Editor's Note: Guest Blogger Jason Coleman is a senior accounting major at Notre Dame University. He originally expressed his views on the Observer Comic controversy in a article in the Observer on Jan. 20th.
Last week, the national LGBT scene was put on notice that Notre Dame was not the most accommodating university for its gay students. As most of the Notre Dame community and readers of this site are aware, an offensive comic ran, went viral, then national, and resulted in a strong backlash against both the comics, the editors of Notre Dame's student run newspaper, the Observer, and the University at large. This is an attempt to move onto the larger issue here, homosexuality at Notre Dame, and some of the issues endemic to this place.
Any conversation on this topic must begin with dorm life. For many students and alum alike, the dorm system is the crown jewel of the Notre Dame experience. The single sex dorms, seemingly bogus to students at other schools, create a sense of fraternity and lasting friendship. However, they are also fetid breeding grounds for rampant homosexual words, phrases, and jokes. I can personally attest to the late night use of the F word thrown in all directions, whether at opposing sports teams, kids down the hall, or even online video game opponents. It is a culture that is accepting for those oblivious to its shortcomings, and, I can only imagine, somewhat terrifying for those whom it targets.
How then, can this issue be fixed?
After all, the dorm system is organic, based on random assortments of students from all over the world. The answer itself lies in this random, diverse group of students thrown together. Because of our university's strides towards diversity, ethnic and socioeconomic groups from everywhere are assigned as roommates, section friends, and dorm members. For this reason, students are much more sensitive to racial issues, and as a result those types of slurs are catapulted across hallways and dorm rooms rarely, and not without consequence.
It appears, then, that the university must become friendlier towards LGBT applicants, and make better efforts to encourage them to apply here so that students do not only experience racial diversity, but diversity across all walks of American life.
To this end, the university not only does not commit itself actively towards finding students from this group, it subversively discourages them from applying in the first place. This comes in two flavors.
The first is the university's annual rejection of any Gay Straight Alliance's application for official recognition. While other clubs on campus, notably the Progressive Student Alliance, work within official status for change, this is not sufficient in demonstrating to prospective students the university's commitment towards LGBT issues. As a prospective student, I remember scanning the list of clubs and picking out which ones sounded fun or relevant to my interests. To imagine that prospective LGBT students are not doing the same thing and feeling discouraged to apply would be lunacy. In a way the Black Student Association or the Asian American association can provide for the needs of its members with official backing, why can a GSA not provide for LGBT students?
The second flavor of discouragement comes from repeated refusals by the administration to amend the non-discrimination policy, which governs both employment and attendance at this school, to include sexual orientation as a protected group. Thirteen years ago, the university prepared the "Spirit of Inclusion", a statement which made special efforts to welcome the gay community to Notre Dame. While this action is certainly appreciated, it lacks any real meat that would hold the university to its actions. The non-discrimination clause would put some conviction behind the words written in the statement.
In its rejection of both a GSA, and an amendment to the non-discrimination policy, the university has cited Church doctrine, teaching, etc. Other critics have also been concerned with legal loopholes that would be opened by amending the non-discrimination policy. I am not a trained theologian by any stretch of the imagination, nor am I a legal scholar (despite taking Business Law). However, I have looked into the policies of a number of other major universities. It turns out that almost every university which I looked into, including most of our football schedule for next year, Georgetown, Loyola, and even small Misericordia University in Dallas, Pennsylvania is on board. This indicates to me that the legal and theological implications of changes at our university have been considered carefully at many other schools, and found to be quite appropriate and worth the price of change. To not make these changes will only cast a serious shadow over our university's attempts to be open and accepting in both word and action.
As this goes to press, a number of petitions are circling to amend the discrimination policy. Last year, they were able to collect signatures of nearly 20% of the students, faculty, and staff and were still denied. It appears this will have to go big if it is going to happen. Second, for any information regarding church teaching and homosexuality, please hop over to the Notre Dame Core Council for Gay and Lesbian students webpage. In my four years, I have never felt an opportunity as strong as the one now to have a true dialogue at Notre Dame, and there is strong reason to believe that all eyes are on us.