An Act of Inclusion

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Author: The editors

A new pastoral plan establishes a student organization for GLBTQ students and others.

The University announced in early December plans to establish a new student organization for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and questioning (GLBTQ) students and their allies.

The new organization was recommended by the Office of Student Affairs after a five-month review process and is part of a comprehensive plan to promote a more welcoming and inclusive environment while remaining consistent with Notre Dame’s mission and heritage as a Catholic university.

Titled “Beloved Friends and Allies: A Pastoral Plan for the Support and Holistic Development of GLBTQ and Heterosexual Students,” the plan calls for “a new support and service student organization” and a full-time student development staff person to oversee educational programs that will encourage campus dialogue, nurture a spirit of inclusion and further an understanding of Catholic teaching among students. It also recommends a new advisory committee composed of students, faculty and staff to counsel the vice president of student affairs on the questions, concerns and needs of GLBTQ students.

This advisory committee will replace the Core Council, an advisory board comprised of four administrators and eight students, most of whom identified as lesbian or gay. The Core Council, the University’s primary resource for meeting the needs of GLBTQ students, had evolved in 2006 from a standing committee established a decade earlier in response to student appeals to have a club for GLBTQ students.

Requests through the years for a University-recognized club for GLBTQ students have been denied by administrators careful to ensure that student groups be consonant with the University’s mission and the moral teachings of the Catholic Church. The University, most notably through its 1997 “Spirit of Inclusion” statement and other administrative initiatives, has at the same time attempted to develop a welcoming and caring environment for GLBTQ students.

The call for a student-to-student club gained renewed momentum during the spring semester of 2012 when an alliance of gay and straight students, faculty voices and the campus 4-to-5 Movement (referring to a study that shows that 80 percent of U.S. college students and college-educated Americans in their 20s support the acceptance of gay rights) precipitated a lively campus discourse.

This time the decision on applications for a student club was deferred to allow time for a review of the current structures and services offered GLBTQ students. And that review, explained Erin Hoffmann Harding, vice president for student affairs, revealed that although “the educational and support programs provided by the Core Council have been very important and need to be continued, the composition and size of the group has limited its ability to serve the needs of our students effectively.”

The report, released December 5 (a few days before this issue went to press), acknowledged that “numerous GLBTQ students seek additional support as they come to understand and live out their sexual orientation and gender identity” and that “many students, whether undergraduate, post-baccalaureate, GLBTQ or heterosexual allies, desire to be engaged more fully in building the climate of welcome and inclusion that the University desires to achieve,” adding, “not all such students are currently able to contribute to the efforts of the Core Council because its official membership is limited.” The plan notes that the new group will be a student organization, not a student club — an organization being more permanent in structure, with an administrative staff member appointed as adviser, whereas clubs operate on student interest, disbanding or making constitutional changes at will, with the ability to choose their own advisers. Student organizations, some observers say, have the benefit of stability whereas student groups tend to ebb and flow as student leadership changes.

The formation of the student organization is distinct from any discussion regarding the inclusion of sexual orientation in the institution’s nondiscrimination clause, and the pastoral plan stipulates that neither the organization nor its staff will engage in political advocacy, such as the issue of gay marriage.

The plan, available online at friendsandallies.nd.edu, resolutely affirms the University’s adherence to Catholic teaching in regards to human sexuality, distinguishing between the homosexual tendency and individual homosexual actions. Sexual orientation, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, “is experienced as a given, not as something freely chosen” and therefore “cannot be considered sinful.”

But all students, whether gay or straight, are instructed by the University and the Catechism of the Catholic Church that sexual activity must be confined to the marital relationship and that all sexual activity be open to the gift of life. As a result, the catechism maintains, “homosexual persons are called to chastity.”

Implementation of the plan will begin during this spring semester. The student co-chairs of AllianceND have withdrawn the application submitted for club status from the consideration of the Student Activities Office.

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