-

The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.

-

viewpoint

Open letter from Fr. Jenkins

| Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Abraham Lincoln worked tirelessly and ultimately gave his life to preserve a divided union and end the blight of slavery in the United States.  Thus it is most unfortunate that a recent event on campus bearing his name divided our community.
I have been asked to condemn the speaker, but I will not do that. We have at Notre Dame an Open Speakers’ Policy that allows recognized student groups to “invite and hear any person of their own choosing,” and states that sponsoring such speakers “does not imply” — either by the group or the University — “approval or endorsement of their views.” We strive to create a forum in which many voices can be heard, and the merit of what any speaker says can be judged by members of the community based upon the presentation and subsequent discussion. It would be a bad precedent for the President, speaking on behalf of the institution, to either support or condemn particular presentations of individual speakers.
It is the responsibility of the President, however, to uphold the values of the institution, and among Notre Dame’s most central values is “to create a community that honors the human dignity of each member and that is characterized by a love of truth, active care and concern for the common good, and service toward others” (du Lac, Community Standards preface). An email was sent to members of the event’s sponsoring club that used language and made assumptions that could have reasonably been perceived as demeaning to members of our community and vulnerable groups in our society. While perhaps unintended, this communication has caused pain to individuals and groups on campus and has harmed our aspiration to create an environment where all feel welcome. We must therefore use this opportunity to remind ourselves of the values our community espouses and to re-commit ourselves to those values.
As members of a community that strives to seek the truth and to honor the dignity of all, we should state our views forthrightly and argue and advocate for them as passionately as we wish, but we must never express ourselves in ways that, intentionally or unintentionally, demean others. At a university, our work is reasoned inquiry and discussion and our object in arguing for our views should be to persuade others. Language that demeans others closes rather than opens conversations, prevents understanding and deepens division.
Whenever we find ourselves the target of demeaning statements, whether at Notre Dame or elsewhere, let us not return insults with insults. A more powerful response is to offer your perspective with conviction, but to present your views with respect and thus rise above those who demean.
Last December, we mourned the death of Nelson Mandela. He spent 27 years in prison and was often forced, in incarceration, to endure a regimen designed to humiliate and break him.  He had every reason to respond with hatred and anger, but his remarkable accomplishments came because he didn’t try to humiliate or defeat others; he showed them respect and won them over. In fact, when his lawyer first came to visit him two months into his imprisonment, Mandela was surrounded by eight guards. After a brief greeting, Mandela said to his attorney: “I’m sorry, I have not introduced you to my guard of honor.” He then introduced his guards, identifying each one by name. Mandela’s greatness was evident in the fact that he could rise above attempts to humiliate him and treat even his captors with dignity. That quality was no doubt part of what enabled him to unite a divided people and come to be recognized as the father of his nation. We can learn from his example.
Let us continue to embrace vigorous dialogue on our campus and renew our commitment to treat one another with respect even in our most passionate disagreements. Let us be attentive to the impact of our words on all, and especially on those who may feel vulnerable or marginalized.  Let us reject polarizing rhetoric and instead strive to make our community a model for civil discourse.
We are all Notre Dame. Let us treat one another in a manner worthy of the name.

Fr. John Jenkins
president
University of Notre Dame
April 14

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Tags: , , ,

About Letter to the Editor

Letters to the Editor can be submitted by all members of the Notre Dame community. To submit a letter to the Viewpoint Editor, email viewpoint@ndsmcobserver.com

Contact Letter
  • Nathan

    Very well reasoned response. Thank you, Father Jenkins!

  • Curious

    What is this in response to?

    • Outraged

      Mark Gianfalla, the head of ND’s College Republican group (and certified idiot), sent out the following message:

      “racial rabble rousers in the NAACP and BSA are planning a “silent demonstration” ($100 to every club member if this thing is actually silent) on Wednesday at the South Dining Hall. Honestly, this type of hypocrisy is what gets me up in the morning. They plan on wearing all black and handing out Ann Coulter quotes that will likely be doctored by some “reputable” blog started by a welfare recipient in his step-mother’s basement who hasn’t seen the light of day since his trip to the 2008 polling station. Since we’re always right, we’re not in the business of protesting (hence why no one streaked the NDream illegal alien love fest), but these people actually plan on pinning these quotes to their shirts for Thursday’s classes. I’ll have a life-size poster of Ann taped to my shirt and and “Born in the USA” blaring from my fannie pack all day, but here’s what we ask of you: wear your college republican gear to class on Thursday to show your support for our club and for the Constitution that represents free speech. You all have a bro tank, many of you have the Frat Collection sweatshirt or hat. If you don’t have anything with the club logo, just wear a red shirt or something that screams AMERICA in an in-your-face sort of way. If I see you around campus wearing red or the club gear, I’ll come up to a few of you and give you one of the club’s old bro tanks or some club swag as a prize (Sorry for Grand ‘Ol Partying ones).”

