Michael Bradley, Editor-in-Chief
Editor’s note: On September 17, Bradley sat down with Maureen Doyle, the Gender Relation Center’s Assistant Director for LGBTQ Student Concerns who will also be the advisor for Notre Dame’s new gay-straight alliance, and Christine Caron Gebhardt, Director of the Gender Relations Center, to discuss Doyle’s hiring and the creation and implementation of “Beloved Friends and Allies.”
Irish Rover: Maureen, and Christine as well, can you speak at all to how the hiring process went? Is this a position to which you applied, Maureen, or were you approached with an offer? How did that play out?
Doyle: Yes, it is a process for which I applied. I actually applied over the summer; the position had been created as part of “Beloved Friends and Allies” back in December [of 2012] and the job position was posted in March. I did apply for an interview over the summer. I went through a full day-long interview process where I met with about 30 different colleagues around campus. I was able to meet with a group of students that had been involved with the founding of PrismND, which is the gay-straight alliance that came out of “Beloved Friends and Allies” as well. So I spent a day interviewing with people, then got offered a job and I’m thrilled to be here and happy I was able to make that move.
Caron Gebhardt: From the “Beloved Friends and Allies” vision we created a job description [for the Student Development Professional] and then from there placed an announcement on the university’s Human Resources website. There’s also a national organization of student affairs professionals called NASPA; they were meeting in Orlando in March. So we posted in Orlando; there was a team that was down in Orlando that did preliminary interviews. We also took applications, where we then did about 17 phone interviews, and then from that large applicant pool of 94 to 100 applications, did 11 interviews at The Placement Exchange, and then did telephone interviews.
We then decided to invite 6 candidates on campus through May, June and July, and then after gathering feedback from all the different people that the candidates met, discerned that Maureen was the person that we felt was going to best implement “Beloved Friends and Allies” and really help us create dialogue, build collaboration with students of the departments and most importantly help us within our Catholic identity discern how to make the vision a reality here at Notre Dame.
Were most of the applicants—a plurality or majority—from Notre Dame already, or were most of them people from outside the university?
Caron Gebhardt: I would say, thinking back, the majority were from outside the university, but there were a lot of connections to people, things like, “I heard about this job from a colleague,” or “I went to Notre Dame as an undergraduate,” or people within the university reaching out to their colleagues across the nation to say, “Hey, Notre Dame just posted this. Would that be something that you might be interested in serving?”
So I think it’s a variety of people, where the interest came from. We reached out to peer institutions and said, “Hey we just want you to know that this is available if you have colleagues, or folks that you know who would be interested in talking to us about this, and we encourage you to have them apply.” So we followed the application process, did interviews, visits and then made an offer.
And do you think that the university wanted to keep this in-house? Did it have a preference as to whether the professional came from somewhere else within Notre Dame, or from elsewhere?
Caron Gebhardt: No, that’s not my sense. My sense was about commitment to the Catholic identity of the university, understanding and openness to really struggle with some of these issues; to work with a cross-campus collaboration, have a good strong student development background, to understand what it is to work with students, to help discern their needs, and then within the organization structure be able to implement the care and support that would meet the students’ needs.
Does a person who has been or worked at Notre Dame, understand Notre Dame? Yes, but I think it’s bigger than Notre Dame. It’s an issue about who we are as the people of God, and Notre Dame has courageously taken on this journey as a community, to really engage it faithfully.
The plan states that “the Division of Student Affairs undertook a comprehensive review process that included…a consideration of structures present at peer Catholic institutions.” In October of 2012 the Rover published an article in which it looked at some of those structures at peer institutions—Georgetown, Boston College and Catholic University; and we found some things that would be encouraging but also some things that would be discouraging, or disconcerting. Can either of you speak to what the fruits of [the DSA’s] review were? Was there anything that gave Notre Dame pause, or anything that really encouraged Notre Dame, as far as what other Catholic universities were doing or not doing with their own gay-straight alliances [GSAs] and support groups?
Caron Gebhardt: I think what the review showed was that the services we were providing at Notre Dame were ones that you could see at other institutions. In fact, there were other institutions that may have had a GSA, but not peer support services; others had support services but not a GSA. Some, like Georgetown, had an actual center with a full time staff professional. Each of those universities has its challenges.
My understanding of [Notre Dame’s] vision is that it’s a comprehensive vision of, how do we as a campus talk about issues related to sexuality and identity and relationships? How do we care for and support our students? And how do we educate ourselves and one another about what the Church’s teaching is in relationship to this? And I think our three-pronged approach, or strategy, to do that is different than other institutions in the fact that it tries to take what we have built at Notre Dame through the years and try to really fill in some gaps; to really say that there were services but the students didn’t know how to access them. So what was really important was the element of having a full-time staff professional to be that central point; not to do everything, but to basically work and collaborate with other departments to make sure our students know where to go, and that if there are needs that were getting fulfilled, then how are we as a university seeing that they are fulfilled.
