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ND homogeneity a ‘crisis’

Observer Viewpoint | Monday, February 27, 2006

“The Vagina Monologues” as performed here looked like a rhetorical attempt to win over Notre Dame from implicitly fearing all sexuality to celebrating female sexuality while demonizing male sexuality. This is progress of sorts. Within the wider debate about how Notre Dame is to retain its Catholic character, I’d like to raise the following concerns. It’s hard to be an inclusive community when the judgment of objective disorder plants poison in our heads before we even start talking.

There’s a danger that our community will drift further from the conversation of the present age. We are closing doors and putting up signs that tighten the concentric circles of the normative around us like a cilice until those drawn here will be more like us. And indeed we may one day look around and realize that we have built right here a union of individuals in a community that treads on earth but has its heart in heaven, but at what price?

The crisis of Notre Dame’s homogeneity isn’t that we fail to represent – like some perfectly proportioned stained glass window – the ethnic map of the United States. It’s that it suggests the signals we’re sending out are dissuading the different from joining us at the discussion table.

When sending out a message, it’s understandable that Notre Dame should feel accountable to its alumni; the alumni themselves serve as a conservative ballast to remind us that ideologically, we’re accountable to a great deal more. And it would be fatal to the University’s sense of self if it were to try to deny its allegiance to the palimpsest doctrine of Catholic tradition; but let’s also remember that part of the audience for these messages we’re sending out is prospective students.

This may be the thin end of the wedge. Some members of the administration who went to see the 1932 Noel Coward play “Design for Living” at the DPAC last semester reportedly came away with the opinion that its themes rendered the play too mature for undergraduates to perform. Good art is heteroglossic, and I don’t envy the committee that would be entrusted to articulate defensible judgment calls on which theatrical performances should and should not be sponsored by a true Catholic university.

Having an explicit and consistent procedure would at least endow assessments with the semblance of legitimacy – and an appeals process ought to be instated for the same reason. But this path will impact diversity (of people and of ideas), contestation and our participation in the richness of contemporary life.

It’s good to be in conversation with people who are different than us. Our neurotic public hand-wringing about our Catholic identity in the academic context jeopardizes the universality of our conversations. In the short term it may do this by polarizing the field of discourse around the right answer. In the longer-term it may do this by its effect on admissions.

Douglas Aylinggraduate studentFeb. 24