One erects a "coming-out closet" on South Quad. The other hosts a coffee hour in CoMo. One periodically saturates campus with orange T-shirts to draw the public eye. The other consistently has Vice President for Student Affairs Father Mark Poorman's ear.
Clearly, unrecognized gay and lesbian student group AllianceND and the University Standing Committee on Gay and Lesbian Student Needs - this week renamed the Core Council for Gay and Lesbian Students - have very different approaches to the issue of homosexuality at Notre Dame.
But they share the same worthy goal of making gay, lesbian, bisexual, trandsgendered, queer and questioning (GLBTQ) students feel accepted and comfortable at a Catholic university. That's why - though it stops well short of granting a gay and lesbian student group official club status - the step of restructuring the Standing Committee is an encouraging one.
Notre Dame has had its chances to grant official recognition, denying several groups' appeals throughout the last decade. Two years ago - in what was arguably gay and lesbian organizations' best shot at that status to date - the unofficial group OutreachND brought to campus the head of peer Catholic institution Boston College's official gay/straight alliance, who gave an impassioned speech to coincide with Notre Dame's first "Gay? Fine by Me" T-shirt demonstration.
Yet OutreachND was still denied official status in 2004, and recognition appeals have lost significant steam since. The orange shirts that once seemed so revolutionary have declined in shock value - which may be both a positive and negative development. And while it's not certain that Notre Dame will continue to deny gay and lesbian organizations club status, the University has thus far held firm, with Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs Sister Mary Louise Gude telling The Observer this week that there is "absolutely no talk" from the administration about officially recognizing AllianceND.
Amidst this challenging atmosphere, AllianceND should be commended for its persistence in the club application process, as well as its leaders' articulate arguments distinguishing Alliance's functions that an administrative standing committee cannot fulfill. However, AllianceND members - and all Notre Dame students concerned about the University's stance on homosexuality - have reason to cheer the restructuring and increased student membership and leadership of the Core Council. Notre Dame has characteristically been hesitant to raise the tense issue of homosexuality on campus. But the changes to the Core Council show the administration recognizes - with Notre Dame perennially ranked at or near the top of the Princeton Review's "Alternative Lifestyles Not An Alternative" category - that the University does have a problem that must be addressed.
By acknowledging that gay and lesbian students should be better served at Notre Dame, and by making a genuine effort to seek more student input about how best to accomplish that goal, the University has taken a significant and admirable step towards fulfilling the "Spirit of Inclusion" it promises.