I think the second component, the peer educators, is really trying to say that this is an important dialogue, a very challenging dialogue. Some institutions don’t talk about it; they have a GSA and they may not talk about it. Or in discussing it, it really becomes something that—rather than being a source of mutually dialoguing with one another—is a source not of creative tension but of hurt and harm. To provide a context for peer educators and programming in the student organization, we thought there are, again, departments to create and foster a dialogue that is open and honest. But that’s going to be hard.
Then I think the third piece is kind of the long-term piece: the advisory committee to the vice president of Student Affairs, Erin Hoffman Harding. To again say, “What are we doing well? What do we need to go forward with? And how is this plan maintaining our commitments to who we are as a Catholic institution? To caring for and supporting our students, and becoming the community that Notre Dame truly can be?”
You’ve touched on a few things that I’ll come back to later.
Section III of the plan speaks of “support for out or questioning students…aimed at the support and holistic development and formation of the GLBTQ community members of the Notre Dame community.”
As of late summer I spoke with Father Jim King, director of Campus Ministry, and Erin Hoffman Harding as well, both of whom said that as of then, since the professional [Doyle] had not been hired yet, the implementation of concrete programming had not been started. Now that you have been hired, Maureen, can either of you speak more to the concrete and various ways in which the programming of the various centers mentioned in the plan—the Gender Relations Center [GRC] amongst them—will play out over the course of the year?
Doyle: Sure. At this point in time, PrismND, which is the newly developed student organization, is still in the process of getting bylaws finalized and officers selected, and so they are in the midst of getting up and running and getting things off the ground. So we haven’t totally figured out what that’s going to look like, or what they’re going to come up with.
I’ve been working with a great group of students who have been helping with the foundational pieces, and I think there’s a lot of excitement for what the organization is going to be able to accomplish. But what that actually looks like is still to be determined. The advisory council is still in the process of getting up and running as well.
So yes, it’s being implemented but it’s at the very start of getting things going. One of our priorities out of this office directly is to start setting up and running ally trainings around campus, to get people having these conversations that we found hadn’t necessarily been had in the past, and raise some awareness and do the education piece around campus about what it looks like to support students within the community and what it looks like to be an ally within the context of the University of Notre Dame. So that’s one of the concrete things we’re working on at this point in time. We’re hoping to have those up and running by mid-October, having the first one for faculty and staff up in mid-October, and run those regularly.
And then the other thing that we’ve heard from the students is that there’s a need to do some educational pieces about what the Catholic Church teaches regarding sexual orientation, because the students recognize that there’s a misperception around that on campus. So that’s one of the other more concrete areas that we hope to approach.
We’re also working on Stand Against Hate Week, which will happen again this year like it’s happened in the past. We’re going to partner with PrismND on that one once Prism is up and running. Some of the things that Core Council [Notre Dame’s preexisting peer advisory structure for campus GLBTQ issues] has done in the past and that the GRC has helped with will be translated into what we do, but at this point in time it’s still very much about saying, “Here’s what we want and let’s work on putting on a schedule and putting this together.” But I think that the educational pieces are the top priority for us right now.
Caron Gebhardt: One piece that has been in process is the peer educator piece. Last spring we took applications from students for Fire Starters, which is the name of the peer educators for the Gender Relations Center. So for this year there isn’t a separate group for Fire Starters necessarily; all the Fire Starters will be within the supervision and guidance of the GRC. Some will work with Maureen, some will work with [Assistant Director for Outreach Services] Emmanuel [Cannady] on men and masculinity, some will work with [Assistant Director for Educational Initiatives] Amanda [Downey] on some of the other issues we deal with like bystander intervention, sexual assault prevention and diversity inclusion.
The students have been selected and trained over the summer and are participating in the first set of dialogues within the dorms. One of the programs that we have partnered with the Multicultural Students Programs and Services (MSPS) on is a discussion about diversity and community. We’ve taken diversity education peer educators and Fire Starters and that pair, along with a staff professional, will go to dorms and do discussions and presentations about diversity and community within all 29 dorms, within the first couple months. They’ll talk about, how do we understand this? What does this mean, what does this look like? How do we deal with harms or violations or hurts? How do we ask questions? What is the way that we bring about conversation that is respectful, that is accurate and that is really open, and not one that is harmful to anybody who’s in this discourse?
