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viewpoint

To the president

| Monday, October 3, 2016

Dear Fr. John Jenkins,

We are writing to express our disappointment with your recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. Because you represent the entire Notre Dame community, we feel we must speak up to ask you to reconsider your statements and to open a public dialogue about this important social issue.

We are disheartened that you objected to the NCAA’s decision and chose to make a public statement that privileges the rights and feelings of cisgender, heterosexual people over transgender and gay people. Perhaps you do not understand what transgender is, or have not considered the experiences a transgender person might face negotiating gendered bathrooms. Yet they are not alone: Many cisgender people face similar difficulties when using gendered bathrooms due to their role as parents or caretakers of people of a different gender. Many communities and institutions have responded by creating gender-neutral and family-friendly bathrooms.

Your placing of privileged people’s comfort over those of a disenfranchised group does not align with statements you made during your recent address to the Notre Dame faculty. There, you spoke at length about the need for more diversity and inclusion at our university, grounding that goal in the principle that every human being is worthy of respect and dignity. One need only replace “transgender persons” and “biological sex” in your statement with some other marginalized group or identity, such as “people of color” and “race,” to understand how problematic it is. Moreover, your op-ed echoes many of the biased and reductive statements made in favor of North Carolina House Bill 2 (HB2). As you note, this law is not just about legislating bathroom use, although those in favor of it consistently raise that canard. HB2 is about a state stripping rights from cities and citizens. It is about civil rights.

HB2 is a segregationist law of precisely the sort that our university has stood against for decades. Like its antecedents in the Jim Crow era, HB2 constructs an imaginary threat, and inflicts suffering on the most vulnerable members of our society. Indeed, segregation laws involving people of color have also frequently been about policing gender and sexuality; the bodies in question are often the same. Understanding the history of those connections is important for anyone wanting to weigh into a critical debate on HB2.

We also find your comments about the NCAA’s decision and its role as a “moral arbiter” deeply problematic and inconsistent with the values of our university. Certainly, any organization of whatever nature has the moral obligation to speak up and act in the face of discriminatory laws such as HB2. We applaud the NCAA for taking this stand when many other powerful institutions, such as Notre Dame, have not.

In your op-ed, you argue, “When it comes to complex, contentious social issues, universities have a critical role to play in fostering reflection, discussion and informed debate.” We agree, but Notre Dame is not yet a place where the discussion of such issues is fully welcome or valued. For example, public discussions about the LGBTQI community have been consistently squelched on our campus, to the detriment of our students, faculty, staff, alumni and larger community. Indeed, your recent op-ed seems to continue that trend. Those of us signing here, however, will not remain quiet in the face of discriminatory remarks and the dearth of dialogue on our campus about such significant social issues. We will value and support de-privileged people, and we will attempt to change the oppressive systems that keep such individuals subordinate and disempowered.

We would welcome an opportunity to meet with you in person to express our views and to understand your own, as well as to provide you with information about the issues transgender and gay people face here at Notre Dame and beyond.

Respectfully,

Select Members of the Notre Dame Progressive Faculty/Staff Alliance
(in alphabetical order)

