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The best school in the country

Andrew Nesi | Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Event Name: Sex Toys 101

Tagline: This Valentine’s Day, give the gift that never goes limp!

A Safer Sex Week Event co-sponsored by Alice!, Columbia Queer Alliance and Greek Life!

What: An interactive presentation with Babeland, NYC’s favorite sex toy store, Sex Toys 101 will address the joys (and tribulations) of sex toys. Babeland educators will explain various sex toys and how toys of all kinds can enhance the sex lives of Columbia students. Topics discussed will include vibrators, dildos and harnesses, anal toys, sensation toys, porn, and erotica.

When: Sunday, February 11th, 8:00-9:30 pm

Where: John Jay Lounge

See you there!

Yes, that Facebook invitation from a high school friend welcomed me back to campus after Christmas break freshman year.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it to Sex Toys 101. For one, a joke birthday present has more than satisfied my interest in the nuances of dildo and harness technology. For two – and I’m sorry you have to read this, Mom – I’m pretty sure I can imagine the “tribulations” of anal toys without an interactive public event (yes, it made me uncomfortable to read that line, too). For three, and most importantly, the event was at Columbia in northwest Manhattan. Sex Toys 101 didn’t end til 9:30. I’d never get back for dorm mass at 10.

I’m trying to picture the reaction to a proposed similar conference at Notre Dame. Imagine it now: “The College of Arts and Letters and Zahm Hall present ‘Sex under the Dome. Literally.'”

The reaction would be swift and predictable. An alumnus who cares too much writes a letter to The Observer defending the Catholic character of the University. Someone else – probably a member of the Society of Women Engineers – would fire back about the importance of engaging ideas different from our own, about the paternalistic anti-sex attitude of Notre Dame, the importance of sexual self-actualization.

It would be the typical Notre Dame discussion, but on steroids. Each side questions the legitimacy of the other side-not just their arguments, but their entire existence. The debates are personal and polarizing.

These conversations are easy to mock. In fact, the anti-conversation viewpoint has become a popular viewpoint of its own. An entire Viewpoint-page subculture (nanoculture?) has emerged. It’s as dismissive towards polarizing cultural conversations as the sides of those conversations are to each other.

But if education is about preparing us to confront the world, it is our mockable conversations – parietals, adding sexual orientation to the non-discrimination clause, The Vagina Monologues, recognizing a gay-straight student alliance, etc – that make Notre Dame the best school in the country.

The way we talk about issues at Notre Dame more closely resembles the way people outside of college bubbles talk about things. We discuss whether we should embrace sex on campus, not how many sex toy clinics we should put on. Much as it pains many of us, our conversations question the morality of homosexuality, not invite us – to use another Columbia-based Facebook event – to a “Gender Roles in the Bedroom” conference for Queer Awareness Month. We ask how much diversity can exist within our Catholic identity, rather than assume diversity is an end in itself.

Our conversations, sometimes laughably, pit certainty against certainty. They pit traditional religion against liberalism. They pit liberals against conservatives, not more liberals against fewer liberals.

The vitriolic reaction to lifestyles and choices on campus mirrors the vitriolic reaction that, for better or worse, typifies conversations in this country. On the other side, the dismissive reaction of traditionalism as ignorance – where we vilify religious-based viewpoints – reflects the types of conversations we’ll have after graduation. From a cultural and political standpoint, in many ways, we debate unlike any other school – but we debate like the country does and a university should.

Wherever you fall on the ideological spectrum, you should embrace the sorts of conversations we have at Notre Dame, because these are the conversations in which we’ll be asked to participate when we leave South Bend.

Of course, our conversation is imperfect, still. While our values debate reflects our society at large, other aspects of our debate are shaped by our relative homogeny: our wealth and our whiteness. And sometimes we swing too far right, and our debate is too restrictive. We don’t – and can’t – always hear voices that we ought to hear.

We don’t have the best intellectual firepower in the country. We don’t have the most money to throw at research or scholarship. We don’t have the best cultural opportunities outside our campus borders.

But when our seniors graduate in three weeks, they will be uniquely prepared to engage the world around them. They’ll leave here with an education more valuable and practical than even an Ivy League vibrator conference could produce.

Andrew Nesi is a junior American Studies major from Fairfield, Conn. You’re all invited to a party in Morrissey room 206 this weekend. When you get there, ask for Joshua “Z-dawg” Entz. He’s in charge. Andrew can be reached at anesi@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not

necessarily those of The Observer.