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Reasons for Ad hoc resignation

Letter to the Editor | Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A number of individuals have inquired as to why I did not support the Ad Hoc committee’s recent announcement promoting three upcoming events at Notre Dame and why I have resigned from the committee. Certainly, my decision to resign rather than join the committee in its support of the play “Loyal Daughters” is not nearly as noteworthy as Father Jenkins’ decision to withhold his endorsement of “Loyal Daughters.” However, some may nonetheless be interested in my rationale. A full explanation of my decision would require an extensive recounting of the history of the formation of the committee, a chronology of the committee meeting discussions, a critique of “Loyal Daughters,” and an analysis explaining the difference between an individual’s right to academic freedom and the University’s institutional right to academic freedom. It would also require an explanation of the related distinction between creating a forum for speech as opposed to institutional speech. Neither time, nor space, permit for a complete rendition of my reasoning. However, those who have inquired can reasonably expect an answer and for them I offer this explanation.

Initially, though, please allow me to clearly state my conviction that Notre Dame must do all it can – appropriately and morally – to prevent sexual assault and violence against women. The horror of sexual assault and violence suffered by our students – sometimes at the hands of other students – is real, as is the physical and emotional destruction such violence inflicts. During my time teaching at Notre Dame, several students who were victims of sexual assault, rape and violence have sought my help and guidance. Others came to me for assistance when they discovered they were pregnant and faced not just a crisis pregnancy, but also physical and emotional abuse from the fathers of their unborn babies. These women, like all women who are victims of sexual assault and violence, suffer unspeakable wounds and deserve compassionate support. They will be in my continued prayers as they seek healing. At the same time, public condemnation of such violence is critically important so that all will know that Notre Dame does not tolerate violence against women.

To the extent, therefore, that “Loyal Daughters” is intended to focus our attention on the issue of sexual assault, its goal is worthy. However, after claiming the stage for this laudable purpose, “Loyal Daughters” takes advantage of the spotlight to present in a morally neutral way illicit sexual activity, including homosexual and bisexual sexual relations, fornication, masturbation and contraceptive sex – at times in a celebratory tone. Although the vignettes are based on actual experiences, which deserve our attention and concern, the manner in which those experiences are related to the community is problematic. In relating such experiences without comment or context, and in a morally neutral manner, “Loyal Daughters” presents a one-sided and false view of God’s beautiful gift of human sexuality as taught so eloquently by the Church. The play mischaracterizes Notre Dame’s policies on sexual abuse and sexuality and fuels common misperceptions of the University’s appropriate and compassionate response in these cases. The play ridicules virginity and treats all views of sexuality and consensual sexual activity as equally valid, and promotes harmful stereotypes of classes of students, particularly football players and those considering the priesthood.

Moreover, as Father Jenkins explained in his address to the faculty in January of 2006, the offense from the proposed production of “Her Loyal Daughters” to Catholics who revere Mary – the model of chastity – appears intentional. Merely removing “Her” from the production’s title does nothing to remove the offense. The meaning of “Loyal Daughters” remains clear to all who know and love Notre Dame, and it is hard to believe that those responsible for this inconsequential editing thought otherwise.

Finally, “Loyal Daughters” has been the focus of media attention, and this attendant publicity threatens to bring further scandal to our Faith. Although “Loyal Daughters” is not explicit or exceedingly crude, as the Monologues were, removing the crassness and vulgarity does not alter the fundamental infirmity – gravely illicit sexual behavior is still presented in a morally neutral way. In fact, the relative subtlety of “Loyal Daughters” really magnifies the problem because the fraudulent message is masked for the unwary by the guarded prose and not highlighted by the glaring profanity.

The fact that “Loyal Daughters” is not explicit makes it easier to overlook the underlying objectionable message which nonetheless permeates the script: that there is no one true view of sexuality and that there is nothing wrong with consensual sexual activity, whether it be homosexual, bisexual, fornication, masturbation, or contraceptive sex. In light of these objectionable features of the play, I do not want to lend it my personal support, and, given the special status of the committee, I do not believe that the committee should lend “Loyal Daughters” its institutional support.

Regarding this institutional support: the committee’s promotion of “Loyal Daughters” elevates the play from something tolerated in the name of academic freedom, to an event commended as a proper way for Notre Dame, as a Catholic institution, to address illicit sexual activity and sexual violence. It is one thing for an academic unit or a professor to present, as true, viewpoints in conflict with Church teaching, but it is quite another for the University itself, through an Ad Hoc committee created specifically to address issues of sexual assault and gender roles, to promote a play that presents illicit sexual behavior in a morally neutral way. And this vice surely is not cured by the scheduling of later events as moral antidotes, as if telling the truth months later to a different audience offsets the harm.

Finally, let me make clear that this is not a question of silencing the students: The voices and viewpoints found in “Loyal Daughters” would be heard without the committee promoting the play, as “Loyal Daughters” is sponsored by the Gender Studies Program, as well as the Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts. Under these circumstances, I believe the committee should not have promoted “Loyal Daughters” and that the committee’s action bore so importantly on its mission that I felt I could no longer serve. I accept the contrary judgment of my colleagues but, for my part, conscience and what I perceive as the best interests of Our Lady’s University counsel otherwise.

Margot O’Brien

Professional Specialist

Nov. 14