Francisco Aragon, Associate Professional Specialist, Institute for Latino Studies
Katrina Barron, Associate Professor, Mathematics
Laura Bayard, Outreach Services Librarian
Christine Becker, Associate Professor, Film, Television, and Theatre
Catherine E. Bolten, Associate Professor, Anthropology and Peace Studies
Katherine Brading, Professor, Philosophy
Joseph A. Buttigieg, Professor, English; Director, Hesburgh-Yusko Scholars Program
Mary R. D’Angelo, Professor Emerita, Theology
E. Jane Doering, Retiree, Professor of the Practice, Teachers as Scholars Program
Margaret Anne Doody, Professor, English
Stephen Fredman, Professor, English
Agustin Fuentes, Chair and Professor, Anthropology
Daniel A. Graff, Director, Higgins Labor Program; Faculty, History
Karen B. Graubart, Associate Professor, History; Concurrent, Romance Lang. and Lit.
Perin Gurel, Assistant Professor, American Studies; Concurrent, Gender Studies
Darlene R. Hampton, Academic Advisor, First Year Studies
Susan Cannon Harris, Associate Professor, English; Concurrent, Gender Studies
Karen Croake Heisler, Instructor/Internship Coordinator, Film, Television, and Theatre
Ricky Herbst, Assistant Director for Public Interest Law
Peter Holland, Associate Dean for the Arts, College of Arts and Letters
Michael Kackman, Associate Teaching Professor, FTT
Asher Kaufman, Professor, History and Peace Studies
Mary Celeste Kearney, Director of Gender Studies; Associate Professor, FTT
Janet Kourany, Associate Professor, Philosophy; Concurrent, Gender Studies
Maureen Lafferty, Assistant Director, University Counseling Center
Anne Leone, Research Assistant Professor, Romance Languages and Literatures
Julia Marvin, Associate Professor, Liberal Studies and Medieval Institute
Sara L. Maurer, Associate Professor, English
Sarah McKibben, Chair and Associate Professor, Irish L&L; Concurrent, Gender Studies
Joyelle McSweeney, Director of Creative Writing Program
Rory McVeigh, Professor, Sociology
Marisel Moreno-Anderson, Associate Professor, Romance Languages and Literatures
Pierpaolo Polzonetti, Professor, Music and Liberal Studies
F. Clark Power, Professor, Program of Liberal Studies
Ava Preacher, Assistant Dean, Undergraduate Studies
Valerie Sayers, Professor, English
Kristin Shrader-Frechette, Professor, Philosophy and Biological Sciences
John Sitter, Professor, English
Nancy K. Stanton, Professor, Mathematics
Jim Sterba, Professor, Philosophy
Maria Tomasula, Professor, Art, Art History, and Design
Christine M. Venter, Director, Legal Writing Program, Law School
Sean Wernert, Academic Advisor, First Year of Studies
Richard Williams, Associate Professor, Sociology
Michelle Wirth, Assistant Professor, Psychology
Pamela Robertson Wojcik, Professor, FTT; Concurrent, Gender Studies
Maryam Meechka Zomorodian, Academic Advisor, First Year of Studies

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

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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

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  • Matt

    Quite simply, Notre Dame is a Catholic institution. Positing that the university should endorse values contrary to Catholic teaching to absurd and troubling.

    • Julia Francis

      You’re right. Catholic doctrine espouses respect and value for all individuals, including the LGBT community. The school should embrace these values by standing up for the rights and the dignity of all individuals, as is communicated by this excellent letter from the faculty.

      • Seamus Brennan

        “Catholic doctrine espouses respect and value for all individuals, including the LGBT community.”
        You’re right here. But respect for all people and adherence to the Church’s teachings are not mutually exclusive…there are ways to promote both.

      • Zahmbie

        I suggest you read the WSJ article. I think you’ll find Father Jenkins does support and respect the LGBT community.

        He doesn’t respect the NCAA acting on behalf of the university in determining how to handle HB2.

        This letter scares me because it clearly shows none of these faculty members actually read the statement or, even worse, they couldn’t comprehend it.

    • Samuel Costanzo

      Jenkins is struggling with the fact that the officiated Catholic teaching you describe is based on factual inaccuracy as far as we can tell. Hazarding a guess, I would think that he and many others in Catholic leadership are realizing that the old-school conflation of biological sex (an ambiguous situation on its own, if people do the research) and gender identity are misleading and not rooted in some clear-cut empirical facts. Their basic foundation is rooted in a “point-A-to-point-B “, creation-based framework for understanding human nature. And to put it bluntly in their own terms, they are having a hard time realizing that their God, and by extension our human nature and reality, are not that simple.

      So on that note, I would argue that no, it is not as simple as “[the University endorsing] values contrary to Catholic teaching”.

