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The 4 to 5 Movement: Due Time is Due Now

by Alex Coccia | University of Notre Dame

F Posted in: College, Voices P Posted on: November 28, 2011
headshot alex coccia Alex Coccia

A movement is growing at a small, private Catholic university in northern Indiana.  Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning community and their allies are coming together.  In early October, students at the University of Notre Dame launched a movement to demand changes in school policies and campus attitudes regarding LGBTQ students, faculty and staff.  Unlike many Catholic universities, Notre Dame does not include “sexual orientation” in its non-discrimination clause.  Notre Dame also differs from many of its Catholic university peers by refusing to allow LGBTQ student organizations, at both the undergraduate and graduate level.

Roots of the Movement

LGBTQ students and allies have struggled for years in pursuit of equal rights and recognition at Notre Dame.  In the 1970s, a small group of gay students began holding clandestine meetings on campus.  Over the next two decades, the group’s applications for official recognition were repeatedly denied by the University’s Office of Student Affairs.  While University policy remained static, by the 1990s more and more members of the Notre Dame community began to support the group’s efforts to gain recognition.  In 1995, the influential Campus Life Council passed a resolution requesting that the Office of Student Affairs officially recognize Notre Dame’s gay student group.

Notre Dame responded once again with rejection.  According to the letter of denial, university policy “requires that to receive University recognition, a group’s purpose must be consistent with the mission of the University and the moral teachings of the Catholic Church.”  This 1995 response remains Notre Dame’s only public statement outlining any reason for denying recognition to LGBTQ student groups.

Despite this setback, students and faculty continued to push for change.  In 1997, both the Student and Faculty Senate passed resolutions demanding that Notre Dame add the words “sexual orientation” to its non-discrimination clause, meanin

g that Notre Dame would be legally prohibited from discriminating against students, faculty, and staff on the basis of sexual orientation.  Instead, Notre Dame responded by publishing the “Spirit of Inclusion”—a statement that proclaimed a welcoming attitude toward gay members of the community:

“We welcome all people, regardless of color, gender, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, social or economic class, and nationality, for example, precisely because of Christ’s calling to treat others as we desire to be treated.  We value gay and lesbian members of this community as we value all members of this community. We condemn harassment of any kind, and University policies proscribe it.  We consciously create an environment of mutual respect, hospitality and warmth in which none are strangers and all may flourish.”

The Spirit of Inclusion put forth an important goal expressed in beautiful language that allows Notre Dame to commit to the spirit of creating a welcoming environment while still reserving the legal right to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in the administration of its educational programs, admissions policies, scholarships and loan programs, employment – including the hiring and firing of employees – and athletic and other school administered programs.  The Spirit of Inclusion is the most recent statement of its policy toward LGBTQ members of the community, and in 2011 the non-discrimination clause still remains unchanged.

Falling Behind the Times

As a result of these policies, Notre Dame is the only Top 20 University that does not include “sexual orientation” in its non-discrimination clause and does not recognize an LGBTQ-Ally student group.  Many feel that this is simply the unfortunate by-product of being a private Catholic institution and will not change.  But that is not the sentiment shared by many on campus at Notre Dame, and by many who have already graduated.  As the rest of the country moves toward LGBTQ equality, these people are pushing Notre Dame to catch up.

The spark for a renewed movement for LGBTQ rights came from a speech by Brian Sims on campus in the spring of 2011.  Brian Sims was the first (and only) openly gay college football captain.  Citing the Pew Forum, Hamilton College polls, and the National Youth poll, he said:

Four out of five college students or college-educated people between the ages of eighteen and thirty in the United States right now support the general package of gay civil rights….  Eighty percent of you support my rights. You only think that it’s about a third of you.

The students who heard that speech recognized the same dynamic at Notre Dame.  There is a supportive majority.  And there is a very loud minority.  This minority perpetuates an unwelcoming atmosphere through hateful slurs, ingrained dorm “traditions” which are insensitive to any LGBTQ students, and the presence on campus of speakers who teach that homosexuality is a sin and disorder propagated by secular society and which must be fought against by upright Christians.  The University amplifies the voice of the intolerant minority by refusing to recognize any form of a gay-straight alliance and refusing to include “sexual orientation” to its non-discrimination clause.

