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Open dialogue won’t make University any less Catholic

Observer Viewpoint | Monday, January 30, 2006

Growth does not mire tradition; it enhances it. As a Notre Dame alumnus, I have seen Notre Dame evolve over the years, none of which has made the university any less Catholic. I am encouraged by the growing number of students and faculty who realize that fear of change is what drives some at Notre Dame to censor honest discourse, just because they are not use to talking about “difficult issues.” This fear must and can be overcome.

Notre Dame has changed for the better. Though certain issues at Notre Dame have traditionally had a limited forum for dialogue, including gay rights and the exploitation of women, the University has come a long way in giving voice to the underrepresented. The annual Queer Film Festival and “Vagina Monologues” have started conversations about what it means to be gay and Catholic and what it means to be a woman who embraces her sexuality. These forums, in all their artistic diversity, foster conversation about the larger societal questions of human rights, diversity, and morality – isn’t that precisely what a Catholic university environment should foster? With open and free forums in which to discuss complex issues and diverse viewpoints, students will have a more authentic educational experience, making them increasingly prepared for the real world.

I am proud of Father John Jenkins’ decision to host an open forum with faculty and students to discuss academic freedom in a Catholic university environment. Open dialogue is the greatest tool to finding common ground, and it is through such discussion that people strengthen their convictions and better understand their belief systems. Notre Dame must allow for this artistic and academic freedom, particularly as it relates to the Queer Film Festival and “Vagina Monologues,” so that light might continue to shine through clouds of fear and ignorance.

I remember a former Notre Dame Theology professor who once taught us that tradition must evolve in order for its meaning to be preserved. Fostering open and free dialogue about gay rights and other issues that relate to minorities will strengthen, not weaken, Notre Dame’s mission of inclusiveness, making our University truly Catholic.

Ken Seifertalumnus class of 2003Jan. 25