiatives Lane Obringer. 

Obringer said she noticed that a lot of the promotional material for SpeakUp was outdated and saw an opportunity to raise awareness for a tool she believes is extremely important. 

“I thought that just bringing [SpeakUp] to the forefront of the student body’s attention would be super important as we began the school year, especially because the time from the first day of school until Thanksgiving break is known as the Red Zone of increased sexual assaults and violence on college campuses,” she said. 

Over the summer, Obringer worked with Morgan to design new promotional material for SpeakUp.

One place Obringer hesitates in regard to SpeakUp is that she knows the decision to bring an incident forward to University officials is difficult. 

“I’m really, really grateful that SpeakUpND does exist — we need a platform for students to be able to share their experiences of the bad things that have happened on this campus,” she emphasized. “But I also understand its downsides.”

When asked about her views on SpeakUp as a whole, Obringer began to tell a story of when she sat in on a faculty senate meeting. 

Obringer said that when SpeakUp was brought up in the meeting, none of the faculty knew what it was or how to access it. 

“That was really worrisome to me, that faculty, and sometimes staff members aren’t aware of SpeakUpND, and they don’t know its purpose,” she said. “Yes, SpeakUp is important. Yes, it is a vital resource for our campus, but all eyes need to be on it.”

Director of multicultural student programs and services (MSPS) Arnel Bulaoro said he encourages students to utilize SpeakUp when they face situations with harmful racial harassment, bias or discrimination. He noted that part of his role as director is to help the administration and assist students who experience racial microaggressions. 

Bulaoro pointed out that although the reporting tool aims to decrease incidents of wrongdoing on campus, reporting itself can be a burden at times. 

“The nature of SpeakUp as a tool is to raise awareness of incidents, investigate and to support. It is not designed to cause harm to those who are injured by these incidents, but it is fair to say that reliving them can be a source of pain,” he said in an email. 

As far as the future goes, Bulaoro wrote that he believes the University can do more to promote SpeakUp to the student body. 

“Several years ago, Diversity Council suggested to the University to create a reporting tool and to that end, SpeakUp is serving its intended purpose,” he said. “Perhaps, it is more fair to say that our campus community can raise awareness that this tool is available to help make our community a better place.”

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified the housing office of SpeakUpND. The Observer regrets this error.

Contact Bella at ilaufenb@nd.edu

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Viewpoint

The next eight months

Editor’s note: The Observer does not typically allow Letters to the Editor to be signed anonymously; however, in this case, the Editorial Board granted anonymity to the author as we consider the letter important to conversations in the tri-campus community. This letter includes mentions of sexual assault.

Dear members of the Notre Dame and tri-campus communities,

In light of other students sharing their sexual assault stories on social media this week, I felt that staying silent wasn’t an option. To show my support and solidarity while remaining anonymous, here is my story:

On November 19, 2021, I was sexually assaulted at a dorm party by a relatively well-known classmate at Notre Dame. I felt violated, trapped, powerless and afraid of what might happen next. Only being able to escape when my best friend (male) entered the party, I am so fortunate he got there when he did. Barely three months into my rest semester of college, I was overwhelmed with emotional pain I never thought I would ever experience. I don’t think it’s possible to fully describe the impact the incident and its aftermath have had on me. Still, I will try to give you a glimpse of what the eight months following the night of the assault looked like for me.

After taking some time to process, I submitted a Speak Up report regarding the night of the 19th. I met with the Title IX Deputy Director who took me through every option I had on how I wanted to proceed. I led my formal complaint and was told that by doing so, I could later choose whether I wanted an administrative or alternative resolution. I felt reassured that there were many ways I could get the justice I needed and that this decision was entirely my choice. Unfortunately, this did not turn out to be the case.

By the time I filed, it was finals week and Title IX told me they would not address my case until after winter break. So that first week of the spring semester, I patiently waited for an email from somebody in the Title IX office. The whole month of January came and went. I was devastated that I never heard anything back.