The Campus Response and the Push for Change

The 4 to 5 Movement was begun in October 2011.  It is a coalition of students and student groups, faculty, staff, and alumni.  The Movement’s goal is three-fold.  First, it aims to raise the voices of the allies on campus—those silenced or overwhelmed by the loud minority.  This involves making it clear that being an ally makes someone part of the majority, and that majority has the ability and the solidarity to raise its collective voice in loud protest to the policies at the University.  It does not take much to be an ally at Notre Dame.  Allies can take simple yet powerful actions like refuting someone who says, “That’s so gay,” or “faggot.”  Raising the voices of allies contributes to creating a welcoming environment for members of the community who identify as LGBTQ.  Second, the 4 to 5 Movement aims to create spaces on campus for dialogue about issues pertinent to the LGBTQ and ally members of the community.  Third, the 4 to 5 Movement seeks to address and change the structural issues that inhibit true inclusion at the University – the lack of recognition of a gay-straight alliance and the lack of “sexual orientation” in the legal non-discrimination clause.  The “to” in the name of the movement represents the goal of progress of acceptance from 4 out of 5, to 5 out of 5.

The Opposition

This is not a new movement. It has been built on the successive pushes at Notre Dame for a more welcoming and safer environment for members of the community who identify as LGBTQ.  It is a movement of people set on changing the environment on Notre Dame’s campus combatting the popular belief that the majority of students are not supportive of gay rights.  The 4 to 5 Movement takes its purpose and passion from the years of rejection at Notre Dame and the continual relegation of LGBTQ members of the community to second-class status.

By not recognizing a gay-straight alliance, the University of Notre Dame ignores a demonstrated need for a club that can provide community and open space for dialogue between gay and straight students.  By not legally protecting students, faculty and staff the University creates an environment in which gay faculty members, staff, and students are afraid to come out; in which highly qualified gay professors refuse to come to the University because of its lack of protection; and in which demands for gay rights are met with opposition from wealthy alumni donors.

It has been vehemently argued that changing these policies would take away the Catholic character of the University.  Yet precisely because it is grounded in a Catholic faith, Notre Dame should have instituted such changes long ago, fulfilling what is stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: homosexual persons “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity,” and “every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”  What the 4 to 5 Movement is asking for falls entirely within the precepts of the Catholic Church and the love and compassion that Jesus Christ practiced.

Despite the fact that many other Catholic schools, including Notre Dame’s sister school St. Mary’s College, have both an inclusive non-discrimination clause and a recognized gay-straight alliance, some still argue that Notre Dame should be different.  Notre Dame believes that a “Spirit of Inclusion” must be balanced with adherence to its Catholic faith.  But other Catholic schools have demonstrated that it is not necessary to sacrifice one for the sake of the other.  DePaul, the largest Catholic University in the United States, lives up to its Catholic faith, while also having an inclusive non-discrimination clause and recognizing a gay-straight alliance.  Liberty Law School has a non-discrimination clause that explicitly states “The School of Law does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation but does discriminate on the basis of sexual misconduct, including, but not limited to, non-marital sexual relations or the encouragement or advocacy of any form of sexual behavior that would undermine the Christian identity or faith mission of the University.”  And yet, Notre Dame refuses to adopt even this language.  Notre Dame not only differs from most of its peer Catholic institutions, but also from all other top tier universities.

Due Time is Due Now

Some argue that in due time these changes will be made.  Whether due time means that the University procures new alumni donors; whether due time means that the University no longer fears retribution from conservative forces questioning the Catholic character of the institution; whether due time means that the University takes time to realize that it must live up to its glorious past at the forefront of Civil Rights in this country – due time is due now.

The University of Notre Dame will never be a New York University when it comes to structural acceptance of gay rights.  However, the campus environment and the structural issues hindering the progress of protection and of a welcome nature on campus for members of the community who identify as LGBTQ can change.  What makes the 4 to 5 Movement more powerful than the push in previous years is the planned constant presence of the Movement on campus and the constant pressure to change the campus environment and structural issues.  It is a larger coalition and it is growing.  Hopefully, this will force the University to begin to realize that it is unacceptable to ignore this issue any longer.

The University’s 1995 and 1997 policy statements are not defensible.  From the aspects of theology, logic, finance, human rights, business, credibility as an academic institution of undergraduate and graduate level schooling, family, community, biology, legality, and suicide prevention, adopting an inclusive non-discrimination clause and recognizing a gay-straight alliance are the right steps to take.

Those involved in the 4 to 5 Movement believe that the University of Notre Dame can become a model for religious institutions across the country when it comes to acceptance of, and protection for, its members who identify as LGBTQ.  Its members believe that the University of Notre Dame can actually live up to its currently misused “Spirit of Inclusion.”  However, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of [those] willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation.”  Everyone can be a part of this movement, and everyone is needed.  Due time is up.

For more information, please email 4to5Movement@gmail.com, and join the Facebook group “4 to 5 Movement.”

Alex Coccia Alex Coccia Alex Coccia is a sophomore at the University of Notre Dame and is majoring in Africana Studies and Peace Studies.

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