Is the University of Notre Dame Failing LGBTQ Students?

Five years ago, the University of Notre Dame released “Beloved Friends and Allies,” a pastoral plan aimed at making the campus more inclusive and providing support to LGBTQ students. But one student has now written that efforts to promote diversity are not enough and that the University is failing its LGBTQ students.

Anne Jarrett, a lesbian sophomore at the University, made her case in The Huffington Post. She identified the campus as a place where heteronormativity has led LGBTQ people to face continued exclusion.

One issue she identified is housing, which is determined by assigned sex.  Another are rules barring students of different genders from being in each other’s rooms at night. She also criticized the requirement that students read “Beloved Friends and Allies” in an introductory course.  And she decried the vandalism of fliers promoting an LGBT film festival held on campus. On this last incident, Jarrett commented:

“For the students on campus who identify as LGBTQ+, like me, this act is threatening. Seeing this, for me, is a constant reminder that because of things out of my control, I am not welcome or wanted on this campus. As an out person at Notre Dame, I have noticed the hostile treatment of LGBTQ+ individuals on this campus is encouraged by the campus’ climate. I am not shown the same love or empathy as other students.”

Continuing this point, she said the University “intentionally frames” LGBT conversations in the context of sin which makes LGBTQ students second-class:

“These attitudes and actions of the University create an atmosphere wherein queer and transgender students are ignored. This creates a hostile environment for us as it encourages other students and staff members to think of us as different and less than them or else, ignore that we exist. Though the administration of Notre Dame may preach love, the connotation has always been that LGBTQ+ students are the .other’ and I am tired of it. . .I refuse to allow the University to gloss over the problem of reinforcing heteronormativity any longer. I demand acceptance and equality and inclusivity. Diversity is not enough.”

While Jarrett’s essay highlights continuing problems, Notre Dame has made some progress in regard to LGBT issues. This semester, the University’s Student Government, along with several academic departments, welcomed the GlobaLGBTQ+ Film Festival to campus in October. The Gay and Lesbian Alumni of the University of Notre Dame and St. Mary’s College held a major fundraiser in September at the home of television host Phil Donahue. Proceeds benefit the association’s scholarship program for students at the two schools.

Still, the record is mixed and by many accounts progress is slower than students would like. Earlier this year, students protested Vice President Mike Pence being invited to speak. And while the University has hired staff to support LGBTQ students,  it was also reported that safe housing was denied to a transgender student.

In the years since “Beloved Friends and Allies” was announced, and after many years of advocacy by students and alumni before that, students are still left pondering whether Notre Dame is really a hospitable environment for sexual and gender diverse communities. At least some, like Anne Jarrett, are willing to clearly answer that Notre Dame is failing its LGBTQ students.

This post is part of Bondings 2.0’s “Campus Chronicles” series on Catholic higher education. You can read more stories by clicking “Campus Chronicles” in the Categories section to the right or by clicking here. For the latest updates on Catholic LGBT issues, subscribe to our blog in the upper right-hand corner of this page.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, December 16, 2017

4 replies
  1. Tom Bower
    Tom Bower says:

    Regarding the University of Notre Dame’s status as a non-LGBT-friendly campus I am a 1970 graduate who came out shortly after graduating. I still love the school and many of its ideals, but continue to be disheartened by the lack of support for LGBT created by its administration. Current students should speak to the half-hearted step forward of the group PrismND that at least officially recognizes LGBT students, but limits many of the activities allowed to other student groups. What I can speak to is the decades of refusal to officially recognize GALA ND-SMC, the nationwide LGBT alumni group. It exists, is actively raising money for two student scholarships, presents a program at annual reunions on campus, among other activities but is not given any official recognition. Second class status is not a a position anyone should expect from a university that has placed human rights as one of its highest goals, but there is it. Many good people on campus are trying to change this, but the university continues to lag behind many other Catholic colleges. If one wants to live with a wink and a nod, it can be welcoming at times, but the University of Notre Dame should not be considered a truly LGBT-friendly place by New Ways Ministries.

    Reply
    • Friends
      Friends says:

      Interesting (and distressing) comments, Tom. I’ve got to wonder what’s bugging Notre Dame. My own experience has been that of a Holy Cross alumnus — i.e., a “Catholic Ivy” undergraduate Jesuit college which has been robustly GLBT-friendly. It hosts both alumni and student GLBT social support groups. As I think I mentioned previously and elsewhere, the Bishop of the Worcester Diocese was giving HC a whole lot of grief about being GLBT-friendly and supportive toward its gay and lesbian students. Then the bishop himself — a fire-breathing ultra-conservative — was arrested for drunk driving, and spent a night in jail. Somehow I think the Holy Spirit had an active role in rectifying this guy’s “hell-on-wheels” attitude toward professing and practicing gay Catholics. Let’s just say: “Mission Accomplished”!

      Reply
  2. Patrick Riley
    Patrick Riley says:

    I am not surprised but it is difficult to alter the attitudes of students who enter ND with pre-existing biases, thus graffiti on flyers promoting the LGBTQ+ film festival. I would like to know how that film festival turned out, how many students attended one or more of the films. Also, the single sentence concerning students of different genders not being permitted to be in the same dorm room at night is not exclusive to LGBTQ+ students and should be an expected policy at any Catholic university.

    Reply
    • Friends
      Friends says:

      Hmmm. So if two gay male or two lesbian female students are occupying the same dorm room at night, isn’t there the very same “risk” of sexual hanky-panky happening which would exist if a hetero-male and a hetero-female were occupying the same dorm room at night? The risk of an unwanted pregnancy is, of course, only pertinent to the hetero-kids’ cohabitation, and is completely absent as it applies to the gay students’ cohabitation. I think the whole situation is a muddle which is riddled with internal contradictions.

      Reply

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