The things we cannot say
Elizabeth Hascher | Tuesday, April 26, 2016
The August before my junior year of high school, I visited campus for the first time as a prospective student. The University of Notre Dame had previously existed only in my imagination, and it seemed perfect. It was in a location that would be just far enough out of my comfort zone, its name alone would surely propel my medical school application to the top of the pile and it was a place where I could enjoy football season and life under a beautiful, golden dome.
As an admitted student returning to campus the February of my senior year, Mary shone just as brightly as I remembered. I worked many hours since that first visit to get here, and I had finally made it. Even the polar vortex that consumed the Midwest that winter could not deter me from falling in love with this campus — what I saw then as a little slice of heaven.
Freshman year, I made a promise to myself that I would always appreciate the opportunity I have been given to study and grow at such a wonderful university. Today, I am still just as grateful for the many things that my Notre Dame education has given me. However, two years into my Notre Dame education, the dome does not shine quite as brightly any more. The glimmer of the gold has been dimmed, hidden beneath a cloud of thoughts that remain unspoken.
Here at Notre Dame, students can choose from 75 different degree programs and countless course offerings. We study a variety of subjects, ranging from philosophy to mechanical engineering to Portuguese. But despite the many things we can talk about in class, at panels and in presentations, there are so many more that are off limits here at Notre Dame.
Throughout this year as a columnist for The Observer, my peers have suggested topics for me to write about. For every suggestion I’ve gotten, however, I’ve been told five times that publicly expressing my opinion on such things would be a “bad idea,” or something I really “shouldn’t do.” In fact, for me to even provide examples of such topics would be considered risky.
At Our Lady’s University, to act contrary to established norms, to challenge those in power or to express an opinion that does not align with selective interpretations of Catholic social teaching is to essentially become a heretic. As students, we should be free to discuss a variety of viewpoints and decide for ourselves what arguments we agree with. We should have the freedom to question the norms and the power structures in society and at this university. Instead, our voices are silenced, our questions remain unanswered and those who do speak up run the risk being ostracized.
We can’t openly talk about discrepancies between the enforcement of du Lac amongst the dorms. There are questions that would be considered extremely inappropriate to ask guest speakers here which students at other universities do not even hesitate to raise. We do not dare to openly discuss with professors the inequalities and injustices they experience in life or at this institution.
Additionally, the reasons why Notre Dame will not fund certain opportunities and experiences for students must remain unspoken. Disagreeing with actions of the administration is unimaginable, unless it is to argue for a stricter enforcement of Catholic ideals. The mention of anything that portrays the University in a negative light is considered an unthinkable act.
We can’t talk about these things because to do so would mean we would have to acknowledge that they exist, that our community has problems and that something must be done about them. But as long as we don’t talk about them, we don’t have to worry about it. However, we don’t really have any problems here. After all, as the carefully-crafted façade exemplifies, “this is Notre Dame,” this is a “Catholic institution” and everything is perfect when you’re a member of the Notre Dame family.
Notre Dame’s prestige and identity as a Catholic university in itself is not bad — in fact, this is a large part of what makes it attractive to so many. But we must be cautious not to let this negatively affect our relationships as students in this community or hinder the discussions we allow ourselves to have. The things we can say on a college campus, and particularly at this university, should only grow more numerous as time goes on — as we learn new arguments, make more discoveries and open ourselves up to ideas of difference and challenges to the norm. The widespread perception that there are innumerable things we cannot say here at Notre Dame must be put to an end.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.