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Lee-Stitt administration rides momentum into final semester in roles

Notre Dame student government leaders Patrick Lee, Sofie Stitt, Nicole Baumann and their directors took office on April 1, 2022. Now, at the end of the second semester in their roles, The Observer spoke to the executive cabinet to get an update on their plans and progress. 

Lee and Stitt, the student body president and vice president, respectively, said one surprising outcome of their work is how close the executive cabinet has become. 

“[One indicator] of great success to me is just the relationships that we have with our directors and between the directors,” Lee said. “We have a very strong sense of group identity now, we’re all very close. That, to me, has been an unexpected blessing this semester.”

Stitt, agreeing, said their cabinet is a “complete joy” to work with. 

Chief of staff Baumann, who works closely with the cabinet, explained that this semester contained more action steps rather than planning. 

“Last year in the spring was a lot of the dreaming phase and planning,” she said. “[This semester,] not only have we been able to see a lot of execution of those plans that we thought about back in March of last year, but we’ve also been able to form really good relationships with people in administration.”

Lee compared the cabinet’s movement toward carrying out long-thought plans as putting “rubber to the road” and is confident they will reach 100% completion of the goals outlined in their progress tracker. Currently, 46% of goals have been met, with around 50% of the group’s term now in the rearview mirror.  

“A lot of the hardest work in student government is the work that’s behind the scenes: the research, the report writing, the initial meetings that are sometimes uncomfortable on some of the biggest initiatives,” Lee said. “Those are out of the way, and we’re ready to reap the rewards of the really hard work that we’ve done this semester.”

Stitt explained that many goals are right on the precipice of being completed, noting that “Walk the Walk Week” will occur in the first week of the spring 2023 semester. This year’s programming will focus on the theme, “Education, Celebration and Participation” and will feature a service project, multiple panels and a dinner celebration. 

The leaders highlighted a few of their cabinet members for exceptional work throughout the semester: Anna Dray, Lane Obringer and Collete Doyle. 

Dray, the director of University Policy, has been developing the ND Safe App with police chief Keri Kei Shibata, leading the transition to mobile identification (ID) cards and organizing efforts to upgrade residence hall exercise facilities. 

In the aftermath of a series of various allegations surrounding Title IX earlier this semester, director of gender relations – Title IX and women’s initiatives Obringer led with “strength and grace” to come up with practical and supportive solutions, Lee said. 

“’I’ve never seen anything like it,” Lee emphasized. “She’s so reliable. She’s so passionate and is always ready, even when she’s feeling stressed, to help others.”

Lee also heralded the leadership of sophomore director of communications Doyle, saying, “The communication efforts of our group will be radically changed, and that is in part due to her organizational capabilities and just unending source of effort.”

When asked about the challenges faced by the student body this semester, such as two student deaths and widespread discussion regarding Title IX, Lee drew a comparison from the University to the broader community. 

“Notre Dame is emblematic of the world in a lot of ways, and the struggles that we’re seeing in our society related to Title IX and issues of gender relations as well as a mental health crisis among young people — that’s nationwide, and we have to learn how to cope with those,” Lee said. “I would just say, in those moments of deeper sadness, I’m even more immensely grateful that we are together in a community.”

In terms of challenges within the office, Stitt noted that they chose their cabinet because the students would not give up after the first “No.”

“[Our directors are] going to continually advocate for students and advocate for our campus community. So I would say there have been challenges as we work through a pretty ambitious list of initiatives, but I have been so impressed and in awe of the way that our directors respond,” Stitt explained. 

Looking ahead, the three leaders pointed to many initiatives that will take effect next semester, including a collaboration to improve University Health Service communications, a visit from Bishop Robert Barron, a program to bring free menstrual products to all campus restrooms called Code Red, Taste of South Bend, Vocation Fair and many more. 

Lee, Stitt and Baumann all re-emphasized how honored they are to serve the student body. 

“We are a broken record every time, but it’s just an absolute privilege and a joy for us to serve the student body. If there’s anything we can do, for anybody on campus or in the tri-campus community, please don’t hesitate to reach out,” Stitt said. 

