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Does Notre Dame really have a homophobic student body?

Observer Viewpoint | Monday, August 30, 2004

Notre Dame is a beautiful place with beautiful people, who may, according to the most recent Princeton Review rankings, be the most homophobic in the nation. It is an accusation that would give even the most cynical domer some amount of pause. To not get a little defensive would be to shoulder an embarrassing burden, given to us by a representative – however fair – 300 students.

The Observer’s Editorial response to this ranking in Friday’s paper challenged the students to prove the ranking wrong, to treat all persons with respect regardless of an adherence to any one Catholic doctrine. I agree. However, The Observer also criticized the Princeton Review’s polling methods, and twice seems to imply that there are actually only 300 students here who believe that the University might have a ways to go, at least before we can honestly descend that homophobic scale. “Three hundred students who perceive such a large problem on this campus are 300 too many” and “Changing just 300 minds could change far more,” the article reads.

Does The Observer want to have its homophobia and deny it too? Even if these “300” statements are just tools of rhetoric meant to downplay the results, they are questionable for an article attempting to make a serious case against the Princeton Review’s findings and at the same time to accept some responsibility for the sad fact – “Even though the survey sought opinions from a very small constituent of Notre Dame students,” it writes, “the results have teeth.”

In its attempt to save the gay cake in the freezer – or the closet – for as long as possible, The Observer and we students are absolving ourselves at the expense of what could lead to a thoughtful dialogue concerning gender relations – all gender relations, gay-straight, male-female – at Notre Dame. A couple patterns in the Princeton Review’s rankings, for instance, could ultimately be helpful in achieving more harmonious campus attitudes.

1. Twelve of the top 20 schools listed as “least accepting of alternative lifestyles” are Christian schools, eight of those schools appearing again on the “Students pray on a regular basis” top 20. This could be an indication that doctrinal influence in this case should not be tossed aside as confidently as The Observer has done. “Catholic identity should never give the impression that the University actively discriminates against any individuals, regardless of what doctrine says about their sexual orientation, who choose to enter the Notre Dame community.” Our nation was founded upon certain doctrines of freedom and liberty, but we do not throw these aside as mere words when we praise our nation as a leader in freedoms and liberties, nor do we discard them when making a case that the U.S. may not be living up to its own original expectations.

Neither should the Catholic Church or any of its members or institutions. If there is a problem – homophobia – the worst possible solution is to ignore or defend the very law that says its root is “an abomination.” To resist the charge that the doctrines may be the problem is to ignore that the top five schools given this mark are Christian-affiliated, as well as over half of the top 20.

2. Four of the top five schools – Notre Dame, Baylor, Grove City and Wheaton – and seven out of the top nine offer only single-sex housing to students living on campus. (The average for on-campus living at these schools is high at around 70 percent.) Single-sex dorms presuppose a number of things about gender, but heterosexual preference is often if not always a major underlying motivation for such segregation.

Until the administration and students here think critically about how our “doctrines” – Catholic or Bill Kirk – may shape our gendered lives, no amount of denouncing the Princeton Review will end our homophobia.

Martha Patzer



Aug. 30