We’ve also participated in Hall Staff training, and actually did an explanation of the foundation of “Beloved Friends and Allies,” and what that means, and how hall staff can help create this community that is welcoming and inviting. And then from there we’ll continue to do a series of questions and really raise questions knowing that there are going to be challenges. People are going to be asking questions of each other; the Church is going to challenge us. And I think people are going to kind of ask questions about, what does this mean? What is the institutional Church trying to teach us and guide us in, and how does this fit with how I’m going to live a faithful life? What do I do with that?
Let’s get more into to PrismND itself. The pastoral plan states that the student organization is to retain “both autonomy and accountability” with respect to its political and social activities. That will be a fine line to walk; that’s one of the areas of creative tension that you mentioned, Christine.
How will you go about striving to establish that balance and not let that tension become a destructive tension, but have it be fruitful? Because surely if the situation at Notre Dame runs parallels to anything in the broader culture, that tension will not dissipate, although it can be made fruitful.
Doyle: That accountability and autonomy piece is actually something we find with all the student organizations on campus. It’s the broader advising approach that we have here at the university when it comes to our student organizations. I used to work in the Student Activities Office [SAO], which does the wealth of the advising around campus, at least when it comes to the organizations, and one of the things that we have always said to our students is, “We as the advisers are here to walk the path with you, not set it for you.” And I think that whole autonomy piece comes in, in the sense that PrismND is not meant to be another programming body for the GRC, or that we are the driving force behind it. It’s really meant to be a means of peer-to-peer support and the community service and the opportunities for friendship that are outlined in the pastoral plan and what that means to the students, for the students, by the students.
I as the adviser am there to make sure that it happens within the policies and constructs of the university, just like any other student organization, and that’s where the accountability piece comes in, right? But I think the autonomy piece really speaks to their ability to say, “What do we want to do? What do we think the students need? What do we think needs to come from the student voice versus coming from the office of the Gender Relations Center? And how can we best serve our peers within the mission and goals of the organization, and within the overarching purpose of the university?”
So I’m not there to be the creative drive for them; they’re there to be their own creative drive. I’m really just there to make sure that the decisions that they make and the goals they set for themselves, they achieve and they work towards, and they stay the course that they set for themselves.
Caron Gebhardt: I would say the guiding force for everything we’re doing on this campus is really contained in “Beloved Friends and Allies.” And whenever I think about a program, or whenever someone raises a question or somebody says, “How do we understand this?” I try to go back to the vision that we set for ourselves with “Beloved Friends and Allies” which I think really recognizes, like you said, the creative tension.
And one of the things that I’m hopeful for is that there’s an assumption of good will: That what we’re here to talk about is to really try to love and care for and support one another as we understood it through the vision of “Beloved Friends and Allies,” so that we can live out the Catholic mission of who the University of Notre Dame is. Sometimes that’s going to be pretty common-sensical about things we do say and we don’t say. I think it’s going to be full of challenges as we talk about, “Well what does this mean for you versus what it means for me?” And then what does that really look like as to, what kind of community are we growing as?
What I love about [the pastoral plan] is that it’s very challenging, because as you said, it’s all going to be about its implementation. And I think we’re going to make some mistakes. I think we’re going to have to sit back and kind of really, honestly, talk with each other and say, “Is that what you really meant?” or “But how do we understand that?” and “How does that change?” How is the institutional Church trying to guide us? It’s going to mean hearing a variety of voices and really being open to what they’re saying but also having a give-and-take.
So I think there’s a great challenge being offered by “Beloved Friends and Allies” and I think there’s a great deal of hope. And, at its very basis, that is what it means to be Christian, is to live a life of hope, because that’s what the Paschal Mystery really is.
Again, we looked at CUA, Georgetown and Boston College—and I like the point that you made, Maureen: It’s not as if this autonomy/accountability dynamic is something that’s not present in every club’s organization and the role that one plays as a development professional.
It strikes me that this organization will be different in nature though, and not just in kind, as far as the way in which that will be a very important balance to strive for. And this will all play out vis-à-vis the larger cultural discussion on the sort of issues that Notre Dame is approaching here within a Catholic atmosphere. I have in mind, for example, the growing cultural view on same-sex marriage, and I think to myself, if it is increasingly the case that people come to see the Church’s stance on marriage as actually being religiously-motivated unjust discrimination, then especially through juxtaposition the university’s stance here could come to be perceived by PrismND as unjustly discriminatory. And if that becomes the case, then how do we play things out?
