Students express hope in future of revitalized forum
The reinstatement meeting of the Student Life Council (SLC) was held on Tuesday, February 21 in Carey Auditorium. The meeting, organized by Student Government, gathered administrators and the student body president for a conversation on faith formation and questions of meaning at Notre Dame.
The SLC was first founded under Father Theodore Hesburgh C.S.C. in September 1968. Fr. Hesburgh “deemed it necessary to keep students aware of university decisions and to have an open space to hear their voices and address student concerns,” said Student Body Vice President Sofie Stitt in her introductory remarks. The 1968 council was initially composed of 24 members equally divided among students, faculty, and administrators. Father Charles McCarragher C.S.C. the Vice President of Student Affairs at the time, noted the SLC “has decision making powers” that bring legislation to the President.
One Observer article called the SLC an “instrument of hope” particularly because of its student representation. Only five years later, though, this instrument of hope lapsed when student representatives began to question its effectiveness and criticize its lack of flexibility in bylaws.
In 2022, Student Body President Patrick Lee ran on a platform centered around reimplementing this initiative. Lee and Stitt received heavy criticism for attempting to bring back the SLC, with some calling it concerning that their main policy goal was attempted and rejected by an administration in the past.
Lee told the Rover they were able to reimplement the SLC “by building honest relationships of mutual goodwill with university administration” and encouraged the students attending the session to “demonstrate meaningful interest” including “high turnout and meaningful questions” to keep the SLC from relapsing.
This reimagined SLC brought together Lee, Vice President of Student Affairs Father Gerry Olinger, C.S.C. and Assistant Provost for Undergraduate Education Father Daniel Groody, C.S.C. for a discussion about the work in their respective departments and an opportunity to hear from and answer student questions. The SLC also invites speakers based on the topic of the meeting.
This first meeting featured Assistant Vice President for campus ministry Fr. Pete McCormick, C.S.C. who addressed attendees about the work of campus ministry, especially in regard to the university’s participation in the Synod on Synodality. Fr. Pete described the synodal sessions as a way to “encounter people where they find themselves, [and] to ask them questions seeking to better understand” how to communicate the Gospel today.
He noted the results of these conversations with about 500 students stressed the importance of personal reflection, community, and inclusion. Fr. Pete also highlighted “members of the LGBTQ community, women who feel their voices are not heard, and those who identify as religiously conservative” as marginalized groups on Notre Dame’s campus. The full report will be released on February 28.
Fr. Olinger furthered the discussion of religious inclusion as a fundamental pillar of the Notre Dame experience, emphasizing his commitment to listening to all members of the Notre Dame community in his eighteen months as VP of Student Affairs. He outlined his hope for faith at Notre Dame, namely that the university can “provide the people, the mentors, [and] peers to walk alongside people as we think about questions of faith.”
Fr. Groody also highlighted the necessity for inclusion through the lens of Christ as teacher, who invites Christians to ask good questions. Specifically, he noted the need to find connection between “the needs and desires of the heart and the needs and challenges in the world.”
The presenters returned to these themes of accompaniment and balance in response to many of the questions posed by students. In response to questions about material on gender and sexuality in the Moreau First Year Experience course, Fr. McCormick expressed the difficulty of striking the balance between “communicat[ing] what it is the Church teaches, and why she teaches it and the wisdom that’s behind that” and “authentically accompany[ing] another person to meaningfully come to know them and their story.”
Fr. Olinger echoed this need for balance, reflecting on the role of a Catholic university to “uphold the truth of the Catholic tradition, and teaching” and also “work towards inclusion.” He invited attendees to “resist this either/or … Both of these things can be true.”
In an interview with the Rover, junior Merlot Fogarty, noted she was “optimistic about the future of [the] SLC” but criticized the forum saying, “Direct answers were avoided, and many students left feeling as if their voices were not heard.”
PJ Butler, a junior, commended the executive leadership of student government for accomplishing the reinstatement and told the Rover he “looks forward to future installments.” Though Butler echoed Fogarty’s frustration about the “lack of substantive answers,” he was encouraged by “student interest in speaking to the administrators and voicing concerns specifically from a Catholic perspective” and “hopes this is the beginning of a period of dialogue with university administrators.”
Lee reminded students in a statement to the Rover that “transparency on behalf of the permanent members can only be expected if students ask questions that seek to understand and engage, not to entrap or ensnare.” He encouraged more students to attend future meetings of the SLC and bring thoughtful and respectful questions so the SLC can continue to act as the “instrument of hope” and establish itself as a “reliable forum for honest conversation,” after his term in office concludes.
Lauren Douglas is a sophomore majoring in the Program of Liberal Studies and theology. Recently, she can be found on the fourth floor of Geddes Hall scrolling through the Observer archives from the 60s and 70s. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss your favorite ads (she is personally in favor of the typewriters for rent).
Photo Credit: Merlot Fogarty
Subscribe to the Irish Rover here
Donate to the Irish Rover here