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An open letter to the Editor-in-Chief of the Irish Rover

| Thursday, October 28, 2021

Dear Mary Frances,

By now, most of the Notre Dame community is aware of your derogatory piece in the Irish Rover, which calls on the University to refrain from supporting LGBTQ+ students, faculty and staff for the sake of preserving your understanding of Roman Catholic teaching and identity.

After processing the hate speech in your piece, I feel a responsibility to articulate some consequences of the project of discrimination you are advocating for. I cannot speak for the whole LGBTQ+ community, but I feel called to respond not only because I am a proud non-binary queer Notre Dame student, but also because you personally attacked me, your classmate.

Your piece refers to the College of Arts and Letters’ use of my preferred pronouns in an article they published about me as a student, not as a non-binary queer person. The College’s feature intended to highlight the gratitude I feel for the learning opportunities my education within the Program of Liberal Studies and Data Science departments have afforded me; the feature does not debate the validity of my identity, or promote what you call the “LGBT agenda”. While I am disappointed by your focus on my use of they/them pronouns and your failure to recognize the feature as a celebration of our shared learning environment, these are not the most painful parts of your attack.

You write: “Other erosive occurrences disclose the university’s adherence to secular standards set by the LGBT movement… The College of Arts and Letters now accommodates students’ preferences for singular ‘they/them’ pronouns in news articles.” To my knowledge, no other news article on a student contains the use of they/them pronouns; so, as your classmate and friend for the past three years, I was shocked to read that you perceive me as “an erosive occurrence” at the University on the basis of how I self-identify. If you believe my mere personhood is erosive to the University, how can you possibly view me as fully human?

You seem terrified that an article published with “they/them” pronouns might cause damage to Notre Dame’s Catholic culture, but the truth is, you were the one who inflicted damage by writing and publishing your divisive piece. You clearly understand the importance of pronouns as you choose to refer to the secular LGBTQ+ movement with “it,” while you refer to Notre Dame and the Catholic Church with “she/her” pronouns. This word choice reveals your inability to recognize the LGBTQ+ community as fellow human beings. The real erosion is your dehumanization of your classmates and friends. I can only hope that the next person whom the College features in the Exemplar feels as comfortable as I did to use their/her/his preferred pronouns and thereby know that Notre Dame supports them/her/him.

In terms of the impact your piece has on our shared PLS community, your unwillingness to recognize me and your other LGBTQ+ classmates as fully human raises serious doubts concerning your ability to view us as intellectual equals. There are only 37 seniors in our PLS cohort, and your language has forced me to rethink my place in our seminar discussions, our countless PLS coffee socials, our three years of service on PLS leadership committees together and every moment in which I thought we were engaged as co-learners in “dialogue.” I am at Notre Dame to learn, and I love nothing more than learning as a student in our program. I do not consider my queerness to be the most interesting thing about me, and I am disturbed that my classmate would abuse her platform as a journalist to belittle my validity as a PLS student on the basis of my identity.

Your message is clear: You do not believe Notre Dame should provide support for LGBTQ+ students because our existence contradicts your understanding of the truth. You question, “How can the university have a holistic and intrinsically Catholic response to the LGBT community if she merely appropriates secular images and slogans? Why does the university look to the world for solutions, rather than turning to the truths of faith?” Essentially, you think you have a greater grasp on the “capital T” truth of life. Consequently, I must ask: If you already know the truth in its entirety, why do you remain a student at this or any university? What do you have left to learn?

I hope you can understand how damaging your piece is, so that something like this never happens again, especially under your leadership as the Irish Rover’s Editor-in-Chief. Your publication repeatedly attacks the LGBTQ+ community, but your motives are ambiguous. Why are you so afraid of learning and coexisting with people who think differently from you? Why are you committed to ostracizing the LGBTQ+ community with hate speech? What do you have to fear from “secular culture,” which I take to be the pluralistic culture that we all share? As I understand it, such a culture accepts you as much as it accepts me. Why do you think that my being accepted must come at your expense?

Respecting the dignity of all people is upheld both by LGBTQ+ advocacy and by the Catholic Church’s teaching. Seeking the common good of all persons, especially those from vulnerable communities is also pursued both by LGBTQ+ advocacy and by the Catholic Church’s teaching. According to “Gaudium et spes” — the “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World” — promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1965, “The joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the people of this age, especially those who are poor or are in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts.” Why is your piece committed to sowing division in our community in order to make your LGBTQ+ neighbors feel unsafe and unwelcome?

I have received nothing but further support from the faculty, staff and fellow students at the University in response to your piece. So, thank you for strengthening my sense of self and my sense of belonging. Thank you for reinforcing my understanding of the University and PLS as safe spaces for people of all identities, backgrounds and beliefs. PLS faculty have made their allyship obvious with their support, welcome statements, respect for students’ pronouns and eagerness to confront LGBTQ+ discrimination. Thank you for forcing conversations on the LGBTQ+ student experience at Notre Dame that are often avoided.

While I am filled with gratitude for the overwhelming solidarity your piece sparked, I remain concerned about the future of our shared community. By making the allies and members of the LGBTQ+ community the subject of your hatred, I worry that you think that I harbor similar feelings.

I refuse to respond to your hate with further hate. I recognize you in the fullness of your humanity, and I choose to receive your hurtful piece with grace and forgiveness. I think many of us are wondering what steps we ought to take next. I propose that we turn to Aristotelian virtue ethics, which we both read in the PLS Ethics Tutorial, as our guide. Aristotle offers virtuous friendship as a gateway to happiness in this world, and argues that we can achieve virtuous friendship when we each recognize the intrinsic goodness in one another. Aristotle writes “friendship is not only invaluable, but also beautiful. Being a good friend and being a good man is the same thing… true friends wish the good of each other.” I might be different from you, but difference is not inherently better or worse. Difference is not a reason to deny another person a safe and inclusive learning environment. Difference does not give one just cause to try to change another person. I respect your presence at Notre Dame and within PLS, and I hope we can learn and grow together and set an example of virtuous friendship, despite our differences.

Ultimately, this is a letter to acknowledge the pain you caused within our community and to extend an invitation for friendship.

To anyone within the Notre Dame community who has also felt forced to question the validity of their space at Notre Dame because of their identity: You belong. You are valid. You are supported. Stepping into the fullness of my personhood has been the most critical part of my authentic happiness as a learner, roommate, child, sibling and friend. Your identity is not the problem, bigotry is.

Your friend,

Sara Ferraro

senior

Oct. 24

Editor’s Note: This piece originally had Sara’s last name as Ferrero. It has been updated to reflect the correct spelling and their class year. 

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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