Like November 19, February 5 is another date I’ll never forget. That Saturday, I woke up and checked YikYak to find post after post about my assailant and my incident. Rumors started, and my friends were slowly putting pieces together. The whole campus was talking about it. Student Government and Callisto began to take action. While I was grateful that my assailant was finally getting the backlash he deserved, it was so lonely and nerve-wracking being a part of the conversation with very few people to go to for support.

I don’t think it was a coincidence that on Monday, Feb. 7, two days after the whole campus was angry and taking action about sexual assault at Notre Dame, partly because of my incident, I finally got an email from Title IX asking if I’d like to proceed with my formal complaint. After replying yes to the email, this should have been the point where I was supposed to go in for an “initial assessment,” according to the Title IX Deputy Director at my meeting in December. I had not decided what course of action I wanted to take yet. Instead, I received a notice of investigation letter a week later without anybody asking me what resolution I wanted.

The Title IX process was almost as traumatic as the assault itself. It made me deal with my buried trauma head-on. The loneliness, the anger, and the sadness only multiplied. It became hard to do anything else but think about what happened to me on Nov. 19. And after three months came the most challenging part. For over eight hours, I sat in a zoom call staring directly at my assailant’s face as he spewed lies about the night in question. Title IX gave me no choice but to be questioned for two hours straight and be present for my assailant and all twelve witnesses’ testimonies. I should have had a choice.

We are finally at the one redeeming quality of my story. The hearing board did determine that my assailant violated University Policy. Still, it becomes less of a triumph when you see that all he got was a slap on the wrist. As a part of the sanctions given by the hearing board, my assailant would receive an oral reprimand. Kindergarteners should receive an oral reprimand for pushing a classmate on the playground. Your parents might have lectured you for refusing to share your toys with your sibling. A verbal reprimand given to a grown adult for sexual advances on a woman without her consent should not be considered fair punishment.

My Title IX process ended July 12. The better half of a year, almost eight months, two hundred and thirty-five days and most of my time at Notre Dame have been consumed entirely by the incident and the Title IX process.

I understand I am one of the lucky ones. I thank God every day that my best friend got there when he did. I am grateful that the hearing board found my assailant guilty. But that being said, it doesn’t change that the Title IX system needs so much work.

My assailant got a warning and got to go back to living his everyday life. After what I am sure was a very impactful oral reprimand, he was still able to get an internship with a very reputable company this summer. He still has a job on campus. As far as everyone can tell, he is living far too comfortable of life for someone who has been proven guilty of being a sexual assailant.

But I will never be the same. The brave people to share their stories will never be the same. The women that have been assaulted but are rightfully terrified of what might happen if they speak up will never be the same. Why is the Title IX process so brutal it discourages survivors from reporting? Why does the Title IX process favor the assailants? Why am I the one still suffering when I didn’t do anything wrong?

I have been sick the last few days over how many sexual assault stories have been coming to the surface and how many talk about the University doing nothing. It feels gut-wrenching to go to a school that doesn’t consider the well-being of vulnerable students.

Lastly, I wanted to share a portion of my opening statement that I gave at my hearing back in May that I still feel rings true today: “Now, looking back at my first year at Notre Dame, the people I met and the memories I made are not the first things that come to mind. What comes to mind instead is the feeling of being powerless, feeling trapped in the corner of a dorm party, unable to move and feeling helpless. What comes to mind are the nights I spent crying myself to sleep because dealing with the aftermath and the investigation process was too overwhelming for me to handle. The emotional toll this took on me is what comes to mind, and it is incredibly upsetting to know that the majority of my college experience thus far has been ruined by the inconsiderate actions of a fellow classmate.”

With the ball now in Notre Dame’s hands, I really hope our administrators will do something with it. People’s lives and well-being are in danger and cannot continue.