      • Really?

        By calling Mr. Gianfalla a “certified idiot” you are doing exactly what Fr. Jenkins has asked us to avoid in this commendable response. Next time, please consider how to approach the subject in a mature and dignified manner that is above name-calling.

      • Hypocrisy

        way to take the letter to heart and stop bashing people “and certified idiot”

        • Embarrassed

          Hopefully the intolerant, shrill Mr. Gianfalla represents a tiny minority of the ND student body.

      • Jordan

        You have to admit this email is pretty funny

        • Tony Fleming

          That doesn’t nearly go without saying. The sad truth I suspect HE does not think it’s funny. I think he believes his superior and condescending tone are well-earned by the righteousness of his ideas. Trust me, Jordan. He is NOT trying to be “ha ha” funny. He’s NOT even trying to be some caricature of the caricature that is Stephen Colbert’s right-wing blowhard. Nope. Mr. G is pretty sure his blowhard ideas are unremitting truth. He wakes and sleeps to this worldview. And, he probably doesn’t find Stephen Colbert funny.

      • curious

        Is Mark Gianfalla the throwback who posts offensive judgments using the name Reality Check?

  • confused

    Doesn’t letting our pro-abortion/pro-hhs mandate/pro-marriage president run around with an honorary ND Degree divide the community and fail to uphold our values?

    • Mark

      Being “pro marriage” is bad? You really are “confused.”

      • Correction

        I believe that it was supposed to say “gay marriage” which would go against the values of Notre Dame as a Catholic institution

    • Phil

      Robert Gates also got one two years later and his actions have not been 100% consistent with Catholic teaching, either. You aren’t going to find anyone who aligns entirely. This is a tired discussion.

    • desufnoc

      Doesn’t letting this anti-immigrant amnesty/anti-environmental care/pro-war pundit run around with an invitation to speak at ND divide the community and fail to uphold our values?

      • mpolito

        She was given an award by the university and told to speak to the graduates?

  • shawn

    I am always amazed when I see someone so articulate yet so blatantly racist in this day in age. One of the goals of education is to teach difference — that prejudice in our diverse world simply is inexcusable. It’s a shame that this educated young man has yet to pick up on this.

    • matt

      Do you have any idea what you just read?

      • liz

        Yeah, he said YOUNG man – pretty sure he’s talking about the author of the email, not Father Jenkins.

  • Temporarily Confused

    I wish the open letter had elaborated on the situation more. Without Outraged’s comment, I got the impression it was someone in opposition to the group who sent the demeaning email, which would have completely reframed the story. I guess I’m out of the loop, but just adding “by one of the club’s members” or something would have helped. Not that I mean to edit our president or anything.

  • Shawn

    How ironic that this comes from the man who wont even comment on why the university refuses to add sexual orientation to it’s non discrimination clause. Hypocrit.

  • Disappointed

    This is absolutely absurd that the president of the university would sink to the level of validating the outrageous behavior of liberal firebrands in attempting to restrict the open and diverse dialogue that makes this university and this country great.

    • Chris

      I suggest you read the letter again. He is in no way validating their behavior. As he says above, allowing speakers to come to campus “‘does not imply’ — either by the group or the University — “approval or endorsement of their views.” If he prevented Coulter from speaking, he would in fact be “attempting to restrict the open and diverse dialogue that makes this university and this country great.”

      • Disappointed

        By merely responding to the liberals’ accusations of racism and outcries over Ann Coulter’s visit, he is validating their response and fulfilling the agitators goals; namely, to generate as much controversy at as high of a level as they can achieve.

        • Disappointed

          The liberals were “attempting to restrict the open and diverse dialogue,” not Fr. Jenkins. But by issuing a response as a result of their inflammatory behavior, he is indeed validating them and giving them exactly what they set out to accomplish.

          • Dani G.

            Dear Disappointed Anonymous Writer,
            1. Reacting to blatant racism, classism, and demeaning stereotypes is not “inflammatory behavior.” Perhaps you meant something different? You should be more specific as to what you were referring.
            2. “The liberals” is such a generalized group that you really can’t expect to be making a comment on that. Although I believe Gianfalla once wrote an article about “the left,” so if you agree with him, I can understand why you would say that.
            3. Members of the College Republicans, the Republican Party, and other conservatives were also disappointed in Ann Coulter’s invitation to come speak and/or what she had to say and/or Gianfalla’s email. So how do you account for them in your theory that “the liberals” are out to “restrict the open and diverse dialogue”?
            4. I must have missed the meeting where “generating as much controversy at as high of level” was a goal of “the liberals.” Do you associate with them often? How did you come about this knowledge?
            5. It is highly ironic that you accuse “the liberals” of being “outrageous,” “agitators,” “firebrands,” and “inflammatory,” when the only language you use to refer to a humongous and diverse group of people is, in fact, outrageous, agitating, and inflammatory.