      • Sarah C

        Would it be easier if bathrooms were labeled penis or vagina? Would that clear up some people’s confusion. Because we can do that.

    • RandallPoopenmeyer

      So stop wearing two different types of fibers, and don’t you dare touch your girlfriend before marriage. And don’t touch your wife during her period!!!
      Hmm but let me guess, you like to pick and choose which rules to follow?

      • Sarah C

        The Catholic Church does not teach that. I am aware that those things are written in the Bible. If you would like, I can point you to some resources that explain why that is written in the Bible and why it is not included in Catholic teaching.

        • RandallPoopenmeyer

          Your precious bible certainly does teach that.
          Hence why I said you guys like to pick and choose.

          • Sarah C

            The Bible SAYS that, yes. The Catholic Church does not TEACH that. A lot of the things in the Bible, especially the Old Testament, are just laws or traditions that were from the time it was written. They weren’t all religious laws in the first place, they no longer apply and the Catholic Church does not teach them. The Catholic Church has rules that are also not taught in the Bible. Again, if you need references I have them.

          • Frank Brandon

            Always the ad hominem when losing. So sad.

  • Harambe

    Funny…No professors from the college of science signed this?

    • Harambe

      Or Engineering or Business for that matter

  • MC

    I, for one, am proud of Father Jenkins for finally sticking up for the rights of Catholic and other religious institutions and for the teachings of the Church. The ACC and NCAA went way out of bounds making such a political decision and implicating their participating institutions in it. And to conflate racial injustices and the fight for actual civil rights with this gender identity mess is a sad indicator of the intellectual integrity of our faculty.

    • Jeff Brown

      you want to know what is a sad indicator of intellectual integrity? putting the imaginary desires of your imaginary deity ahead of the needs of real, living people.

      • Robert Jones

        Terrible comment! Zero intellectual thought behind this one. Sad counteratgument for a decent point.

        • João Pedro Santos

          LOL someone who resorts to ad hominem complaining about lack of “intellectual thought”.

          • Zahmbie

            Seriously, do you even know what an ad hominem attack is?

        • RandallPoopenmeyer

          His comment is true… idiot

    • Liz Hynes

      what are “actual civil rights”? the fight against discrimination towards people of color because of a biological trait that makes them different from us? what a mess! if god had wanted them to vote, he would’ve just made them white!

      • warmupthediesel

        Are you claiming LGBT orientations are the result of a “biological trait”? I’d love to see a source on that…because I haven’t come across one yet.

        • João Pedro Santos

          Of course you’ve never come accross reliable sources because you only search for far-right websites.

          • MG

            Insulting?

          • João Pedro Santos

            No, it’s a statement. Stop being so offended.

          • warmupthediesel

            And what a contribution your statement was. Was just asking if there are any studies/sources that show LGBT orientations are caused by “biological traits”…

          • Zahmbie

            You’re a special kind of hypocrite. And troll.

        • Liz Hynes

          the entire “gender identity mess” in this specific instance is the result of people being uncomfortable that someone with biologically different traits might share a restroom with them

          • warmupthediesel

            Oh, I understand what you’re saying now. Thanks for clarifying 🙂

          • Sarah C

            It’s also about modesty in dressing rooms. It’s just as discriminatory to override my rights as a woman to privacy in dressing rooms.

          • Liz Hynes

            when was the last time anyone made you share a dressing room stall with another person?

          • Sarah C

            Never. Sorry, I meant to say locker rooms. Locker rooms do not have stalls.

          • Sarah C

            That being said, there are reported cases of MEN in the WOMENS dressing rooms at Target filming women over the doors. So yeah, its a violation of women’s privacy.

          • Liz Hynes

            i agree that’s a huge violation! however when i was a kid, we weren’t having the transgender conversation on such a national scale, but i still wasn’t allowed to go into bathrooms or dressing rooms alone because men have always tried to violate women in those spaces. that’s the bigger issue we need to address, and transgender people aren’t a scapegoat for that.

