There’s been much hype leading up to the BCS championship between the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish and that other team from the backwoods of Alabama. I should say, as an Auburn fan and Notre Dame alum, I am biased against the team-that-shall-not-be-named. However, there is a deeper-seeded rivalry rooted in my heart: the ND family vs the ND establishment. I love one, I am hard-pressed to find a reason to love the other.
Today, ND announced the establishment of a Gay Straight Alliance, something that students have been fighting for since the mid-80s. I spent the better part of my college education as a part of that fight.
I have never been more proud of the decision-making institutional aspect of Notre Dame. Then, I realized I have never been proud of the institution. Ever.
Whenever I’ve been asked about ND, I always say “It was okay. The people were what made it for me.” I’m not Catholic, so I’m more inclined to find the things the school does and the reasons it does them batty at best. Why shouldn’t there be a non-discrimination clause for LGBT staff members? Why should I need to provide a doctor’s note saying my birth control is for acne? Like I said, to an outsider, these things are absurd.
Five minutes after finding out about the GSA announcement, a colleague posted a link to an op-ed in the Post by a female ND grad, explaining that the school’s cover-ups of sexual misconduct by members of the ND football team will keep her from cheering for Notre Dame in the upcoming game. A sharp reminder of the fact that, while there was a victory in one aspect of my life at ND, fighting for the proper treatment of victims of sexual assault was also a big issue for me. 1 in 4 college-aged women will be sexually assaulted. I’m still within that age range. Puts it in perspective.
Come January 7th, I will cheer for Notre Dame. Not “old Notre Dame,” the Notre Dame of my mother and her father before her, but my Notre Dame. The things that mean ND to me. That is not sports programs, but the hopes of those I love. The nice football players. Manti Te’o, who has been through so much this year. The people who supported him during his times of trouble. The friends who have helped me through my times of trouble. The events that made up my Notre Dame experience. The stadium I sat in to watch my boyfriend graduate. The stadium where, two years later, he sat in the stands to watch me graduate. Football is a thing that unites the people and things I love, it is not the thing that I love. I pay much more attention to my friends and tailgating than I do the stats or (and don’t tell anyone) the final score.
While I completely agree that too many people have let the death of a St Mary’s student go by the wayside — I will admit that it has been a couple months since I had thought of the event — there is a difference between those who have made horrible mistakes and choices and told lies to cover them up and being happy for those innocent players on the team who have worked for this their entire lives. I will never defend or condone or even be able to think about what happened to Lizzy Seeberg and how preventable it was. I will never forgive the school for some of the things it said and did (or didn’t do) surrounding that situation. I will never really understand the death of Declan Sullivan. But I will also never forget the hundreds of students who showed up to a vigil for him at the Basilica. That is my ND in action.
The administration and the institution have made some horrible decisions, but today showed me that they are capable of making good ones with a push from my ND. So I hold out a very skeptical hope for reform in other areas that need improvement. Students have been petitioning for a GSA since 1986. Among its other faults, the institution does not do things quickly.
I will always love and always be a part of the Notre Dame family. I can safely say I will not be ashamed to be a part of it. I cannot say the same for the Notre Dame those on the outside think of. I will always have to draw a distinction. Worse, I will always feel the need to do so any time I can. That is how ashamed I am of the institution. But the fact that the institution supports the football team will not keep me from cheering on my old classmates and looking for people I know in the crowd. The power of the institution will not scare me from saying that is sometimes wrong.
The students and the alum and, yes, even the football players (because it is a team made of individual players) are the heart and soul of the ND family. We are the Fighting Irish, and today showed us all what is worth fighting for, what we need to keep fighting, and, most importantly, what we can accomplish when we work together. We need to make old Notre Dame new. Better. Brighter.
We are ND.