A Panel by Notre Dame Student Groups

Six Notre Dame student groups, including Fossil Free ND, NASAND, Right to Life, Irish for Reproductive Health, Feminist Notre Dame, Student Government, and SCIA, held a panel on April 3rd to discuss the “State of Advocacy and Activism at Notre Dame”. Hosted by Fossil Free ND, the event began with a brief history of activism at ND throughout the years, starting in the era of Father Hesburgh. This was followed by a series of questions for panel members asked by Fossil Free ND leader, Carolyn Yvellez, the main organizer of the event.

Yvellez began by discussing Father Hesburgh’s “15 minute rule”. In the height of the Vietnam era, when campus’ across the country erupted with protests,  Father Hesburgh addressed demonstrations on Notre Dame’s campus in an eight page statement. Hesburgh’s public statement on May 4th, 1970 included lines such as “The last thing a noisy, turbulent, and disintegrating community needs is more noise, turbulence and disintegration.” The statement issued a mandate that “civility and rationality are maintained” and that the “violation of another’s rights or obstruction of the life of the University are outlawed as illegitimate means of dissent in this kind of open society”. Hesburgh’s 15-minute rule outlined that if these mandates were not followed, the students would have 15 minutes to protest before being suspended from the University.

Yvellez contrasted Hesburgh’s clear guidelines for activists with Notre Dame’s rules today, which can be found in Notre Dame’s guide to student life, Du Lac. Du Lac states: “Actions which seemingly affect only the individual(s) involved but which may have a negative or disruptive impact on the University community and/or concern a students personal growth [are not permitted]”. She noted that, unlike in the case of Hesburgh’s 15-minute rule, there were no consequences outlined in Du Lac for failure to abide by the guidelines for student demonstrations.  Before asking the panel questions, Yvellez reminded the audience of previous activist movements on campus such as the anti-apartheid divestment campaign, and the successful 4 to 5 campaign for a more inclusive environment for LGBTQ students.

Answering Yvellez’ first question, “What is the atmosphere surrounding advocacy on campus?” Adam Wiechman, the representative from Fossil Free ND, spoke of the ‘bubbles’ in which Notre Dame students place themselves. He suggested that students fail to look beyond their day-to-day academic and social pressures, effectively placing themselves within a ‘bubble’ where they can insulate themselves from the troubles of the world. The other “bubbling”, as Wiechman dubbed it, occurs as different groups struggle to incorporate cross-issue collaboration into their advocacy.

All the panelists touched upon the various struggles they face as activist groups on Notre Dame’s campus. Right to Life panelists touched upon issues regarding continued student participation outside the March for Life, as they have many events throughout the year that are focused on other life issues besides abortion.

Gargi Purohit, one of the leaders of SCIA, the Student Coalition of Immigration Advocates, suggested that  “this is a conservative campus” which she said “poses a challenge to doing a lot of left-leaning advocacy”.  A representative of Irish for Reproductive Health, a newly formed, independent group advocating for reproductive justice, echoed Purohit, expressing frustration that “the activism our group is doing is not perceived as important.”

The six groups had varying levels of official status and registration with the Student Activities Office, SAO. Student Government was one of those organizations, along with Right to Life and NASAND who are both officially recognized by the University. When asked about how student government came to collaborate with campus activists, former member of Executive Cabinet, Austin Matheny stressed the previous student government administration’s strong relationship with Fossil Free ND. Matheny went on to say that: “Student Government, when in the right hands, can be a powerful tool for student activists to raise awareness of their causes. I believe groups like Student Government and Right to Life, those with strong administrative connections and funding, can and should be seen as resources for activists”

The panel ended with student questions, with one student asking the Right to Life panelists if they felt a responsibility as a “privileged” club on campus. Right to Life acknowledged their “privilege” but emphasized that it was due to the fact that their club aligned directly with the University’s values and mission. The president of Right to Life also expressed a willingness to partner with “any club that has an interest in human dignity”.

Austin Matheny stressed the importance of open dialogue in a follow-up question on the motivation for last week’s panel. “Bringing people together to speak to the problems they see directly is the best way for us to learn about issues that we may not see ourselves… I would not be capable of seeing the plights of women, LGBTQI+ individuals, or undocumented immigrants in the same way as I do without counting these empowered women [other panelists] as colleagues, and more importantly, as friends”

Claire Marie Kuhn is a junior majoring in political science with minors in Peace Studies and Business Economics. She enjoys long afternoon naps and iced green tea lattes. To talk with her over one of those lattes, contact her at ckuhn1@nd.edu.