She also noted the overall excitement the cabinet has for the end of their terms and for some rest over the break. 

“I am honestly, really excited to enter this next semester. We’ve got this spectacular team, and we’ve got a lot of momentum behind us,” Stitt said. “But it’s important for us to remember that our directors and everybody in student government is a student first.”

Review: The Lee-Stitt administration has been clear and straightforward surrounding their platform and plans for the year; however, the cabinet is not forthcoming with barriers and issues they have faced while attempting to accomplish their goals. The administration is making definite strides but has not yet reached full transparency. Additionally, the leaders responded soundly to Title IX allegations raised by alleged victims with both practical and supportive solutions to ease students’ pain and gather suggestions for policy updates to bring to University administrators. 

Contact Bella Laufenberg at ilaufenb@nd.edu.

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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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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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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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Feminists United holds rally to encourage women’s voting

Saint Mary’s Feminists United club held a rally Saturday afternoon in front of Le Mans Hall to mark one month until election day. Echoing other women’s marches around the country also held Saturday, the rally centered around speakers who addressed the importance of women getting out to vote in elections.

“We are trying to highlight voting right now with the midterm election coming up,” Feminists United treasurer and senior Libbey Detcher said. “Traditionally, college students have a really low voter turnout.”

Feminists United’s mission is to empower and give community to women. Each year, they hold events like feminist trivia, work the women’s health fair, help with Take Back the Night and sponsor voting events such as the one on Saturday to encourage women to get out and vote. 

Feminists United president and junior Madison Mata said events like the rally are especially important to learn about and provide resources to assist the voting process.

“I am from Texas and whenever I have to request my absentee ballot, I get really confused,” Mata said about her own experiences.

Detcher said women’s voices are too often quieted in society.

“I think some voices tend to be underrepresented or even stifled sometimes,” she said.

The speakers at the event were all women in government offices who shared their stories and discussed the importance of women voting.

The first to speak was Saint Mary’s alum Rachel Tomas Morgan, an at-large member of the common council in South Bend. Tomas Morgan talked about how she tried to encourage many people to run for city council seats before someone turned the question back on her and asked why she didn’t run herself.

Tomas Morgan said she originally thought she didn’t have the knowledge, qualifications or experience to run. She had asked 60 people their opinions on her running before she felt validated enough to try.

In her speech, Tomas Morgan said a man would never question himself so much before running. She encouraged women to take more active roles in reaching for positions of authority and decision making. 

“Women need to ask ‘Why not me?’” Tomas Morgan said.

The next speaker was state representative Maureen Bauer.

“We do not have a truly representative government,” she said.

Bauer noted that St. Joseph County has a general assembly made up of 77% men and that women in St. Joseph County make around 72 cents to every dollar a man makes, a typical trend across the country.

In her argument, Bauer used statistics to encourage women to fight for their rights and encouraged involvement in politics, whether it be voting or running for office themselves.

State senate candidate Melinda Fountain spoke last. Fountain detailed having faced harassment while in ROTC and more subtle snubbing as a diplomat for the U.S. Foreign Service.

Fountain voiced frustrations at the continuous discrimination she has endured because of her gender. She said she decided to make a difference in political representation, starting small by running for her township board and now running for state senate. She advised the audience at Saint Mary’s to believe in themselves regardless of what statistics may show or what others may say. 

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Observer Editorial: It’s been 50 years. When will our campuses be safe?

Editor’s note: This story includes mentions of sexual assault. 

Fifty years ago in the fall of 1972, the University of Notre Dame enrolled its first class of women. One hundred twenty-five freshmen and 240 transfers joined the once all-male student body and, in the half-century since, Notre Dame women have boldly contributed to the accomplishments and community of our tri-campus. 

Fifty years, and our tri-campus still isn’t safe.

Last week, at least five students between Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s came forward on social media to share stories of alleged sexual assault. Three said they reported their experiences to Notre Dame’s Title IX office. None believe they got justice.

As leaders of an organization comprised of students from Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross College, The Observer Editorial Board is troubled by these stories. It is our responsibility to serve this community — that means fostering a safe and compassionate workplace where sexual misconduct and violence are not tolerated. Our Letters to the Editor seek to give a voice to that community. We invite you to share your story if you are comfortable doing so. The Observer cannot publish every submission, but at the very least, we will listen.

