I had a brief chance to check out my old university newspaper during a break in the directing over the weekend. I jumped right to the Viewpoint section to see if the same old was still the same old. And it is. I read a letter from two of my favorite professors that frankly and succintly illuminates the central problem at ND: a student social life retarded by a reactionary institution wielding an obsolete morality.
Most of the people who ask me about Notre Dame seem surprised to hear that I hated it there. The only thing that kept me from transferring to another school where I could have received an equivalently excellent education was the fencing team. My main reason for wanting to leave was the immature and unconstructive social life led by the students. The pitfalls of binge drinking have been discussed to death, including the spectre of date rapel; but the causes of binge drinking itself are rarely touched upon. I’d like to offer my own suppositions on this matter.
I was amazed at the sheer number of Domers who had spent their entire lives ensconced within the Catholic school system. Even more amazing to a country boy like me was the fact that many of these same Domers has spent their entire lives ensconced in single-sex Catholic schools. Twelve years of segregation and indoctrination in sexual repression by sexually repressed priests and nuns. I’m not advocating free love, here. Everyone is allowed to be as sexually repressed as they want to be; but I see an obvious bias and fundamental disconnect with allowing the celibate to tell us how and when we should pork. It should be no surprise then, that when young men and women who have had little to no uncodified interaction with the opposite sex and a lifetime of sexual repression finally come into everyday contact with each other that they have no knowledge of healthy mechanisms with which to comport themselves.
Enter the hookup cycle. The main reason my college social life sucked. The weekend hits and everyone gets shitfaced and hooks up and pretends nothing happened come Monday. Girls who have had 12+ years of nun-warnings about protecting their virginity have a couple very bad first weekends their freshman year when Boys who have had 12+ years of priest-admonitions finally let their pent up sexual energy go wild. Social life at ND reminded me more of Connersville Junior High School than one of the top 25 Universities in the nation.
And now the new President of the University, Fr. Tim Jenkins, probably as a result of his Bishop’s directives, is furthering and broadening the scope of sexual repression on campus.
Of all things there are for a priest to get his panties in a twist about, The Vagina Monologues of all things, should be low on the list. For a brief time in college I dated a stripper. Who attended the University of Notre Dame. Who was smart as yeah. Who participated in a packed house [in DeBartolo 101] performance of The Vagina Monologues. I was a member of the campus Knights of Columbus at the time, and the Grand Knight tried to organize a praying of the rosary outside of the room during the performance. I ran into one of my anthro professors, Fr. Gaffney on the way to the monologues and discovered that he was going to the performance as well. The Grand Knight saw us coming and assumed we were there for the rosary. Woops. As a play I think the Vagina Monologues is crap, but its usefulness in empowering both women and men in an examination of the network of relations between sex and gender roles is extremely important. Especially in a repressive environment like Notre Dame.
Similarly, the University’s pantytwist about a GLBT Film Festival is just as stupid. For a bunch of [seemingly] powerful celibate old men, wigging out over a movie or two is ridiculous. Yet all I have to do is think back to other things that have been wigged out about at ND [The Last Temptation of Christ, that penis video at the student film fest, the VM every goddamn year, others I’m sure I’ve repressed by now] and I realize that the more things stay the same, the more they suck.
If the University aims to teach holistic and catholic values, it needs to stop focusing on the worldly interpretations of Catholic doctrine, the imperfect human interpretations of God’s love for us, and realize that appreciative inquiry and dialogue can do more to foster Christ-like living than ostracism and close-minded tradition. I’m still working my way through a reconciliation between the good that the Church does and the harm it has done to me in terms of my own development, my own relationships and my own understanding of the importance of sex in my life. These are all personal choices, and while the Church has every right to provide its own guidance it shouldn’t restrict the expression of dissenting opinions. The University always hears the rustle of money over reasoned attempts at dialogue, so until the students and faculty of the University take organized action on their own, or figure out a way to make ND’s policies hurt its pocketbook I expect few things will change. I do know that whenever I have children, I’ll encourage them to attend a University that will provide them with an open and welcoming environment in which to educate themselves both mentally and socially. If ND keeps on as it has been keeping on, it definitely won’t be on the list.