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Compromising our Catholic identity

| Monday, February 23, 2015

The controversy surrounding the University’s decennial core curriculum review caught my attention before it crowded my newsfeed. From Facebook to the Washington Post, it seems the question has caught the attention of the masses as well.

Reconsidering and resituating longstanding ideology in a modern context is integral to healthy, institutional development. Furthermore, the likelihood that the University is going to cut theology requirements is miniscule, and nothing has been decided yet. Even if Notre Dame were to restructure its theology requirements — perhaps integrate other departments, for instance — it is a far leap to conclude this would “compromise” our Catholic identity. In my opinion, the communal uproar is unjustified.

Although I do not agree with the dissenters’ conclusion, I do agree with the sentiment behind their principle objection: Such an identity has indeed been compromised, and this is a reality we ought to address.

Instead of launching a crusade over six credits, however, I propose we first fix our attention to a more pervasive threat to our collective Catholic identity: the dissonance between student-body values and the University’s mission statement. Let’s devote our energy, resources and productive outrage to more significant issues — the ones that engender far more harmful consequences.

The lack of conscientious career choices upon graduation, for instance, is troubling. As a second semester senior, I cannot help but notice that most of my peers have not sought employment that facilitates ethical action — even as Notre Dame’s “aim is to create a sense of human solidarity and concern for the common good that will bear fruit as learning becomes service to justice” (ND Mission Statement). It seems it is too easy to prioritize salary and prestige over “service to justice.” We must ask why.

The state of race relations at Notre Dame also deserves attention. Let’s discuss the racial harassment in 2012, when fried chicken was placed in the mailboxes of the Black Student Association and African Student Association. Let’s scrutinize the reception of Ann Coulter in 2014; in spite of her perpetuation of hateful rhetoric and xenophobic ideology, her talk was well attended by enthusiastic supporters. Let’s challenge the students who do not believe in the existence of white privilege, even though they are often the ones who most enjoy it. If it is easy to be racially ignorant at Notre Dame, we must ask why.

And let us bear in mind that the University itself is complicit in these tacit hypocrisies. For instance, the University maintains its contract with Coca-Cola, even though the company has profited from offshore labor abuse in Colombia. According to We Are 9, the University also invests an estimated 7 to 15 percent of its endowment in environmentally destructive fossil fuels, in spite of its ostensible commitments to stewardship and sustainability. Unlike many universities of its stature, Notre Dame does not have a plan for carbon neutrality. There is still a coal-fired power plant on campus that emits harmful toxins and poses significant health risks to those in the area, despite student appeals to shut it down. When the institution prioritizes profit or convenience over moral responsibility, we must ask why.

These are just a few of the matters that merit critical inspection and compromise our Catholic identity. Let me be clear: I believe both the University and its students are capable of great things, and I do not wish to disregard the progress we have made in recent years — progress often pioneered by students. I applaud the University’s official recognition of a gay-straight alliance and the work students have done to foster LGBTQ inclusion. I am proud to be a part of a community that accepts and funds undocumented students. I commend student-led campaigns like One Is Too Many and We Are 9, committed to preventing sexual violence and promoting sustainability, respectively. I am inspired by the peaceful protest organized in response to Ann Coulter’s visit last spring and by the “Black Lives Matter” manifestation this winter.

This is what we can be: a voice for the silenced, an agent of positive change, an advocate for the marginalized. Let’s hold Notre Dame and ourselves to a higher standard. Let’s face the responsibilities commensurate with our privilege. Let’s orient our curriculum, students, faculty, staff, administration, communal values and collective energies towards cultivating “a disciplined sensibility to the poverty, injustice and oppression that burden the lives of so many” (ND Mission Statement). Perhaps our requirements would be better spent on classes devoted to the vulnerable. Perhaps we could better embody our Catholic identity through more commitments to the Center for Social Concerns and the Catholic Peacebuilding Network.

So if we’re going to talk about the endangered status of Notre Dame’s Catholic identity, I propose we begin by confronting the aforementioned issues. The students who espouse those egregious mentalities completed their two theology requirements; did that make a difference? If not, what will?


Tess Gunty



Feb. 20

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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