In the last several months, Notre Dame has hosted several events to commemorate both the 50th anniversary of Title IX and coeducation. Bearing these milestones in mind, tri-campus administrators have not met our expectations for communicating about sexual violence — an issue that impacts all three student bodies. While we understand administrators can’t legally comment on ongoing disciplinary cases, students, especially survivors and allies, demand acknowledgment from campus leaders. 

For example, in the wake of derogatory Yik Yak posts about Saint Mary’s students last fall, Saint Mary’s president Katie Conboy released a statement stating she and her administration “[stood] in solidarity” with students. In addition, she advocated for more opportunities to build tri-campus relations. We commend Conboy for speaking up about how demeaning language hurt the College’s students. However, we encourage her, University President Fr. John Jenkins and Holy Cross President Marco Clark to address their respective students about how they will prevent incidents of sexual violence in our community.

The problem is not a lack of resources; Notre Dame, for example, has many. SpeakUp is the University’s primary online reporting tool, not only for incidents of sexual misconduct but all forms of bias, discrimination and harassment. It is comprehensive and user-friendly, providing students with examples of harassment, confidential and non-confidential resources, what to expect after filing a report and strategies for helping friends.

But in the 2022 Inclusive Campus Student Survey, the University revealed that only 15% of student respondents knew how to use SpeakUp to report harassment, and only 24% of respondents even knew the purpose of the resource. Further, the survey observed that of the nearly 4,400 incidents of adverse treatment reported by more than 2,000 respondents, only about 300  — a little less than 7% — were officially reported. And then, only 7% of that 7% of reports were filed through SpeakUp, less than 0.5% of incidents experienced.

That is the problem. What good can these resources provide if students don’t know that they exist, much less how to use them? And in the face of the silence of leadership, do students even trust our institutions to listen when they “speak up?”

The survey also pointed to the intersectionality of this issue. According to the 2022 results, 31% of cisgender women said they at least somewhat agreed with the statement, “I have seriously considered leaving Notre Dame.” Thirty-three percent of students of color concurred. These statistics correspond to the students who came forward last week: Of the five, four are cisgender women, three are Black and one is non-binary. These are the students our campus is failing — these are the students who are hurt. 

In addition, three of the five students attend Saint Mary’s. Based on the relative size of the schools in the tri-campus community, we are alarmed by the disproportionate number of Saint Mary’s students who have been impacted by sexual violence. 

In recent years, the College has improved the accessibility of student resources with the revival of the Belles Against Violence Office (BAVO) and the student-led group, Belles Supporting Belles. The College also hosted its inaugural sexual violence symposium last spring, hosting a variety of speakers and events in a week that culminated with Take Back the Night. 

While these initiatives are promising steps in the right direction, Saint Mary’s students deserve a more complete set of resources to address the ongoing issue of sexual assault. Currently, Saint Mary’s students can choose to report to several confidential sources, like the BAVO coordinator, or submit a non-confidential incident report to the Title IX office. However, in comparison to Notre Dame’s SpeakUp, the resources for reporting and healing after an incident of sexual violence seem less comprehensive. The Saint Mary’s Title IX website is merely a page in the Student Life section of the College’s website — rather than a larger, individual site like SpeakUp or Notre Dame Title IX. On the page, there is no link to Notre Dame or Holy Cross resources, despite students being required to submit their reports to the school where the incident took place. Although the Saint Mary’s student population is significantly smaller than Notre Dame’s, it is clear that the College needs to continue expanding avenues for survivors of sexual violence. 

But, of course, our community includes three schools — Holy Cross students face similar problems to Saint Mary’s students and in addition to their own unique obstacles. Similar to Saint Mary’s, Holy Cross’ online resources are confined to a subsection of its Campus Life page, and other than a helpful diagram of reporting options linked at the bottom, they do not offer the depth of knowledge of SpeakUp or Notre Dame’s Title IX website. Holy Cross, in fact, links directly to Notre Dame’s Title IX site, but the Holy Cross resources Notre Dame offers can be broken and contain inaccuracies. One link to a PDF of Holy Cross resources returns a 404 error, while the options listed for reporting offenders from Holy Cross link to the Title IX office at the wrong Holy Cross — the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. This lack of clarity discourages Holy Cross students from reporting misconduct, particularly Gateways, as these students already struggle with navigating resources and reconciling their identities between two schools. And as first-years, Gateways are also at greater risk in their first semester of college.

