What would Notre Dame fight for?
Letter to the Editor | Thursday, September 10, 2020
As I write to you COVID-19 still rages across the country, ricocheting state to state. It also rages on the campus of the University of Notre Dame, two weeks after the University fully opened for students and for classes. The outbreak is so alarming; Notre Dame is forced to shut back down. Putting students in peril could have — should have — been prevented. Just as so many deaths across the country could have — and should have — been prevented. If our leaders followed science.
Notre Dame is an educational leader, yet they denied the scientific examples of “too soon” seen across the globe, and especially those around our own country. Harvard closed up shop and everyone followed suit. But Notre Dame stuck to their reopening guns, kids be damned. Does this sound familiar? It should. Think Trump. The White House’s mis- and disinformation scheme is Notre Dame’s. The University is quite frankly complicit in selling junk science to mothers and fathers. They are going along to get along — to take home full tuition from trusting parents.
Let me just say, I love my University. I am beyond grateful for my education — one that allows me to sit here now and analyze the alarming behaviors, patterns and missteps the University has been taking of late. Where is our moral, ethical and spiritual leadership? As I’ve distressfully noted over these last consequential years, I see little from our University President Fr. John Jenkins.
Let me take you back to freshman year, my first day. I remember the bucolic campus bathed in gold, and it wasn’t just the dome. The verdant, radiating pathways leading to my future. But what I remember most about that day was this: the orientation day speech in the basilica. Classmates sardined in pews under the vast neo-Gothic arches. And a deep voice over the loud speaker which proclaimed:
“Notre Dame is first and foremost a Catholic Institution!”
That proclamation reverberated off the walls. It sounded good. A bit scary, if I’m being honest. It’s taken me years to wrap my head around what it means, to appreciate it, to grow from it and also to disagree with it at times — like right now.
Looking back at those four, incomparable years at Notre Dame, I’d say “Catholic Institution” meant, first and foremost, giving back. A steward of moral and ethical leadership and philanthropic life, Notre Dame taught us to always help, to give whatever we can, especially to those in need. The campus was chock full of amazing volunteer organizations, and all were encouraged to get involved. Most of my classmates continue this mission today, with their lives, families and careers. I give my University, as it was then, all of the credit for fostering and guiding us with such an inspired, spiritual and selfless mission.
In the words of the inimitable Fr. Theodore Hesburgh: “We teach human dignity best by serving it where it is most likely to be disregarded, in the poor and abandoned.” — The Hesburgh Papers, 1979
Brutal policies from our federal government have abandoned the very people Fr. Hesburgh speaks about — every single vulnerable community: Black, brown, Asian, Hispanic, refugee, asylum seeker, LGBTQ+, women, the poor, the sick, the elderly, the religious, the secular — our allies.
Notre Dame has quietly walked in step with this administration, abandoning many of these groups as well:
They abandoned foreign students in favor of Muslim Bans and DACA rescission — signaling it would support the Trump administration’s inhumane, exclusionary and racist policies, not offering any foreign students sanctuary campus status.
They left our female staffers and students without birth control in their medical plans, in favor of Trump’s new push to eradicate choice.
Notre Dame considered inviting President Trump to campus (as is precedent with the newly elected). Alumni and students protested, so the offer slid to Pence instead. Cheer, cheer to all the students who walked out on Pence!
Notre Dame invited alleged sexual assailant and Federalist Society member Brett Kavanaugh to speak.
Notre Dame offered former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan — a long-time enabler of the worst in Trump and his administration — a faculty position.
Notre Dame Law School invited Attorney General William Barr, who openly thwarts the rule of law, to declare to the campus and the country that secularists are ruining the country. Barr said, “This is not decay. This is organized destruction. Secularists and their allies have marshaled all the forces of mass communication, popular culture, the entertainment industry, and academia in an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values.” America was founded by those fleeing religious and political persecution. Does Notre Dame now endorse the notion of theocracy over democracy?
Notre Dame happily announced they would host the first 2020 Presidential Debate (they only recently abandoned that offer). At this point in the cruelest American regime of bloodlust, greed and inhumanity, how can there be any debate at all? And worse, why would our University give the despicable Trump agenda an esteemed platform?
The University has been resistant to addressing racial inequality, at a time where the collective conscience of America is screaming out for equality.
And, as newly reported, Fr. Jenkins recently justified the risk to the lives of our students to reopen, only to allow the virus a chance to infect the children of so many parents, many of whom are my classmates.
After Trump tear gassed American citizens peacefully protesting, for a photo op in which he held an upside-down Bible, the archbishop of DC issued a statement saying in part: “I find it baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles, which call us to defend the rights of all people even those with whom we might disagree. Saint Pope John Paul II was an ardent defender of the rights and dignity of human beings. His legacy bears vivid witness to that truth. He certainly would not condone the use of tear gas and other deterrents to silence, scatter or intimidate them for a photo opportunity in front of a place of worship and peace.”
Notre Dame has a golden platform — what they choose to elevate matters. Time and again, I’ve found myself looking to my alma mater for guidance and leadership in dark moments fraught with tension and inequality … and I do not find it. Over and over, in stark contradiction to their mission, Notre Dame chooses to elevate a cruel agenda. This makes our University complicit. Let’s be clear: Notre Dame is passively participating in the attack on our communities, our freedoms and our rule of law.
Fr. Hesburgh also presciently wrote: “Two predictions are fairly obvious. First, there will be enormous changes that we can no more visualize or imagine than someone 50 years ago could visualize what was about to happen and at what a staggering rate of change; and second, one might predict that this changing world will confront humankind with enormous new moral problems of unprecedented proportion and consequences.
“Universities, the font of most human knowledge and knowledgeable people, will be at the heart of generating the people who, in turn, will generate the change. And secondly, it will take a very special kind of university to direct change in such a way that humans do not destroy themselves and their world.
“All this is meant to indicate that the future, uncertain though it is, will not be all that frightening if we have some institutions that undertake the dual task of transmitting and expanding knowledge, but at the same time, the more difficult role of educating persons with that sense of moral responsibility and judgment required to manage change and to use knowledge for mankind’s betterment and progress, instead of for its destruction. It is this kind of institution that Notre Dame aspires to be.”
—From “And they called it the University of Notre Dame du Lac,” 1977
It is exactly this kind of institution Notre Dame can no longer claim to be.
In their most recent fundraising campaign, ND asks all alumni “What Would You Fight For?” Like many, I fight for the soul of this country. I fight for the people of the world. And in this moment, I am fighting for Notre Dame I knew, the Catholic Institution that taught me how to fight — Touchdown Jesus-style.
To the students and alumni: I ask you to stand with me and speak up, protest, withhold your next donation to Notre Dame and urge the University to find its way back to the stewardship of morality, ethics and humanity it once was. One that believes in the sanctity of human life, especially our childrens’. If it cannot find its way back, we must ask Father Jenkins to resign. Let’s turn the tables on the University we so ardently love and demand this answer: What Would Notre Dame Fight For?
Stephanie Snyder Fitzhugh
class of 1991
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.