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Uncovering a cause

Justin Tardiff | Thursday, April 6, 2006

Where did this come from?

Ten weeks ago, many members of the Notre Dame community dismissed University President Father John Jenkins’ pledge to end violence against women as window dressing – just an ambiguous remark made to please everyone before he harshly came down on one side.

But something funny happened during the last two months.

The president of Notre Dame – a school whose name is synonymous with glorifying the achievements of men on the football field – sparked a discussion that resulted in a monumental effort to end violence against women.

When would anyone have expected Right to Life and Feminist Voice – a political mixture of water and oil – to host a dance raising money to help rape victims?

No, they will never agree on the legality of abortion or who to vote for in the next election. But in discussing what makes them different, the two groups found they have quite a lot in common – and it’s just one example of how this conversation has risen above party lines or strictly personal positions.

Jenkins should be commended for steering the debate away from name-calling and bickering about our differences and toward an honest, civil discussion that achieved a commitment toward respect of women that has never been seen on this campus.

He admitted he would not find a solution that would please everyone, but he did strive to bring the campus beyond its differences and back to what unites this University – the Notre Dame family.

While all families have disagreements, successful ones have a common respect for the value of each individual. Jenkins respected both sides of this debate and did not come down hard on either camp. Refraining from punitive measures, he embraced an attitude of respect, acceptance and unity. He helped encourage every member of the Notre Dame family toward “the most urgent goal” – ending violence against women, a pervasive issue only now being brought to the forefront of the University’s attention.

Catholic means “universal.” Jenkins did not lay down a clear, black-and-white answer on the issue of how a Catholic university should operate in the secular, academic sphere – that would have caused nothing but division and conflict.

Instead, he found common ground too often ignored in today’s world.

Debate will likely keep churning as the community watches how the president’s three stated initiatives – the proposed performance of “Loyal Daughters,” formation of an ad hoc committee to address violence against women and guidelines on sponsorship of academic events – play out over the course of the semester and next year. Whether or not Jenkins will follow through is still to be determined

But uniting the campus toward a single, honorable goal of ending violence against women is to be applauded. As Jenkins said, there is a “pressing need for the University of Our Lady to be a rising force for defending and advancing the rights and dignity of all women, everywhere.”

Our Lady – as the real head of this family – is glowing brightly today.