'A big step for Notre Dame'
Students pleased by announcement of plans to improve GLBTQ services
Published: Thursday, December 6, 2012
Updated: Thursday, December 6, 2012 02:12
On Wednesday morning, Notre Dame announced the results of a “comprehensive review” of support services for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning students (GLBTQ), stating in a press release University president Fr. John Jenkins had accepted the suggestion of the Office of Student Affairs to “expand and enhance” these support services, including forming a University-recognized student organization.
As the Progressive Student Alliance (PSA) co-president and 4 to 5 Movement leader who was actively involved in the decision-making process, junior Alex Coccia knew of the decision a few days in advance. After reading some of the documents relating to the study before the information was released to the student body, Coccia said he was excited with the decision.
“That was a pretty cool moment, because we got a sense that yeah, this is happening,” he said.
But when the press release was made available to the entire student body Wednesday morning, Coccia, an Observer Viewpoint columnist, said he was “thankful” for the output of support from current and past students, especially over social media.
“I realize how many people have been involved in this for so long,” he said. “This is a big step for Notre Dame.”
A mixed reaction
Senior Charlie O’Leary is gay and said he is cautiously optimistic about the University’s decision Wednesday. Part of his tempered enthusiasm was due to the fact the University announced the formation of an organization rather than approving a club.
“My initial reaction was excited,” he said. “The more I read, the [more] suspicious I became. I remain excited though.”
He also was not pleased with the timing of the University’s statement, as he felt it “minimized” the announcement.
“No one has a chance to respond in The Observer until after break,” he said. “Between now and the next time we are going to be talking about it, there will have been the BCS [National Championship] … and students are really busy with finals.”
Senior Julia Kohn, who currently identifies as bisexual, said she was not expecting the formation of a student organization but is pleased with the University’s decision.
“I was expecting to hear a ‘no’ eventually, maybe sort of quietly,” she said. “I was surprised that it was a different setup or structure than was under discussion. Overall … it seems the distinction between a club and an organization is pretty positive in terms of continuity.”
One important function of the new GLBTQ student organization is it will allow for the participation of graduate students, something the standing Core Council did not allow for.
Graduate Student Union president Doug Rice said in the past, many graduate students who identified as GLBTQ felt uncomfortable at Notre Dame or even left the University.
“With this now being formed, I think this is going to be a good thing for our community,” he said. “For those who want to participate in that, it will just be a more welcoming place for everybody. I know that is something that has been important in the past.”
A long time coming
Coccia said he and others have been meeting with University administration regularly since fall break and was “impressed” with the level of student input they were seeking. He said conversations with University administration were “very positive, very candid.”
“Ultimately, we understood each other,” he said. “We were really able to communicate in a way that moved it forward.”
Wednesday’s decision was several months in the making, with the unofficial gay-straight alliance (GSA) AllianceND applying for official club status in the spring. The group originally expected a decision May 1, but the University postponed the verdict until early fall 2012.
Coccia said in postponing the decision, it became “very clear” that the University was giving the decision a lot of thought.
“There was this sense of, ‘If we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it right,’” he said.
A place for all students
Coccia said he most appreciates the fact that the new student organization will be open to anyone who wishes to participate, something he says is especially important considering allies’ desire to be involved.
“Any student can join,” he said. “You also don’t have to go around and say what your orientation is if you’re not comfortable. It’s a good step for access for not only allies, but also questioning students.”
Coccia said he is enthused about the organization for several reasons, not just for the current students it will serve, but in reassuring students who are potential applicants to the University.
“I’m excited for the questioning student who sees this announcement, sees the excitement from students about it and really views this as, ‘This is a commitment from my University, to me,’ and hopefully that’s the sentiment, because it is,” he said. “I’m excited for the prospective student … that that’s going to help them in their decision to come. I think that’s a very important component.”
A key cog in the machine
As part of Wednesday’s decision, the University will hire a full-time student development staff member who, among other duties, will serve as an advisor of the new GLBTQ student organization. Coccia said he hopes students will continue to have their voices heard in the hiring process for this position.
“That Student Affairs professional is so important,” he said. “Really we want to make sure it someone who is really accessible to students, who can relate to students.”
Kohn said she believes whoever is eventually hired for the role needs to recognize student interests to ensure the success of the organization.
“I think it is kind of interesting and questionable in a sense that all official meetings and decisions have to be made in concert with the advisor,” she said. “Depending on who that advisor is and depending on what their role and involvement with the University is, I think that could maybe not be as positive as a club that is student-organized and student-controlled could be.”