Gender Relations and Disability Advocacy Get to Work in the Fall Semester

Author: Erin Drumm

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A​​s the Student Government reconvenes this fall, junior Lane Obringer, director of Gender Relations, Title IX and Women’s Initiatives, and sophomore Jill Maudin, director of Disability Advocacy, are working towards making campus a safer and more inclusive place for Notre Dame students. New initiatives like Safety After Parietals and the Accessibility Leadership Fellows mentorships are being implemented and spurring change across campus. 

The current student government administration, Patrick Lee and Sofie Stitt, are the fourth administration to be working towards Safety After Parietals. The initiative started with changing the language in Du Lac — which includes the student handbook — and the language of the sexual misconduct outline that is given to people when they enter the Office of Insitutional Equity. Obringer worked with the communications department on choosing the right language to use for the Safety After Parietals rules and created posters that are being distributed to dorms. 

Obringer wants hall staff to be educated about the initiative so that it is carried out in each dorm. She worked with Breyan Tornifolio, the director of Residential Life, to inform rectors of the Safety After Parietals initiative. Together they educated rectors about Safety After Parietals during their training on student care and support. Obringer’s role is very important to her. “ I stepped into my role, with the aim to help survivors like myself. My freshman year I was sexually assaulted by a really close friend,” Obringer said. “It really drives the work that I do. I think every survivor, you lose a lot of your sense of worth, you lose a lot of your sense of empowerment and safety.” Safety After Parietals intends to encourage students to leave dangerous situations after parietals and to not fear facing consequences over protecting themselves. If an unsafe or discriminatory event occurs during parietals, whether it be after 12 a.m. on weekdays or 2 a.m. on weekends, the initiative urges that you leave the situation for your own safety. 

Under Safety After Parietals, there are then two paths you can take to address the concern of a parietals violation. If you encounter hall staff when leaving an unsafe situation, you can inform them that you feel unsafe. This applies in situations where the student knows that they feel unsafe in the moment and are comfortable sharing that with hall staff. The staff will then offer support, and the Office of Institutional Equity will reach out to learn more about your concern and why you felt unsafe. 

Alternatively, if you encounter hall staff in such a scenario, you do not need to tell them that you felt unsafe or discriminated against. Instead, you can privately inform your rector, the Office of Community Standards or the Office of Institutional Equity when they follow up on the incident. 

“We know some students might not know that they felt unsafe or didn’t feel comfortable telling a different hall staff member that they felt unsafe. So regardless, when OCS or the Office of Institutional Equity follows up with you, you can inform them to whatever level of degree of information you would like to provide,” Obringer said. “So it’s a very individual and personal empowering thing to be able to decide the level of information you share and whether or not an investigation continues.” 

“I think college is a really fun and exciting time for everyone. But knowing that this is something that can make or break someone’s college experience, I would like to prevent it as a whole,” Obringer said. “But in order to even take a crack at fixing it, it’s creating conversations and putting people in roles like mine that do more work like this with more funding, because without it, it would go completely unnoticed.” 

Obringer encourages students to get involved with the Gender Relations Department of Student Government or the Gender Relations Center on campus. The Gender Relations Department of Student Government is continuing to work with Callisto, a nonprofit organization that aims to catch repeat offenders of sexual violence. The organization is doing hall council presentations and hoping to visit all 32 dorms by Thanksgiving break. They are now accepting applications for Callisto ambassadors. 

“Through our initiatives like Callisto and Safety After Parietals, I found a lot of personal strength, speaking as both a survivor and a person who cares about this issue as a whole,” Obringer said. “My main goal is just to provide comfort and care for every single student on our campus.” 

On another note, the disability advocacy department is working on initiatives to make campus more accessible for Notre Dame students. 

This year, the Department of Diversity and Inclusion was split into three parts: First-Generation Low-Income (FGLI), Race and Disability. Sophomore Jill Maudin is the first to take on the position of director of Disability Advocacy. 

Maudlin is also an officer of Access-ABLE, a club for students with disabilities and allies that builds community and promotes advocacy. She says that her department and Access-ABLE have helped her develop her plans as director. 

“I’ve gotten a lot of great ideas from them,” Maudlin said. 

This semester, the Disability Advocacy Department launched the Accessibility Leadership Fellows, a group of 25 people receiving mentorship from upperclassmen who also use Sara Bea Accessibility Services. This program aims to “incorporate our first years and any transfer students into the accessibility scene at Notre Dame,” Maudlin said.

This year, the Department of Disability Advocacy provided ASL interpreters at Welcome Weekend, with interpreters attending the Welcome event hosted in the Notre Dame stadium and the Welcome Mass in Purcell Pavilion. They also distributed brochures on how to host accessible SYRs and formals, which were distributed at Hall President’s Council. 

A long term goal of the Disability Advocacy department is to have American Sign Language recognized as a foreign language at Notre Dame. 

“Currently, if you take ASL in high school, they won’t count it as the two years of a foreign language,” Maudlin said. “We also want a professor of ASL so that it can be offered here.”

Currently, Maudlin is working towards having accessibility information included in information about study abroad program locations. 

“Right now, I can only consider locations that are for engineers,” said Maudlin, a neuroscience student. “I wish I could consider places that I can’t get around.” 

Maudlin plans to create these brochures to help people with disabilities discern which study abroad programs are accessible to them.

 “We’re going to address people with low vision, hard hearing, mobility impairments, neurodivergence. We want to talk about cultural attitudes around those things too, at the different locations,” Maudlin said. 

“Disability is very often left behind, even as a form of diversity. We are a minority group, and we’re the largest minority group, but we’re just left behind all of the time,” Maudlin said. “And so I thought a department and student government dedicated to disabled people would be a great first step in increasing visibility and creating change and overall improving the lives of disabled students.” 

Under the active leadership of Obringer and Maudlin, the Department of Gender Relations and Department of Disability Advocacy in Student Government are making tangible steps towards a more safe and accessible campus under the active leadership of Obringer and Maudlin.