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Commonality should trump emotion

Observer Viewpoint | Thursday, January 26, 2006

Before this campus spontaneously combusts into a fiery ball of emotion over University President Father Jenkins’ addresses to the faculty and students, I think everyone needs to realize he did not say the Vagina Monologues would be banned. In fact, they were not even the focus of his message to the students. They were only one factor in calling the subject of academic freedom and the Catholic identity of the University to discussion.

It would seem that Father Jenkins’ evaluation of this situation is just and fair. He has not yet instituted any policies, but rather is absorbing opinions first. Anyone can e-mail him, and he has promised to read each one.

He spoke of a concern that students understand the difference between censorship, which will not occur, and the implications of sponsorship. The University of Notre Dame is founded on Catholic principles as a Catholic institution. Catholics and others, both nationally and internationally, look to this University as a model of Catholicism. This institution, therefore, must be sure to fulfill its position as a role model in accordance with Church teaching. If the school wishes to maintain its recognition by the Church Magisterium, it must remain in line with Church teaching. There are clearly many issues at stake in this matter.

The question and answer session that took place following Father Jenkins’ address appeared to be skewed and overly representative of the supporters of the Monologues. It is indeed unfortunate that the advocates of the University’s withdrawal of sponsorship (again, not banishment from individual academic classroom or private settings) were not mixed among them, but instead cut off because of time limitations.

Though time was against me then, through this channel of academic freedom, I would like to encourage my fellow students to calmly and sensibly discuss these issues among not only their friends, but also with those who are “on the other side.” I believe that we will find more common ground than we expect. I am sure we will all agree on the value of academic freedom. I hope we will remember that the United States also allows for private institutions to also have freedom in preserving their beliefs and creeds, particularly those of religious nature.

Lastly, as a woman, I want all to understand there are a mulititue of avenues that exist which offer hope ending the violence against women that so many spoke of after Father Jenkins’ speech. Take, for example, the upcoming Edith Stein Conference, Notre Dame Right to Life’s desire for a Women’s Center on campus or discussions on the Theology of the Body. They may all have a radically different approach than the Monologues, but they all want women, their bodies, and their sexuality to be treated with the utmost respect and dignity.

I hope members of various factions, representing all sides, will take conscious measures to quell their potent emotions and come together, using their academic freedom, to discuss these matters among one another. I believe if we can understand that Father Jenkins does not wish to alienate women, but rather is carrying out his duty of maintaining Notre Dame’s Catholic identity and helping all of us understand the true nature and meaning of academic freedom, we will become a better Catholic and academic institution.

Mary Elizabeth WaltersophomorePasquerilla East Jan. 24