Clear communication is especially important when the very nature of Title IX is confusing and complex. Notre Dame’s Title IX website explains that Title IX is a law enacted as part of the Education Amendments of 1972 that bars discrimination on the basis of sex, including sexual violence. However, both the scope and minutiae of the law are unclear to many students, as Title IX is also commonly used in reference to athletics. Misunderstandings about what Title IX is — and uncertainty about the Title IX process — discourage students from coming forward and allow administrators to hide behind bureaucratic jargon. To increase awareness of resources, tri-campus leaders must also increase awareness of Title IX. 

But mere promotional efforts will not be enough to address what has become a deep wound in our tri-campus culture. The fact that at least five students have taken to their personal social media to share their stories demonstrates a fundamental lack of trust in our institutions to handle cases on their own. The act of sharing these stories itself has only worsened that trust, as students once unfamiliar with Title IX reporting are now most aware of the students who feel betrayed by it. Tri-campus leaders must not only promote their resources appropriately but earn back student trust.

Of course, it is also on us, the students, to create a safe campus community. At Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s, for example, you can become greeNDot certified through a popular bystander intervention course. However, all trainings this fall at Notre Dame have already reached maximum capacity. Students, it seems, are eager to combat sexual violence in the ways that we can.

What about the adults?

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One more time, with feeling: In response to the current campus climate

Editor’s note: This letter 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. 

I graduated in January, but I still live in South Bend and come to campus frequently. I am still connected to this community, and I still check YikYak, an anonymous app wherein only people near you can see your posts. If you have the app downloaded, you have likely seen many recent posts about specific cases of interpersonal violence and whose side is in the right. I don’t want to discuss specific cases. I want to discuss how our treatment of each other in these dialogues about power and gender speak to several systemic issues in the tri-campus community. For example, YikYak was also recently flooded with degrading posts about SMC students being overweight – comments that even went so far as to demean people with eating disorders. The narratives about SMC students are rather pervasive at Notre Dame and do not bear repeating. They were likely taught to you early on in your time here and for many of you, they stuck. For hopefully fewer of you, they became an excuse to put women down — to assert your superiority over other people because you see them as beneath you or you are a woman and do not wish to be put into the same box.

This attitude of maintaining superiority is persistent here. On social media and in person, I have seen people use their uneasiness with one accuser’s story to discredit all women. I have seen people use accusations of assault toward people of color as an excuse to be racist. I have seen people use accusations of assault by people of color as an excuse to be racist. I have seen people belittle protestors of Title IX procedural issues and the danger in our campus culture.

When Notre Dame students degrade women for their weight it shows me that women are only worth kindness to some men if they find them attractive, by which I mean useful. Mindsets like these toward historically-oppressed groups are fostered on this campus, even if they are not verbalized. If you are thinking to yourself that these are isolated individuals making ignorant comments that are not indicative of the campus milieu at large, I ask you to challenge that thought. People upvote these YikYak posts. People say these things to their friends outside of the anonymity of the app. Most people who are not making these kinds of comments do not do anything to call out these attitudes when they encounter them. Our campus community has been hurting for a long time.

What I hoped would be addressed by the uptick in conversations about sexual assault at Notre Dame (instead of the expected devolution into picking sides and treating assault allegations like juicy drama, followed by the influx of degrading comments about SMC students) are the serious issues in the Title IX process as it stands. These are exacerbated the way most of us have been taught about consent and who the burden of preventing violence is on — victims and bystanders. Even our bystander intervention training is not taken seriously by many students. This stems from the simplistic and damaging narratives present within this university and elsewhere about gender and power. These narratives have torched my own life and the lives of others, and yet most of the tri-campus community was quick to move past the expressions of pain shared on Instagram and in protests by multiple students recently in order to focus on attacking either side of a specific situation or return to complacency.