Sincerely,

Notre Dame Student

Class of 2025

Oct. 4

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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News

Conboy, Martinez Camacho hold conversation on sexual assault prevention, advocacy

Editor’s note: This story includes mentions of sexual assault. A list of sexual assault reporting options and on-campus resources can be found on the Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross websites.

Saint Mary’s president Katie Conboy and student body president Angela Martinez Camacho led a conversation with members of the Saint Mary’s community Tuesday in Carroll Auditorium, discussing sexual violence prevention, response and survivor support. 

Vice president for student enrollment and engagement Lori Johnson began the event with opening remarks about the event’s goals and structure. She said it would feature an extended segment where students could ask questions, share personal stories and suggest improvements for the College in a confidential setting.

Johnson also praised the students in the audience for their collective work in addressing the topic of sexual assault.

“I’m so pleased that we’re having this conversation in public,” Johnson said. “Your generation has just done this exceptional job of the really hard and courageous work of bringing these conversations into the public where they belong, helping to reduce stigma.”

In her opening statement, Conboy said she first thought to host the event Friday morning after reading The Observer’s editorial, which called tri-campus leaders to “not only promote their resources appropriately but earn back trust.”

“When I read the editorial of The Observer of that morning, it was for me really a call to action… that we have an issue in our tri-campus community and that the presidents of the three colleges need to do more to listen to their own students,” Conboy said.

The conversation, Conboy said, aimed to raise dialogue and collect direct feedback from students.

“This is a place where you should feel that when something isn’t working for you, you can bring it forward to your administration and we will be responsive to that,” Conboy said. She added that she wanted to learn more about “how we can do better, what is working, what is not working.”

Conboy also acknowledged that she was aware of recent developments on social media regarding student reports of sexual assault, despite not being able to discuss specific cases.

“I’ve also been aware and brought up to speed on the social media that has been a source for some of our students and students from the other colleges to start telling their own stories,” she said. 

Martinez Camacho said she didn’t want her term as student body president to end without having sparked progress in combatting sexual violence. By openly conversing with the Saint Mary’s community, she said, campus leaders could improve the College’s advocacy system.

“This is an effort that involves all parties, so let’s make it happen,” she said.

Following the opening statements, the conversation opened to the audience and students shared personal experiences, asked questions and offered recommendations on how to better handle the problem of sexual violence in the tri-campus.

After the event, Conboy told The Observer that she felt the event was successful because of the input from the students who spoke in the conversation. 

“There were concrete suggestions that students gave us that are not hard to implement,” she said. “We just need to do it quickly and make it our focus.”

Contact Liam Price at lprice3@nd.edu

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News

Tri-campus discusses accountability, prevention after posts detail alleged sexual assault cases

By Genevieve Coleman and Liam Price

Editor’s note: This story includes mentions of sexual assault. A list of sexual assault reporting options and on-campus resources can be found on the Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross websites. 

Last Tuesday, a group of students protested on God Quad in the wake of a post from a student on social media claiming the University mishandled their Title IX case regarding an alleged instance of sexual assault.

Following the initial post, at least four more students at Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s posted their stories of alleged sexual assault on their personal social media accounts. The posts have sparked discussion, both online and offline, of how tri-campus students and administration can best handle this topic.

“We were here because … a student posted a very concerning post on Instagram detailing their experience with SA, going through the Title IX office and not being supported or represented the way that they had hoped to,” fifth-year Tony Perez said of the protest. 

The protest had a small turnout, Perez acknowledged, but he said the support was still present.

“There are a lot more people who stand with us physically and metaphorically, that are more than happy to believe survivors and are more than happy to make sure that justice is spelled out,” he said.

In response to the social media posts, University spokesperson Dennis Brown stated Notre Dame cannot discuss specific cases of student discipline. 

“In compliance with federal privacy laws, we cannot and do not discuss specific student disciplinary cases, nor do we confirm whether a specific matter is being or has been investigated,” Brown said.

