After a five-month review process, University of Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., has accepted recommendations from the Office of Student Affairs to expand and enhance the support of and services for students who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning (GLBTQ), including the creation of a University recognized student organization.
The recommendations are part of a comprehensive pastoral plan that includes an array of initiatives grounded in the Catholic mission of the University.
“I appreciate the careful and thoughtful work of this review that considered both the needs of our students and the teachings of the Catholic Church,” Father Jenkins said. “As articulated in the University’s ‘Spirit of Inclusion’ statement, Notre Dame’s goal remains to create and sustain a welcoming and inclusive environment for all students, and I am confident that this multi-faceted, pastoral approach represents the next step in advancing our efforts toward this aspiration for our GLBTQ students.”
The plan, titled “Beloved Friends and Allies: A Pastoral Plan for the Support and Holistic Development of GLBTQ and Heterosexual Students at the University of Notre Dame,” was crafted by members of the Student Affairs staff. It follows a study of Catholic doctrine and teaching, listening sessions with Notre Dame students and an examination of student clubs and structures at other Catholic universities. Rooted in Catholic teaching on sexuality and gender identity, the plan emphasizes the “respect, compassion and sensitivity” due to all, and calls all Notre Dame students to cultivate chaste relationships and to support one another in a community of friendship. A document detailing the review process, relevant Church teaching and specifics of the implementation of the plan is available online at friendsandallies.nd.edu.
After requests last spring by Notre Dame students for a gay-straight alliance or similar club, Father Jenkins asked for a review of the breadth of structures and support for students who identify as GLBTQ. While respectful of the education and awareness work of the University’s Core Council for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Questioning Students, students voiced a desire for services that provide greater community and support.
“Our review revealed that the educational and support programs provided by the Core Council have been very important and need to be continued, yet the composition and size of the group to date has limited its ability to serve the needs of our students effectively,” said Erin Hoffmann Harding, vice president for student affairs.
The new plan acknowledges the significant complexity of this issue and has been designed to provide additional education for all students in the campus community, offer resources for students who identify as GLBTQ by trained administrators and ministers serving in multiple offices, enable peer-to-peer support, and facilitate input directly to Student Affairs on the campus climate. In order to achieve these objectives, the University will:
- Establish a new support and service student organization for GLBTQ students and their allies that will produce activities consistent with Notre Dame’s Catholic allegiance and commitments. Though not a club or a political advocacy group, the organization will be open to any student.
- Launch a new advisory committee composed of designated undergraduate and graduate students, staff and faculty, to replace the Core Council and provide guidance to the vice president for student affairs on questions, concerns and needs of students in the Notre Dame community who identify as GLBTQ.
- Appoint a full-time student development staff member who will oversee awareness and education programs for all students that will emphasize Notre Dame’s goal of inclusion, share Church teaching and encourage thoughtful campus dialogue. This individual will participate as a member of the new advisory committee and serve as a liaison between GLBTQ students and campus offices that already provide support, such as the Gender Relations Center, Campus Ministry, the University Counseling Center and the Institute for Church Life. The staff member also will serve as the appointed adviser of the new student organization and work closely with its elected student leaders, and meet regularly with selected theological and pastoral consultants. The hiring process for this position will begin immediately, and student leaders will play a role in the selection.
“This review process has benefited from collaborative conversations between student leaders and administrators with the intention of improving our campus climate for all students,” said Elie Elian, a current member of the Core Council.
Junior Alex Coccia, a leader in the student movement to support more effectively GLBTQ students at Notre Dame, added: “We are looking forward to continuing our collaboration with Ms. Harding and other senior administrators on the student organization that will provide peer-to-peer support and service. This is a very exciting time for the Notre Dame community.”
The plan will be fully implemented once the staff member is appointed and in place.