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Rethink approach to discourse

Observer Viewpoint | Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Student responses to Father John Jenkins’ speech last week have left me in doubt about whether or not we deserve the respect that he gave us by delivering his message as an open forum Jenkins gave us a look at what a good university ought to be. He gave us two values that are, literally, sacred to this university – academic freedom and Catholic character. He then noted an apparent tension between the two and asked us, as a community, to help him solve that tension through discourse, openness and trust.

The student body responded immediately by delivering emotionally charged speeches about the good done by the Vagina Monologues and by mocking Jenkins. Later, students gathered to protest and to “shame” the University into doing what they want. Opponents of the Monologues have declared this a “war” and are calling the supporters of the monologues sore losers.

The general assumption seems to be that Jenkins has already made up his mind, and no one seems willing to take him at face value when he says that he is exploring and probing and trying to discover the right course of action. Clearly he has leanings, but it is ridiculous to assume that he would go to the trouble of establishing a forum for students to speak if he didn’t want to hear what we have to say.

Jenkins’ approach seems to denote a belief that when ideas collide, what usually comes out is a synthesis of the two. If one wins, it is because that was the better idea. Jenkins is trusting in reason to serve as arbiter. The students who respond with protests seem to have forsaken reason and instead trust in power. Their desire isn’t to convince Jenkins by being right and giving reasons, but by talking louder than everyone else.

If we want to be taken seriously by Jenkins, then we ought to begin by taking seriously both of the values he’s put before us. There is a unique relationship to be discovered, and as the nation’s premiere Catholic university, that responsibility falls to us.

Chris ScaperlandaseniorKeough HallJan. 30