I have watched the lives of people I love turn to darkness after assault. I have watched multiple men watch me protest to being groped and laugh. I have let the teacher embarrass me in front of the class for losing focus even though the boy sitting next to me is the one with his hand between my thighs, even though I have tried to push him off. I have watched people ignore the violence that their friends have perpetrated out of convenience. I have watched brave students in Show Some Skin tell the stories of other brave students who have experienced discrimination. I am sick of it. I am tired. I am grieving constantly for myself and the people around me, knowing that I cannot personally convince other people to feel for those around them and for our shared human experience.

This University needs transformation and better demonstration of compassion from its community members. Reviewing and reforming Title IX procedures, resources for survivors, staff training, curricula and residence hall culture would go a long way, but what really needs to change is our apathy toward the people around us. It does not matter if the facade is beautiful if it is crumbled beneath. The engineering is not sound. Every Relationship-Violence awareness month, Black History month and LGBTQ History month, members of this campus community speak out in hopes that finally, enough people will listen and take up examination of their actions to effect change institutionally, but every time we let the structural damage quickly fall to the wayside when it is no longer convenient or trendy to talk about it.

I love so many parts of this school, but so many of the load-bearing beams are cracked. I am begging you, one more time, with feeling, to keep the conversation ongoing and productive. I am begging students to fight for those around them. I am begging Notre Dame to consider examination and reforms of the culture it fosters.

If you want to discuss specifics of the reforms that need to be implemented or share your experience with campus culture and Title IX related issues, you can email me at blewand2@nd.edu. I’m all ears.


Brenna Lewandowski

Class of 2022

Oct. 3

The views in this letter to the editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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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

Categories
News

‘Objects in the Rearview Mirror’: The story behind the first women at the University

When Deborah Dell, known to her loved ones as Debi, arrived at the University of Notre Dame in 1972 with the first cohort of women, she entered with a sharp mind and a lot of determination. 

Now, almost exactly 50 years later, Dell is publishing a book, “Objects in the Rearview Mirror: A Social History of Coeducation under the Dome.” The story took shape over the span of 20 years and with the help of more than 150 contributors who were impacted by the decision to implement coeducation. 

The first years – inspiration and roadblocks

Sitting at the desk of her Morris Inn hotel room, Dell looked at a blank page. 

“Was I the right person to be doing this?” she wondered. 

Dell lived in Breen-Phillips Hall, Walsh Hall and Lyons Hall during her time on campus. She admitted that her circle of friends was small and stuck to themselves most of the time. 

“Books like this should be written by somebody who was important,” she explained her hesitation. 

She was in the midst of a lull in motivation. Dell said she came back to Notre Dame to get inspired. 

“I’m in the hotel room, and I’ve just been to the library to get some stuff out of the archives and I’m struggling,” she said. “It’s like I hear Father Hesburgh, saying ‘Debi, put your faith in the Holy Spirit and His mother, and stop thinking so hard and just trust.’”

Dell said she started brainstorming and researching for this book in 2000 and wrote a couple drafts with a few of her friends contributing in 2001, 2006 and 2011. Her trip to the Morris Inn was during the second draft in 2006. 

“[This book] was a long time coming. That’s an understatement,” she quipped. “I think the only book that took longer was the Bible.”

Debi and Darlene — missed connections and missing pieces

Darlene Connelly, class of 1977, was Dell’s right-hand woman during the second half of the project. She was also Dell’s neighbor on the first floor of Breen-Phillips Hall in 1977 — unbeknownst to either of them until a classmate introduced them a few years ago. 

“Darlene — we lived in the same hall, and I didn’t know her!” Dell said. “It was just the perfect timing and the perfect marriage as far as her approach to things and my approach. We just complemented each other so well.”

Connelly said she was introduced to Dell because she was also thinking of writing a book about her experiences. Connelly’s inspiration came in the form of a mentor, Fr. Tom Tallarida. 

Connelly explained that she had a long friendship with Tallarida throughout her time as an undergraduate and that she maintained contact with him as an adult. 