He continued by discussing Notre Dame’s efforts to combat sexual violence. 

“Sexual assault and other forms of sexual violence can occur anywhere, and Notre Dame is not exempt from that reality,” Brown stated. “The University works tirelessly to combat sexual violence through numerous initiatives that seek to educate our students, heighten their awareness and support victims and survivors. Rape and sexual assault are unacceptable and are not tolerated in the Notre Dame community.”

Saint Mary’s vice president for student enrollment and engagement Lori Johnson also commented on the resources the College has created. 

“We are aware of our student’s posts on social media and understand the heartfelt reaction it has generated on campus,” Johnson said. “However, we cannot comment on the specifics of our student or her story. The College has worked diligently to put resources in place to support our students. These resources and initiatives are available to all students through the Office of Student Involvement & Advocacy and BAVO (Belles Against Violence [Office]).”

Student leaders respond to multiple claims of sexual violence

Earlier this week, Saint Mary’s Student Government Association (SGA) posted a statement on Instagram to show their “love, support and advocacy for anyone who has endured hardships pertaining to sexual assault and sexual violence.”

The post also acknowledged that SGA leaders were in communication with the Saint Mary’s administration about these issues, though it would be “​​a process that takes time.”

SGA vice president Josie Haas said she takes pride in the strength of tri-campus community members.

“[SGA president] Angela [Camacho Martinez] and I wanted to make sure that our Belles felt supported by our SGA, wanted them to feel heard and wanted to bring as much attention to their strength as possible because their stories are worth being heard and we need others to see the gravity of this issue in our tri-campus community,” Haas said.

Notre Dame student government also posted a guide to supporting survivors on their Instagram page this week. 

Notre Dame’s student body president Patrick Lee said the student government’s stance is centered on survivor support, encouraging students to be active bystanders and bringing student concerns to the Office of Institutional Equity.

“Since everything has been going on, student support has always been on the front of our minds,” he said.

Belles Supporting Belles (BSB) president Annie Maher discussed her anger about reading how survivors claimed a lack of support from tri-campus institutions. 

“When I first read some of the survivors’ stories, I was angered by the lack of support these students felt,” Maher said. “Not only did these students go through an extremely traumatic experience that no person should ever have to go through, but then they received little to no support after that experience from institutions that are supposed to have their backs.”

Maher also reflected on what she perceives to be a lack of change in how the tri-campus handles sexual assault cases. 

“It pained me to see another group of students have to share their story to try to ignite some action in the tri-campus community,” she said. “Talk to pretty much any student on all three of the campuses and you will understand that this is an issue.”

Leaders plan initiatives to support students

Camacho Martinez noted that SGA’s social concerns committee has been working on the annual Support a Belle, Love a Belle (SBLB) week and adapted their plans to highlight campus resources. 

“There have been plans on adjusting a few days of SBLB to center more on resources made available to campus, like Callisto,” Camacho Martinez said. “I think this is a valuable resource that assists in the encounter of sexual assault and/or sexual violence faced by not just SMC students but also Notre Dame and Holy Cross students.”

Haas also emphasized SBLB is a time where students in the community can support each other.

“Overall, the purpose of this week is to show the support and love we have for one another as Belles,” she said. “By being an uplifting community, we give each other strength and inspire ourselves to be the amazing Belles I know we are despite negative circumstances. We can help each other overcome whatever is placed in our pathway.”

Lee said student government has been addressing the situation for the past two weeks. He outlined plans for a survivor mass at the Basilica, a speak out event supporting survivors, GreenDot training for students and a survey gathering information to evaluate the reporting process for harassment and discrimination on campus.

Student Government is also co-sponsoring the panel “Walking Hand in Hand: Navigating the sexual assault support system on campus,” with the Gender Relations Center, director of gender relations Lane Obringer said.