  • Seamus Brennan

    Good for Notre Dame. I am a student at another well-known Catholic institution, but our administration tends to favor progressivism/secularism over traditional Catholic values. It is troubling to see our core Christian beliefs being abandoned in favor of delusional left-wing ideologies, and it is reassuring to see ND take this position. I wish my school’s administration would take a similar stance.

    • João Pedro Santos

      If you want to live in the past, feel free to do so. But don’t impose your dogmas on others.

      • Robert Jones

        Do you have anything better to do than comment on these forums 24/7

        • João Pedro Santos

          I see that reasoning is too hard for you.

          • MG

            I don’t understand why you choose to insult everyone who disagrees with you. The approach you take, the ad hominem, rarely advances a discussion. Ironically, it’s the same tactic Donald Trump employs, and I suspect you are not one of his most ardent supporters. I read your comments often. I generally disagree with your viewpoint but if I do choose to reply I will endeavor to be civil.

            Can you make the same commitment or will you find some way to insult my ability to reason as well?

          • João Pedro Santos

            I didn’t insult anyone. You complain about ad hominems, but you (and another person) were the ones using one. You know why? Because you aren’t able to accept different opinions and can’t even reason properly, so you feel “offended”. I’m sorry for that.

          • MG

            I think “I see that reasoning is too hard for you” would generally be considered insulting.

            I have no trouble accepting your opinion as YOUR opinion, but it doesn’t have to be mine, just as mine doesn’t have to be yours. If I were to adopt your way of thinking I would have to conclude that you aren’t reasoning properly if you disagree with me. I’m unwilling to do that. I don’t claim to be infallible. It’s not an ad hominem attack if I don’t have the same attitudes as you. It’s a difference of opinion, not a judgment on you.

            I don’t feel offended (the cardinal sin of the times is offending someone, but don’t worry; you haven’t done it). If you were truly interested in changing minds and hearts, however, you might want to consider adopting a more persuasive tone. My mother used to say “you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” She was right.

          • João Pedro Santos

            It isn’t an insult. It’s an answer to a personal attack which contains no arguments at all. You’re clearly biased since you only complain about me insulting while you don’t complain about people who actually insult. Typical far-rightist double standard.

          • MG

            What is the personal attack? Is it that I don’t necessarily agree with you? You have no idea where I sit on the political spectrum, and putting “typical” in front of an insult doesn’t make it any less insulting.

            If I were going to insult someone I assure you I could do it. I choose not to do it. You don’t know me well enough (really…at all) to be sure that I could never adopt your standards. If you were truly interested in winning people to your side of an argument I don’t think your tactics are working.

          • Zahmbie

            You…I like you.

          • MG

            …and just so we don’t waste any more time. I’m done. (I wrote this after the comment below.)

      • Seamus Brennan

        Simple solution: if you don’t agree with basic Catholic principles, don’t go to a Catholic school. But don’t impose your delusions onto others.

        • João Pedro Santos

          You are mistaking schools with churches… As far as I concerned, Notre Dame is open to people from all religions and all political beliefs. If they were an echo chamber, probably it wouldn’t be a very good university…
          And even among Catholics there are different political beliefs. By trying to impose a particular (and hateful one) belief on Catholics, you are being intolerant of Catholics. Shame on you.

          • Seamus Brennan

            Why don’t you take a look at ND’s mission statement before jumping to incorrect conclusions: https://www.nd.edu/about/mission-statement/

            A Catholic school that chooses to neglect its Catholic values, traditions, and mission is not really a Catholic school. For the ND administration to abide by the teachings of the Church and the Pope (as it has done in the WSJ article) it is is fulfilling the school’s mission. Yes, Notre Dame is open to people of all religious backgrounds and political beliefs. But that doesn’t mean they have to accept and promote all of those beliefs – especially those that run contrary to the teachings of the Church. Again, if you don’t like the way the school is run or dislike certain components of Christianity, you don’t have to go to Notre Dame. There are plenty of public and secular private colleges and universities out there what would welcome alternate ideologies.