“We stayed in touch over the years. One year, I think it was 1992, he sent me a letter. He pleaded with me to write the real story about coeducation in those early years at Notre Dame,” she said. 

Connelly said she forgot about that plea until one Christmas when she decided to pay Tallarida a visit. A few days before her plans, Connelly said she got a letter from Tallarida’s niece that he had passed away. 

“I carried Catholic guilt,” she said. “I never got to it. I never got around to it, and I am so sorry, so sorry that I don’t know what the story was that he wanted to tell.”

Dell said Connelly not only brought her expertise to the project, but also the contributions of the women of the class of 1977. 

As Dell hosted mixers for her classmates in South Bend before home football games, word about the project got out, and men started chiming in. The men of the classes of 1976 and 1977 were soon added to the list of the writing process contributors.

Around that time, Dell said she started gathering information about the second generation of women at the University — what had changed and what had not. This was done with the help of Emily Weisbacker. 

Dell also mentioned she believed it was important to include what was going on at Notre Dame’s peer institutions and in the nation at the same time. 

“It was very important to me to also make sure that it wasn’t just the Notre Dame story. We looked at Yale and Princeton, and we looked at what was happening in the culture of the United States during the 70s,” she said. 

Dell said she finally felt ready to write the book once she had collected the experiences of the women and men of the first five years of coeducation, the second generation of women at the University and the historical context for the story.

“So now we had the women who went through it, the men who went through it and then the second generation that was benefiting. [They] were able to tell me about the things that hadn’t changed in 30 or 40 years,” she explained. “[The book] really became so much bigger than the original concept because of the delay that took place.”

Those who went without mention — early women’s athletics 

When the girls first arrived on campus, nothing was set up for them, Dell explained. Other than two hastily renovated dorms, the first few classes of women at Notre Dame had to fashion everything themselves. This included clubs, policy groups, information sharing networks and sports. 

Ron Skrabacz, class of 1976, oversaw the research and writing of the chapters on early women’s athletics. 

Skrabacz, who was only participated in interhall sports during his time on campus, was recruited to write the section because of his work as a sports writer. He wrote for the Daily Herald — a newspaper covering the Chicago suburbs — as a sports columnist for 20 years. 

Skrabacz got involved with the project when he was at Dell’s South Bend house on one Friday night before a football game. 

“Debi is a very brilliant woman, but you can put in a thimble what she knew about sports,” he joked. “She knew it was critical that sports be covered.”

Skrabacz explained that he wrote about the general atmosphere of sports during his time at the University and specifically what the women went through to start their varsity sports. 

Luckily, Skrabacz said his work would not have been possible without the research of Anne Dilenschneider and Jane Lammers. 

The two women were at a 30-year reunion of coeducation when they were shown a video about women’s athletics. Skrabacz explained that Dilenschneider and Lammers were upset that the video did not show the early years or how the women made the programs that today yield national championships.

Lammers and Dilenschneider then started researching. They made posters and sought out connections. The women complied “a boatload” of material, which they turned over to Skrabacz.

“All I did was the easy part. I took all their information, summarized it and turned it into a story,” he said. 

Other than their inclusion in the book, over 250 women who participated in the early building stages of each varsity sport will be memorialized with honorary monograms during a home football game the weekend of Oct. 21 to 23. 

Looking back and looking forward

“Objects” came out Sept. 1 and is now available for order at Barnes & Noble. There are two versions: a paperback and a special edition hardcover.

“We’re limiting the hardcover edition to 365 copies to commemorate and honor the 365 first female undergraduates,” Dell said. “The first 365 hardcover books will have a special cover that commemorates that number.”

The Hammes Bookstore is hosting two book signing events for the new release Friday, Sept. 9 from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. and Friday, Oct. 14 from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. 

A labor of love of over 20 years, Dell said she hopes the book is a tribute to the strength of the Notre Dame family through good times and bad. 

“It was a time when men and women came together and there were struggles, but we found each other. We had the ability to get through some pretty weird tough times, and that’s the value of the Notre Dame family,” she said. “[The book is] a balanced picture: the good, the bad and the ugly.”

Bella Laufenberg

Contact Bella at ilaufenb@nd.edu