        • YouMissedThePoint

          Fr. Jenkins explicitly said in this letter that he was asked to condemn Ann Coulter but refused; he supports the Open Speakers’ Policy and did not want to endorse either side.

          The issue he WAS responding to was this email:

          “Racial rabble rousers in the NAACP and BSA are planning a “silent demonstration” ($100 to every club member if this thing is actually silent) on Wednesday at the South Dining Hall. Honestly, this type of hypocrisy is what gets me up in the morning. They plan on wearing all black and handing out Ann Coulter quotes that will likely be doctored by some “reputable” blog started by a welfare recipient in his step-mother’s basement who hasn’t seen the light of day since his trip to the 2008 polling station. Since we’re always right, we’re not in the business of protesting (hence why no one streaked the NDream illegal alien love fest), but these people actually plan on pinning these quotes to their shirts for Thursday’s classes. I’ll have a life-size poster of Ann taped to my shirt and and “Born in the USA” blaring from my fannie pack all day, but here’s what we ask of you: wear your college republican gear to class on Thursday to show your support for our club and for the Constitution that represents free speech.”

          You tell me, does that email go along with the principles of DuLac? Does that email “create a community that honors the human dignity of each member and that is characterized by a love of truth, active care and concern for the common good, and service toward others”

        • YouMissedThePoint

          Fr. Jenkins explicitly said in this letter that he was asked to condemn Ann Coulter but refused; he supports the Open Speakers’ Policy and did not want to endorse either side.

          The issue he WAS responding to was this email:

          “Racial rabble rousers in the NAACP and BSA are planning a “silent demonstration” ($100 to every club member if this thing is actually silent) on Wednesday at the South Dining Hall. Honestly, this type of hypocrisy is what gets me up in the morning. They plan on wearing all black and handing out Ann Coulter quotes that will likely be doctored by some “reputable” blog started by a welfare recipient in his step-mother’s basement who hasn’t seen the light of day since his trip to the 2008 polling station. Since we’re always right, we’re not in the business of protesting (hence why no one streaked the NDream illegal alien love fest), but these people actually plan on pinning these quotes to their shirts for Thursday’s classes. I’ll have a life-size poster of Ann taped to my shirt and and “Born in the USA” blaring from my fannie pack all day, but here’s what we ask of you: wear your college republican gear to class on Thursday to show your support for our club and for the Constitution that represents free speech.”

          You tell me, does that email go along with the principles of DuLac? Does that email “create a community that honors the human dignity of each member and that is characterized by a love of truth, active care and concern for the common good, and service toward others”

  • Confession Bear

    Let me preface this statement by saying I am a conservative and a member of the College Republicans. I think we should show the utmost respect for people who present informed and intelligent opinions, especially when they differ from our own. However, I also think we have a duty to call out the bigots and the idiots who spew harmful speech and present ignorant and meritless opinions. My definition of a “meritless” opinion is one that is not based in fact or reason and, while the holder may be entitled to it, it does not warrant intelligent debate. Ann Coulter does not warrant intelligent discourse nor does she intend to. She is a self-proclaimed bigot who is simply not worth your time. I am disappointed in my fellow College Republicans’ decision to give her a platform, but also disappointed by others’ decisions protest her appearance. There are many people who are worth your time, who are worth intelligent debate, whose opposing opinions are worth hearing: Coulter is not one of them. I applaud Jenkins for remaining neutral on the matter.

    • Zowie

      Thank you.

      But regarding one thing you said– the demonstration was misunderstood. We weren’t protesting Ms. Coulter’s visit. We were demonstrating our disapproval of her views and the fact that they do not align with those of the University.

    • Johnny Whichard

      I would just like to throw out here…when you remain anonymous…it grows tough to believe you

  • Zowie

    I love Father Jenkins, man.

  • dekadaye

    1) lincoln didnt care about equality. let’s end the tired and inaccurate storyline that lincoln cared about the dignity of black people. jenkins implies that lincoln’s legacy is something to be exalted in race relations. it is not. http://www.history.com/news/5-things-you-may-not-know-about-lincoln-slavery-and-emancipation

    2) why are the oppressed always called to rise above and be the bigger person? why are the oppressors never taught to be better? recognize their ignorance? engage in self-reflection?

    • Dorothy Mantooth

      Thank you! I am so tired of people who have not experienced my oppression telling me how I should respond to it.

      • Johnny Whichard

        I do not mean in anyway to pry, and I am sincerely curious, what oppression have you experienced?

