Parietals, an honest proposal
Charlie Ducey | Monday, April 11, 2016
So, this month someone finally worked up the gall to criticize parietals — in writing no less. It’s about time someone did. It’s not as though that’s been done before, even behind closed doors. No. Making fun of parietals is an unheard of and heroic feat, nay, a saintly feat, to stand up against the oppressive idea that maybe only one person should sleep in an already-cramped modular bed on any given night. Shame on those oppressive administrators and overweening churchmen destroying gender relations by insisting that non-residents must actually leave residents’ rooms and halls at a certain hour. And what a profound point those lofty authors made in noting Notre Dame’s sordid sexual health report in a ranking sponsored by Trojan, because as a Catholic institution, Our Lady’s University really should pay heed to the judgements of a condom brand. It’s not as though Notre Dame has any legitimate reasons to keep parietals in place, especially in the face of sexual assault for which it isn’t the least bit helpful to have RAs remaining vigilant about who’s in whose room after hours. And if they did have such reasons, they wouldn’t require any sustained thought or investigation. Let’s just keep making fun of them through whispered comments and inept satire. Throw in a few swipes at conservative student consciousness in general and call it good.
But let’s be honest with ourselves here. The “Decriminalize parietals” article in the April 1 edition of The Observer was, mostly, a joke. It also wasn’t really satire, for the record. The whole point of satire à la Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” is to consistently say the opposite of what you mean, employing various rhetorical devices to diagnose and suggest a remedy for a social issue. Come to think of it, I don’t really know what the article is trying to say. It’s told from the point of view of students who support parietals but nonetheless concede that parietals should be abolished. So, are they ironizing the position that parietals should be maintained or that they should be abolished? Maybe both?
What’s missing from this alleged satire is any proposed solution, aside from the unstated insinuation that male and female dorms should enforce parietals equally, which sounds rather reasonable to me. In the absence of such a suggestion, though, the article functions not as satire, but parody, which comically exaggerates a particular form of writing, in this case the pleading and alarmist op-ed. By bringing attention to the parietals dilemma, this parody does strike me as worthwhile and effective, even if it’s not particularly edifying.
People like to complain about Notre Dame having a gender relations problem. Sure it does. But so does essentially every other American university. Parietals is by no means to blame for this. Rather, as per my coy suggestions above, issues with collegiate gender relations have more to do with a lack of “sustained thought or investigation.” I’m not necessarily prescribing philosophical analysis so much as a personal questioning of what we really want and what we are made for.
The recent apostolic exhortation “Amoris Lætitia” has much to say in this respect. In the post-synod document, Pope Francis discusses something that only ever seems to receive superficial and unrealistic treatment in American pop culture: love.
This is not the empty “love” found in the lyrics of most top 40s hits. This is love grounded in relationships seen paradigmatically in Jesus’s ministry and in the life of the family, a love which the Pope describes as the word of God, which “is not a series of abstract ideas but rather a source of comfort and companionship for every family that experiences difficulties or suffering.”
Comfort. Companionship. Is that what people seek when “spending a night” (as our original parody puts it) in another’s modular — and I do emphasize — cramped bed, with or without socks? If so, do they get what they’re looking for? Is this the paragon of love right then and there, if love is even involved?
I’m not an authority on the answers to these questions. But they’re questions that we should ask ourselves rather than simply sliding along with prevailing yet unexamined cultural tailwinds rife with false liberation and mindless hedonism—the sort of forces that say “if it feels good it is good” and see individuals as isolated and separate buyers ready for transactions, monetary or otherwise. Parietals serve as a boundary that some must be wary of and consciously cross before other boundaries are overstepped. Such a boundary might well allow time for such questioning and honest considerations.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.