Since none of this happens in a vacuum, I wonder: Given where the cultural discussion is with respect to the Church’s teachings on sexuality, and given that there’s increasingly not a presumption of good will on the part of people who are approaching the Church’s teaching—who can’t see it as anything other than what Justice Kennedy described it as in striking down [Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act] this summer—how will that play into the situation here at Notre Dame? How does that play into the sort of discernment and prudence you’ll have to exercise?
Doyle: I think specifically with PrismND but actually overarchingly with “Beloved Friends and Allies,” we are set up to have the focus of what’s best for the University of Notre Dame in priority, and what’s best for the students here. The goals and mission of Prism are the peer-to-peer support, the community service and then the opportunities for friendship piece.
So it’s not created to be a political organization. It really is meant to focus on the community here and the students here, and that speaks to all the different pieces of the pastoral plan in terms of the training and educational pieces, the programs and initiatives that will come with the GRC, as far as the advisory council and working with Erin Hoffman Harding.
So I think that there’s opportunity to have these conversations, and how that impacts the students within our community, but I think that that speaks back to the creative tension and how we work within it and how we have those conversations in concert with the teachings of the Catholic Church.
Caron Gebhardt: I think one of the things I would like to see come out of the dialogue that we are trying to embark on on this campus is that the Church has something very important to say about who we are as human beings and how we live our lives. And that we’re coming together as the people of God in trying to discern that. And different people have political agendas, and different people will have different things that they may feel that want to fight for.
But it always goes back to, what is God calling us to do? And while I don’t ignore the fact that there are certain challenges that we’re going to engage as a university, never mind as a Catholic university, I think how we do it is going to be as important as whether or not we do it. And that’s the challenge that I think we face together as a community: Are we going to do this together? Or are we going to do this against each other? And I firmly believe that there are things that we as the people of God can share with one another, and that’s the Church as a growing, vibrant being. You know, there’s a sacramentality, there’s understandings.
One of the things I love about this pastoral plan is, what does it mean, for students who are in the college age, to be in a right relationship? What does it mean to be in an important relationship for this stage of our development as human beings? I think there’s some wisdom to say, we need to focus on friendship.
And that doesn’t just apply to the GLBTQ community, either.
Doyle: No, not in any way.
Caron Gebhardt: Not in any way. And again that’s the beauty, and here’s the thing: The call to chastity is challenging for everybody. For everybody. I’m a married woman, and I am challenged by that. It’s about right relationship. And we can all talk about, what’s your definition of that, what does that mean—the Church gives us guidance on that—and again you can prefer to talk about that. But ultimately, God is calling us into a life of holiness, and we need to take that seriously and dialogue with one another as to what does that look like?
We say at the Gender Relations Center, we’re helping to answer or ask the questions, “Who am I? Who is God calling me to be? And who am I walking this journey with?” And when we start to ask those questions of ourselves and of each other, it’s a very different question as to whether or not someone’s right or wrong, but how are we being faithful people of God?
The plan also speaks of the creation of a committee designed to offer advice and input to Erin Hoffman Harding—and it’s not just students offering that advice but the plan does mention both undergraduates and graduates.
I saw that in early August, the Princeton Review came out with its annual listings of the top 20 GLBTQ unfriendly American colleges and universities. Notre Dame was in fifth place. And so again this gets back to the question of how things will play out at Notre Dame vis-à-vis the larger culture. Because if it’s the case that the culture at-large perceives environments that express and embody Catholic teaching as being hostile to the basic dignity and rights of GLBTQ persons, then will there be any way for the campus environment, if it strives to remain faithful to the Church’s teachings, to be perceived as anything other than that? I understand that the goal is to sort of keep the discussion about Notre Dame and in Notre Dame, but yet, given that juxtaposition, and the fact that the Princeton Review will continue to rank Notre Dame poorly the more faithfully Notre Dame lives out the Church’s teachings here—not just about sexuality but about human dignity and everything—the less popular it’ll be according to so many secular metrics that don’t understand the Church’s teachings on all these things, taken together.
Can you speak to that? That strikes me as being one of harder things of this plan, is the fact that it will not garner a lot of the Princeton Review’s praise if it does what it’s meant to do. And that’s a hard pill to swallow, for Notre Dame.
Caron Gebhardt: I totally understand the concern about what the Princeton Review says. I think what I’m more concerned about are the stories that our students tell about the environment, about that they feel that they are loved and supported; whether they feel like they belong, despite the challenges, despite the questionings, the concerns that different people come with.
I think that hearing the stories and as we listen to the stories of who we are as individuals but also as people here together on this campus, it becomes really clear, the things we’re doing well, the things we could be doing better.
