Updated pre-matriculation requirements ask and inform about sexuality, gender identity

Notre Dame updated its video on “sexual orientation and gender discrimination” in its pre-matriculation requirements for incoming students. Additionally, the University Health Services (UHS) added a set of questions about sexual orientation and preferred pronouns to their new-student questionnaire.

Both of these changes were unannounced but were added to the required coursework that students must complete over the summer before they arrive at the university. 

The video is a part of the Division of Students Affairs’ “Building Community the Notre Dame Way,” meant to prepare students for residential life at the university.

In it, Fr. Gerry Olinger C.S.C. states that our calling to treat others as we desire to be treated and “the Catholic Church’s teaching are at the heart of how we approach diversity on our campus, including differences in sexual orientation and gender identity.”

The video’s narrator declares, “We must prevent and intervene [in] any instances of sexual orientation and gender discrimination.” Adding, “Before we continue, let’s make sure we are all on the same page in terms of definitions,” the narrator then defines sexual orientation, lesbian, gay, bisexual, gender identity, transgender, cisgender, gender expression, and questioning.

According to the video, “gender identity” is “an individual’s inner sense of being male, female, or differently gendered person,” which “may not match their biological sex,” this latter situation being offered as the definition of transgender.  

These definitions were offered without any qualification or explanation. Rather, the Division of Student Affairs proceeded to interview individuals who identified as part of these groups. Amidst interviews with several openly gay, bisexual, and “queer presenting” students, the viewer was requested to move “towards acceptance of others” regarding their various sexual orientations.

The incoming Notre Dame students who had to watch this video were also told explicitly that being kind to LGBT individuals is not doing enough. They must “move from kindness to allyship.” Furthermore, the video asked the incoming students to act as if same-sex relationships are “no big deal.”

The Rover reached out to Fr. Olinger, who serves as the Vice-President for Student Affairs, asking for clarification of the intended message of this video. Olinger initially agreed to answer questions about the video over email, but ultimately did not respond to any specific queries regarding whether the messages in the video are somehow viewed by himself or the Division of Student Affairs as in line with Catholic teaching or official university policy

This policy states that individuals who experience same-sex attraction are called to chasity because, “All must learn to govern their passions in disciplined ways on the road to lasting freedom” and that “chastity is God’s invitation for all to be in loving relationship with others according to the demands of the moral virtues.”

The second notable addition to the pre-matriculation requirements was the UHS questionnaire that inquired about incoming students’ own sexuality. These questions were an addition this year to the survey which UHS sends to incoming students every summer.

At the beginning of the survey, students were asked, “What sex were you assigned at birth on your birth certificate,” to which the students could answer: male, female, or “choose not to disclose.” Then the survey asked, “What is your current gender identity?” The survey provided seven different options to choose from in answer to this question: male, female, transgender male, transgender female, “genderqueer—neither exclusively male nor female,” other, or choose not to disclose.

The third question then asked for students’ preferred pronouns.

Dr. Edward Junkins, Director of University Health Services, told the Rover, “Any information that we ask, we ask in an effort to best care for a student,” stating that students who feel uncomfortable with these questions “don’t have to share this [information] either in person or on a form.”

“We ask a whole bunch of other questions on that [questionnaire] that are very important for us to take care of students,” he continued. “Those particular kinds of questions are really no different than any question: we feel that they help us identify what sets somebody up emotionally, spiritually and physically to be the best student they can be … I know that there are a spectrum of students at Notre Dame, and we need to set up ourselves best to take care of them.”

When asked why this set of questions were necessary this year—since they have not been asked in previous years—Dr. Junkins told the Rover that the University Health Services themselves were not the ones who thought asking about students’ sexual identity and pronouns was necessary for proper healthcare. He explained that a student group approached the Division of Student Affairs asking that these questions be added, as is the case for many changes in university procedure. When a student group comes forward with a suggested change, he continued, “those questions will be elevated to the unit, or to the vice presidents, or to Student Affairs. And there will be conversations. There are a lot of different examples of this,” Junkins added.

He concluded this explanation, “we will collect all kinds of information that we feel is going to help us take care of patients.”

Junkins does not fear that asking these questions subverts any aspect of the Catholic mission of the university nor that presenting so many options for sexual identity and pronouns will prove particularly misleading to students, stating, “Any question can be considered confusing to incoming students. And as far as the Catholic [teaching] goes, I worry about taking care of all patients to the best of my ability to support the mission of the Church and of the school.”

The Division of Student Affairs declined to comment on their role in asking incoming students about their pronouns and sexual identity. 

Joseph DeReuil is a junior from St. Paul, MN studying philosophy and classics. For 19th and early 20th century literature reading suggestions (either offered or received) contact wdereuil@nd.edu.

Photo credit Notre Dame News.