          • Frank Brandon

            “a hateful one” Please. Joao try to come to the discussion with something better than that.

          • João Pedro Santos

            All homophobes seem to be unable to reason properly.

  • mmmbop97

    Can’t believe these “progressive” professors still refer to the University as “Notre Dame.” It should be renamed “Notre Personne” since we can’t really know whether Mary identified as a woman.

  • FO

    Sometimes people can get stuck in tradition. Instead of naturally evolving to time and circumstance according to core beliefs, people can get defensive about routines simply because they’ve always been that way, and can cause unintentional harm.

    I think this is one of the issues where the Catholic community needs to evolve to truly encapsulate the core values of the church – to let go of some of the gendered traditions that have become outdated to the point of harming and pushing away LGBT+ Catholics. Catholicism is not about dividing the population into separate categories based on gender or orientation; it’s about bringing people together into a community of mutual love and respect to do good in the world. That is the core belief of the church: unity in love, not separation in hate. That is the belief that needs to hold true as Catholicism adapts to the modern world.

    Notre Dame is a Catholic university, but that does not mean it is a strict, unyielding teacher of stagnant doctrine. It is a place where people of all kinds learn, grow, and question. Shouldn’t it also be a place where the church has a chance to evolve along with the next generation?

    • Seamus Brennan

      Society’s values may change, but fundamental Christian values do not. It’s really as simple as that. The Church cannot merely choose to make exceptions for certain rules and change its values whenever a polarizing social issue comes up…it just doesn’t work that way.

      • FO

        Changing a Christian value is different from changing a Christian tradition. A value would be to treat others with the respect they deserve. A tradition to do that is to wash someone’s feet. We no longer wash other people’s feet, but we still do show respect, albeit in other ways.

        What I’m saying here is, there is no need to sacrifice Catholic values to accept people from the LGBT+ community. Catholic values are longstanding and noble. Sometimes, however, the methods or traditions in which we show those values change based on the society around us. That is where we need to adapt, because although we are trying to show respect to all, the reality is that we are hurting those in the LGBT+ community by not showing respect in a way they would truly appreciate it.

  • Zot

    The NCAA is a private organization – it can chose to do business or not do business wherever it wants for whatever reason it wants. They aren’t forcing anybody to do anything. Notre Dame is also a private institution and can chose to not do business with the NCAA. But the income that sports generates is way more important to them than their moral convictions.

  • Frank Brandon

    Note to Fr Jenkins: et metis quod non seminasti
    The left eating it’s own is quite ironic

  • João Pedro Santos

    Good Catholics don’t care about what two (or more) people do in their bedrooms. Homophobic Catholics aren’t good Catholics and are the kind of Catholics I want distance from.

    • Sarah C

      Regardless of that this article is referring to locker rooms which does concern Catholic athletes.

      • João Pedro Santos

        Catholic athletes should be less concerned about who urinates where…

        • Sarah C

          All athletes have the right to be concerned about who can see their body parts.

  • tedpeters

    I’m alright with members of the LGBTXXX community expressing any opinion they might have about anything. I assume they would have no problem with my expressing an opinion that all forms of human sexual perversion derive from psychological traumas experienced during early development. I mean… it’s only an opinion… and if it happens to be true would we really want to repress it?

    • João Pedro Santos

      Your opinion is like Donald Trump’s opinion on global warming: it contradicts all facts. And I couldn’t care less about whatever you mean by “perversion” since it’s probably just some crazy false moralism.

      • tedpeters

        Perversion relates to functionality… it has nothing to do with morals, which derive from psychological defenses against awareness of disagreeable latent tendencies. Donald Trump is a prime example of these… he is desperate to prove that he is a man (because deep inside he is conflicted about this) and to do so he must boast of his dominance over women.

        • João Pedro Santos

          Do you even know the meaning of consent?

          • tedpeters

            Consent is a conscious act. Most human behavior is compelled by unconscious drives, conflicts and anxieties.