What I’m hearing the students saying is one, the desire to be able to talk about this; what does this mean? Two, to really authentically struggle with what is the Church saying and what does that mean for me? And I think, three, that it can be done in a way where people are not attacked, or harmed, or devalued or even threatened. And I think [Director of the Center for Social Concerns] Father [Paul] Kollman in the community video says this quite clearly: As Catholics we love one another. “What does that look like?” is really about the relationships we develop here.
Now is it important that other people look in and see that? I think that we should focus on living the vision, and the vision should be our metric. “Beloved Friends and Allies” should be our metric. I think we can maybe learn some things from the Princeton Review, such as, why do students identity it as unfriendly? Are those things that are then challenging us to better live out our Catholic identity? Are those things asking us to compromise our Catholic identity? And again it’s not like, “let’s discard it,” but let’s really put it in the place where it belongs. It doesn’t need to become our driving factor. The people need to become the driving factor.
Doyle: I think there’s a recognition of that within the student body, too. I had a really great conversation with some of the Fire Starters over the summer about, actually, the Princeton Review. One of the things that we talked about is, they think it’s a bit of a misjudgment, based on the campus culture that they actually see here. So that’s great to hear because to hear the students say, yes, we recognize that this ranking is there, and rankings are important to the university, but we don’t believe it’s an accurate assessment of the campus climate. I think that’s fantastic.
Yes, and I use it as an illustration of the larger dynamic. I do know that it’s sort of a disputed process whereby the Princeton Review comes to its conclusions.
Doyle: But if, as we’ve said this whole time, our end goal is what’s best for our students and what’s best for our community, to hear the students say, we think it’s actually better here than it’s perceived to be, is encouraging.
Caron Gebhardt: But there are issues that we need to deal with. And it’s not an either/or. It’s, what are we doing well, and how can we better live out, care for, support and love one another.
And one of the things that strikes me is that it’s crucially important that the way in which we define so many of the catchwords surrounding these issues, like equality or affirmation or inclusion—what we mean when we say those is really one of the deepest points of focus. Because what one person can mean by affirmation is not what another person could mean. Or what one person envisions being an environment of welcome and inclusion doesn’t entail what another person’s vision of that does. Bottom line, I think that’s where primary discussions need to be held, because it’s fruitless to have a discussion with words that we haven’t yet really gotten to a basic level and talked about. That’ll be the hardest part, I think.
My final question gets to the idea of a dichotomy between the Church’s sexual teachings and the Church’s teachings on human dignity. And the plan does a great job, I think, of quoting so many sources: not just the Catechism but documents from the USCCB, pastoral documents passed down from Rome, and it offers a very cohesive, coherent view of the human person. And it’s out of that anthropology that the Church’s sexual ethic derives.
So in my mind, it’s false to construct a dichotomy; people say, can Notre Dame be both Catholic and supportive of its LGBTQ community members? In my mind that’s a question that betrays already a misunderstanding about what the Church is after here, and that’s certainly the misunderstanding that you see paralleled outside of Notre Dame about the Church.
This gets back to the tension and whether it’ll be constructive and fruitful, or destructive. I do wonder if, given things that are happening outside the university, ultimately the goals won’t become incommensurable here as well, almost as a result of what’s happening outside. Even from a legal perspective, can Notre Dame continue to do what it wants to do, in being faithful to Catholic teaching, in all that entails, over the course of time and at the end of the day? I wonder if down the road Notre Dame’s goals won’t become incommensurable given a lot of legal action that is happening in the broader realm.
Caron Gebhardt: I don’t think there’s any clear answer on that, because there’s no way to project the future and what that’s going to be. I think the word we’ve used prior is there’s always going to be a great tension between the two. I don’t know. This is beyond the area of my expertise. The thing is that Notre Dame is always going to respond from the place of its Catholic mission and its Catholic understanding of how we as a people of God understand issues about sexuality, identity and relationship. I would say the important piece is that, as we move to the future, the way that we can build that future in such a way that it is life-giving, and that is faithful, is to walk with one another.
That sounds vague, and it sounds like that doesn’t really answer the question, but I think part of it is, again, not necessarily where you end up, but also how you get there with each other. And I think we can be a model of how to do that, both from the mistakes we make, and the challenges we face together successfully, and the ways that we intentionally engage one another with dignity in this matter.
Words are really important. But how you live out those word, and the examples that you give, are also indicative of what you truly value and how committed you are and I guess I would always say, saying that, it’s not easy. But what makes it bearable and makes it hopeful is not only the journey together, but that we rely on the mercy and grace of God.
Michael Bradley is a senior studying philosophy and theology who lives in Dillon Hall. He is glad that it’s almost the weekend. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.