Saint Mary’s Feminists United president Madison Mata said the organization will continue to serve as a place for students to feel safe and become more educated about relevant issues. 

“I think for Feminists United as a whole, it’s gonna be being able to open up the floor to people who want to share their stories — whether it’s sexual violence or assault or anything like that,” she said. “In general, just being able to be a safe space for them, sharing resources, staying educated and making sure that like-minded people are in the club for the right reasons.”

In addition, Feminists United is inviting local female politicians to speak to Saint Mary’s students on Saturday about their experiences in politics and the importance of voting. 

Like Mata, Maher is organizing specific events but encouraged students to use the student concern form on the BSB website to discuss sexual violence on campus. 

“Belles Supporting Belles is working towards creating an event to address these stories. Our main priority right now is to make sure that students’ voices are heard,” Maher said. “Right now, we have created a student concern form that is in our Instagram bio that students can fill out regarding their concerns about sexual violence and safety on campus.”

Student leaders call for accountability

Camacho Martinez referred back to SGA’s initial communication with College administrators and called on them to keep creating ways to support Saint Mary’s students. 

“For any SMC administrators who will read this story, I know we are already working through this process with you, but let’s see what more we can do to be supportive of our SMC students, inspire other tri-campus administrators to be supportive of their respective students and hopefully evoke change in the system that fails to believe our survivors,” she said. 

Lee said the issue of handling sexual violence better will require the whole Notre Dame community, both students and administration, working together. 

“If Notre Dame really is going to be this really amazing community that we all want it to be, we all know it can be, as inclusive as possible, as supportive as possible, then everybody needs to take accountability for the safety of others,” Lee said. 

It is a large task, but one Lee believes the community can do. 

“It’s my belief that we absolutely can. I’ve seen it a number of times,” Lee said. “From my point of view, three plus years of being a student leader here, it really does start with us. We can all be responsible for our own actions.”

Maher also called for administrator accountability, as well as implementing more comprehensive action steps during an ongoing investigation. 

“I am tired, as I am sure many students are, of basic apologies from administrators. Students deserve positive action from the administration,” Maher said. “Comprehensive action plans for when a student reports a sexual assault, immediate probation/academic suspension when a perpetrator is identified, and other solutions are vital in maintaining a safe campus while the investigation is underway.”

She also claimed that based on the recent narratives of survivors, administrations are not believing their stories.

“The stories we heard last week are just a few of many survivors who have endured violent acts on our campuses,” she said. “Our institutions need to believe survivors, and based on the stories that were shared last week, that isn’t happening.”

Contact Genevieve Coleman at gcoleman01@saintmarys.edu and Liam Price at lprice3@nd.edu

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Police investigating two reports of sexual assault connected to off-campus party

The St. Joseph County Police Department is investigating two instances of sexual assault reported last weekend, according to an email from the Saint Mary’s campus safety department.

Phil Bambenek, the College’s director of the campus safety department, said in the email the assaults appear to be connected to at least one student party that occurred Friday night and Saturday morning at University Edge Apartments.

The email said one of the instances of sexual assault occurred when a student was coerced into a sexual act but then did not explicitly consent to any further activity.

The details of the second reported assault are unclear but it appears to be connected to the same University Edge student party, the email said.

Bambenek went on to give more information on what constitutes sexual assault and the definition of consent.

“Anyone initiating any kind of sexual contact with another person must seek consent and not engage in sexual contact unless consent is given,” he wrote. “‘Consent’ means informed, freely given agreement, communicated by clearly understandable words or actions, to participate in each form of sexual activity. Consent cannot be inferred from silence, passivity, or lack of active resistance.’”

A person who is incapacitated is unable to give consent, Bambenek added. The email requested any witnesses to contact the police department at (574) 235-9611 to assist in the investigation.

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GreeNDot widens focus under new department leadership

Students gathered on Library Lawn from 9-11 p.m. Friday night for Notre Dame’s third celebration of National greeNDot Day.