        • Dan Alumni

          Johnny these scholars lay out some basics of what oppression looks like. These are not about a larger societal context but specific to college campuses, although they may not be specific to the experiences of the posters you are asking.

          http://works.bepress.com/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1034&context=sharper

          hooks, b. (2009). Teaching critical thinking : Practical wisdom. Hoboken: Routledge.

          • Dan Alumni

            Harper, S. R., & Patton, L. D. (2007). Responding to the realities of race on campus. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

    • Mike

      Very well said Dekadaye…although we’re grateful for Lincolns efforts, nothing he did around freeing the blacks was out of the ‘goodness of his heart’..one of his main objectives was to preserve the union. Like many in his day, he was in deed a supremest who may not have detested blacks, he still believed they were inferior beings not meant to share civilized society with Caucasians. Essentially he felt that blacks were better off leaving the country.

  • Peter Castle

    A self-proclaimed Christian conservative, Coulter has become an embarrassment to conservatism and besmirches the name of Jesus. She is neither an advocate for conservatism nor for Christ – she is an advocate for Ann Coulter. Her own gospel is ably analyzed in the book, The Gospel According to Ann Coulter, which is available at http://www.coulterwatch.com/gospel.pdf.

  • Dan Alumni

    The example of being incarcerated is what came to Jenkins’ mind. Which group involved here is supposed to live peacefully in a situation compared to incarceration, why, who is allowing this, and how is that acceptable?

  • Peter Castle

    Coulter is not the best representative for conservatives given her sometimes bizarre remarks. She is not an advocate for conservatism – she is an advocate for Ann Coulter. A growing number of people are discovering that we should Never Trust Ann Coulter – at ANY Age, at http://www.coulterwatch.com/never.pdf.

    • PolishKnightUSA

      Trust Ann Coulter, how? Is she a politician running for office? She writes opinions. Few conservatives agree with everything she says. On the other hand, it’s the left that seeks conformity and bashes white males while simultaneously preaching they’re so independent, progressive, and anti-racist.

      Unlike the left, Ann Coulter is rarely hypocritical.

      I see you’re obsessed with her. That’s a sign that you trust one thing: Her opinion is highly influential. Even if the left wins elections, the only way they can win them is with an anti-white male, and ultimately, anti-European agenda that will produce a world that more closely emulates the third world rather than Europe. Even Notre Dame graduates increasingly face unemployment combined with massive student loans. If they’re lucky. The women graduates face childless spinsterhood to boot.

      • ND Alum

        “Childless spinsterhood” – you mean like Ann Coulter?

        • PolishKnightUSA

          YES! Indeed! It doesn’t surprise me that Ann Coulter is a stereotypical career woman spinster even as her career is criticizing women similar to herself. It’s like celebrity white males making millions from films and media appearances criticizing… white males. It makes sense in a weird kind of way.

  • okey doke

    Listen. ND has race and class problems. It doesn’t mean ND is horrible, but it is true. It just doesn’t address those topics well. This letter does not address those topics, either. A lot of people are hurting at ND because of poor race and wealth relations, and this letter did not really improve that situation and instead avoiding discussing it.

  • NDaniels

    I have great respect for Father Jenkins, however this does not change the fact that in order to treat one another in a manner that is dignified, one must begin with respect for The Sanctity of Human Life from the moment of conception, and respect for The Sanctity of Marriage and The Family, as God intended.

    The line that has been drawn in the sand in regards to the culture wars is a line that separates our founding Christian principles from atheistic materialism: slavery, abortion, and identifying persons according to sexual inclination/orientation, all deny the truth about the human person, the fact that regardless of ancestry, desire, or consent, every human person, from the moment of conception, has been created in The Image and Likeness of God, equal in Dignity, while being complementary as a son or daughter. From the moment of conception, you have been you, and I have been me, and even if the twain shall not meet in Space, in Time, our Life is a continuum.

    • Jason

      Are you high?

      • NDaniels

        No.

  • NDaniels
  • Rick Derris

    It would’ve been nice to have seen the campus liberals react this way when Tariq Ramadan was invited to the University ten years ago. Too bad Ann Coulter doesn’t advocate female genital mutilation and stoning of adulterers. She’d be offered a tenured position at the Kroc Center.

  • Oligarchy

    So under that premise, would it be acceptable to invite a fundamentalist jew or muslim to campus, a speakers that would only release speech of hatred towards the majority of ND community?

    After all, we have an open speaker policy.

  • NDaniels

    At the end of the Day, to suggest that every viewpoint is worthy of respect is relativism, which can only lead to ethical relativism; we, who profess to be Catholic, do not purpose that there is a truth, we proclaim Christ Crucified. Dissent from The Word of God, is always opposed to The Truth, Who is not merely a matter of opinion. We, who are Catholic, are called to challenge the issues of the day, in light of our Catholic Faith; to not do so is known as the sin of ommission.