Dialogue is not dead
Letter to the Editor | Sunday, February 18, 2007
I would like to thank and congratulate all of the academic departments that truly understand the importance and meaning of academic freedom, and in particular, those that chose to not sponsor “The Vagina Monologues” this year.An Observer editorial published this past Friday (“After debate, inaction can’t continue,” Feb. 16) lamented the decisions of these departments in regards to the “Monologues.” The editorial expressed a sense of confusion as to why “departments wouldn’t fully exercise the right they fought so hard to protect.” This confusion, I believe, stems from a misunderstanding of both the nature of freedom and of academic departments. The meaning of freedom is not the obligation of people to slander and disrespect each other, or bombard their community with “controversy” that makes exciting headlines. The meaning of freedom is far deeper and more beautiful than that.Freedom, which is grounded in reason, contains its meaning only when used in the pursuit of truth; and it is only within truth that we become truly free. Universities and academic departments within them are founded so that this quest may be pursued. Here at Notre Dame, we understand that the truth we pursue in freedom is God, whom we come to know through both faith and reason. Because of the knowledge which has been given to us by revelation, we follow the teaching of the Catholic Church and pay due respect to its sacred teaching and tradition. Therefore, the editorial’s statement “It doesn’t matter what people think of the ‘Monologues,’ or ‘Qlassics,’ or any other student-run event that presents ideas in opposition to Church teaching. It just matters that they think about them,” is false.The University is a place of formation where young men and women come seeking the assistance of learned professors in order to pursue the truth in each of their academic fields, from engineering to English. The issues should not be simply “thought about” as one thinks of grabbing some fro-yo on the way out of the dining hall, but rather that one carefully considers them in light of what we know so that the truth may be better grasped. Thus, academic excellence and freedom enter into the University. Each department must focus itself within its own discipline and understand that it is there that true freedom lies and not in the wanton spending of funds and time on events ill-suited to their mission of pursuing the highest and ultimate truth.It is true that discussion of issues makes Notre Dame a vibrant place. The editorial correctly noted “As he issued his closing statement last spring, Jenkins commended students and faculty members for engaging in thoughtful, concerned debate.” But then it added, “Unfortunately, that debate now seems to be lost.” That, however, is far from the truth. There are daily opportunities to continue that dialogue. Groups formerly opposed to each other, such as Feminist Voice, Right to Life, the Identity Project of Notre Dame and Sustained Dialogue have come together on a number of occasions to continue fruitful debate and also to reach out of themselves to make a positive impact on the broader community.I would like to invite anyone interested in discussing these topics to contact one of these groups. I may suggest attending the Edith Stein Conference Feb. 23-24 to learn about women’s issues. Or contact Emily Weisbecker to interview for next year’s “Loyal Daughters.” Join Sustained Dialogue – perhaps the most “vibrant” group from The Observer’s perspective since it brings together people from “both sides” to debate and discuss a number of issues. Mark your calendars for the Right to Life Conference April 13-14 to discuss human sexuality.The University is not hurt in the slightest by the invisibility of the “Monologues” this year. I could fill this entire newspaper with opportunities for vibrant dialogue which have all proven more fruitful than the viewing of an explicit stage production year after year. The dialogue does continue, in a civilized, educated and reasonable fashion every day. Rather than sitting in a plush theatre seat you can actively discuss with your peers and professors. You can volunteer by working at one of the local women’s centers. You can personally step forward and be a part of these issues. I would invite you all to participate with us. It is not hard to get involved, and it will be rewarding.Perhaps we do not scream and sling mud at each other, but this is not the proper form of debate at a premier academic institution. If that is what you wish for, then I respectfully suggest you consider transferring to another school.
Mary Walterpresident, ND Right to LifeFeb. 18