At the University of Notre Dame, gay and lesbian students will soon have a campus-wide organization responding to their needs, while the Catholic University of America announced yesterday it would not accept student-driven drive for such a group.
Notre Dame, following a months-long review process, announced that it would form a student organization supporting LGBTQ students and allies.
Fr. John Jenkins, CSC, the president of ND, told the school’s newspaper that the organization, “grows out of our mission as a Catholic university, it’s directed by that fundamental mission in a profound way.”
The program, Beloved Friends and Allies: A Pastoral Plan for the Support and Holistic Development of GLBTQ and Heterosexual Students at the University of Notre Dame, will include “training of appropriate student leaders, staff and faculty, and the education of all students, so as to create and sustain a safe and supportive environment for all members of the Notre Dame community,” according to its website.
Alex Coccia, a junior Africana and Peace Studies major at Notre Dame, told me that he and 7 other students submitted an application to the university for an LGBT-focused student club in February and were then involved in talks with student activities administrators during the review process that culminated with this announcement. He said that “the student body is generally very welcoming” but noted that some gay students on campus feel threatened by comments that stem mostly from ignorance, not malice, “like when someone says ‘that’s so gay’ and things like that.”
The University will hire a full-time administrator to oversee the organization and serve as a liaison between students and administration. The school stresses that the organization “adheres to the Church’s teaching concerning homosexual actions.” Coccia said this caveat was not a surprise, adding, “all Notre Dame students are called to live chastely.” He said that the group would not be engaged in any political advocacy, but instead serve as a “peer to peer support group” for students, hosting events such as academic panels, sensitivity training, and opportunities for socializing.
At The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., junior politics major Ryan Fecteau organized a group of LGBT students and allies last year into an unofficial student group called CUAllies. They had requested official club status from the school earlier this year, and after months of waiting, he was informed in a private meeting with the school’s president, John Garvey, and other student leaders that the school would not recognize the group.
A press release from CUAllies says that administrators rejected the proposal, in part, because they feared the group could become an advocacy organization at odds with church teaching. Fecteau told me today that the group had spent the past several months demonstrating through its programming that this was not the goal of the organization.
He said he was disappointed in the school’s decision, but was hopeful that the conversation would continue on campus.
“I think it was disappointing because Notre Dame had just made their announcement the day before,” he said. “They took a big, bold step forward, and I thought that was a good sign for us at CUA. Unfortunately we were wrong.”
He’s hopefully that the situation will improve for LGBT students on campus. “We need something more than a statement saying students are welcome. Anything is better than nothing at this point. We got some dialogue out of the process,” he said. President Garvey’s “comments and his words made me feel that he was going to make an honest attempt to figure out something, though I don’t know what that will be.”
“We’re not giving up hope on this organization,” he said. “We’ll continue doing everything we’ve been doing before this decision” including hosting service days, faith reflection, support, and social activities.