A DJ played music as attendees enjoyed two large inflatables, food trucks and lawn games. Mandy Miller, the program director of student health and wellness initiatives for the division of student affairs, said the event provided students a space to talk about campus safety.

“This event allowed students to come together as a community and stand up against all forms of harm that happen and learn how to take action,” Miller wrote in an email. 

Miller, who chairs the greeNDot steering committee, drew attention to the various student-safety organizations.

“Multiple informational tables were present, consisting of signs up for bystander trainings and recruiting students to the greeNDot student advisory committee, a group of students who are passionate about making our campus safer. Callisto and Speak Up were also present to support the event as reporting option,” Miller wrote.

In addition to larger events such as the annual the greeNDot day celebration or the flick on the field, Miller said greeNDot spreads its mission in smaller ways daily on Notre Dame’s campus.

“GreeNDot’s mission is being carried out daily through tabling events around campus, table tent messaging within the dining halls and weekly bystander intervention trainings on Sunday afternoons in Dahnke Ballroom,” Miller wrote.

Student greeNDot workers gave out free towels to attendees at Flick on the Field to raise awareness of the program on campus. / Courtesy of Mindy Miller

New this academic year, the greeNDot program is being housed under the student health and wellness unit, directed by assistant vice president for student health and wellness Christine Caron Gebhardt, Miller said.

“Since the inception of the program, greeNDot was implemented under the gender relations center,” Miller wrote.

This initiative to strengthen greeNDot oversight began back in May of 2022, Miller said. In the past, the greeNDot program had been managed by a volunteer steering committee. 

“The University has invested in establishing a staff position to oversee the greeNDot program. Starting in May 2022, the position of program director of student health and wellness initiatives manages the day-to-day operations of greeNDot and since has implemented a newly paid student program assistant position and hired six senior fellows to help with bystander intervention trainings, campus outreach, relationship building and marketing and communications,” Miller wrote.

These recent administrative change mirrors the expansion of greeNDot’s focus this year from violence prevention to all forms of harm, Miller said.

“With the program now transitioning its focus on all forms of harm, to include mental health, discrimination and harassment and alcohol, instead of just power-based personal violence, the new mission of greeNDot is to inspire a culture of care by creating awareness, teaching intervention skills and promoting a campus environment that does not tolerate harm,” Miller wrote.

So far this year, greeNDot has targeted their mission to first-year students through efforts during welcome weekend and the Moreau first-year seminar. The senior fellows have also helped with the initiative to offer larger campus-wide bystander trainings for students of all grade levels, Miller said.

“The scheduled trainings, which are already at max registrations, started on September 11 and go through October 9, also overlap with Moreau first year course, where first year students were re-introduced to greeNDot during week four’s curriculum,” Miller wrote.

Micah Finley, a greeNDot senior fellow, said he has been happy to see greeNDot become more receptive to student input this year following the program’s administrative revamp.

“We are trying to transition [greeNDot] to being more student-run so that students’ request in how they want to see greeNDot can actually be formed around how they feel and what they want to see,” Finley said.

Finley said he is taking initiative this year, under the expansion of greeNDot’s mission, to publicize campus safety efforts equally between genders.

“One thing I definitely want to do for greeNDot more in the future is to put more emphasis on the male aspect. Males tend to really not express their feelings a lot and they tend to ignore situations even though stuff happens to them as well just as equally as it does to women,” Finley said.

Finley said he is hopeful about good that will be brought out of greeNDot’s new overarching health and wellness perspective, provided that the message continues to spread.

“I want [everyone] to know that greeNDot is a place where they have a voice, that they can be heard and to let them know that they’re not alone,” Finley said.

Though greeNDot has begun to pivote outward in new directions this academic year, Miller said the fundamental goal of the program has not changed.

“Our message is that any forms of violence or harm are not okay, and everyone has a role to play.”

Contact Peter at pbreen2@nd.edu