Will McAuliffe | Monday, November 20, 2006
I love it when this campus puts on its Bible Blinders. Like a toddler covering his eyes in a game of hide-and-seek and assuming that he has disappeared, Notre Dame is legendary for its ability to hold up a Bible to its virginal eyes and assume that life truly is as St. Paul demanded when he condemned “fornication, drunkenness,” and every other form of first century hedonism.With last week’s immensely successful run of “Loyal Daughters” – a play dealing with sexual assault that playwright Emily Weisbecker based on actual interviews with Notre Dame students – those Bible Blinders were put back on, and a barrage of hostile Letters to the Editor quoting St. Paul inevitably followed.In an interview with The Observer, history professor Gail Bederman reflected on this absurdly hypocritical situation. “There is a cultural problem here,” she said. “Student Activities must assume nobody is having sex, so they can’t negotiate uncomfortable positions on what constitutes consensual and nonconsensual sex. … They can’t draw lines other than thumbs up or thumbs down, do it or just don’t do anything.”As a result, the legal implications of drunken consent and other tricky issues related to sexual assault are never even mentioned by this University in its effort to assume St. Paulian purity. As Bederman notes, other universities “are able to talk about issues, the gray areas. Because they do and can assume students are going to have extramarital sex, even promiscuous extramarital sex, they can talk about shades of gray. … You can talk about this question of when something is consent and when something isn’t consent.”I don’t care what percentage of Notre Dame is Catholic or what the sacred mission and ideals of this University are; if rape and sexual assault are common occurrences because of the campus-wide “culture of silence” related to sex, then University policy needs to change. It is a disturbing hypocrisy that the punishment for rape on this campus is identical to the punishment for consensual premarital sex.No matter how many Bibles we hold in front of Mary’s virgin eyes atop the Golden Dome, sex will continue to exist on the ground below it. Sure, it may not happen as often as at more socially liberal public universities, but contrary to popular belief, not all Catholics decide to remain abstinent until marriage. Some would call this a blatant hypocrisy – for a sexually active unwed person to still believe in Jesus and in the majority of Church doctrine – yet it is an obvious reality for an era in which people expect to be able to freely choose what time of day to watch primetime television through TiVo, what condiments to put on their Whoppers and what aspects of organized religion to follow.Health and safety must supersede Church law and resulting University policy. If, as “Loyal Daughters” boldly reveals, Notre Dame students are being harmed and ignored because of these Bible Blinders, the University must recognize the existence of sex on campus and create more resources that allow students to learn about these issues, as other colleges do. Along those same lines, the recent renewal of U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops policy condemning contraception displays a shameful ignorance toward the reality of HIV/AIDS, a disease that could be dramatically hampered by increased condom use. Instead, the Vatican’s efforts to fight AIDS with abstinence may constitute the most dangerous example of Bible Blinders in history as millions continue to die under these policies in places like Africa.I just wonder how the University would react if there was a gonorrhea outbreak on campus. Would the STD simply be brushed aside and ignored, kind of like campus gay and lesbian groups and the football team’s defensive backs? Or would every infected student be expelled until they accepted the teachings of St. Paul and returned to abstinent purity?Simply put, “Loyal Daughters” should be treated as a seminal moment in the history of a co-educational Notre Dame. A student has boldly and smartly taken the core message of “The Vagina Monologues” and essentially watered it down – by baptizing it in St. Mary’s Lake, if you will – and revealed a dark truth about this campus through art. Instead of protesting the funding of this important project by certain University groups, the campus should look into the mirror for a moment and address the real questions that it raises.Would Jesus have ignored the problems related to sex going on amongst His people even if He disapproved of the practice? I like to think that He would have seen the bigger picture and the well-being of His followers as tantamount to the admonishment of a taboo activity like premarital sex.Notre Dame must do the same. Some college students are not going to stop having sex – no matter how angry “fornication” makes St. Paul – so the University might as well bite the Biblical bullet and do the Christian thing: love thy neighbor and protect her.
Joey Falco is a senior American Studies major and Journalism, Ethics, and Democracy minor. He can be reached at [email protected] views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.