Culture

Notre Dame Students Request a Campus Porn Filter

Porn actresses line up at the opening of the “Venus” erotic fair in Berlin, Germany, in 2013. (Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters)
The men leading the effort stress the destructive nature of pornography.

In recent years, the deleterious effects of the sexual rot that has festered on college campuses has prompted administrators to attempt to “solve” them, often out of interest for female students who are disproportionately victimized. Many universities initiate zero-tolerance policies for harassment or demeaning behavior, which is meant to inculcate an atmosphere of respect. Condoms are often provided in unlimited quantities, for free, in freshman co-ed dorms, so that all women can fulfill the prophecy of the hookup culture, on par with their male peers. Kangaroo courts subject women who’ve faced the trauma of rape to adjudication through the university, rather than the American judicial system — where rape is tried as the crime it is by judges, rather than by student disciplinary panels.

These “solutions” have acted more to muffle the issues that women face on campus and have often also been counterproductive, even worsening them: For example, one study found that 78 percent of undergraduate women who’d had uncommitted sex reported feeling regret following it. Another study reported that both men and women who had casual sex had lower self-esteem. The culture of promiscuity has left women feeling empty and used — the word “objectified” can be appropriately applied — even when participation is consensual. Women aren’t only enabled to participate in this lifestyle that is making them depressed — they’re encouraged, and universities equip them.

University administrators have left many rocks unturned in their efforts to improve the experiences for their female students, and their ideological biases may influence what “solutions” they seek out.

Of all the myriad ways that campuses have approached the issues female students face in an attempt to create a more egalitarian environment, the most overlooked but sinister root of the objectification — or even animalification — of women is also one that many campuses allow without monitoring: pornography access via campus-provided Internet.

At college campuses across the country, students are able to connect to campus Wi-Fi to rent textbooks, download syllabi, and get off. At the University of Notre Dame, an informal survey in 2013 showed that 63 percent of male Notre Dame students had used campus Wi-Fi to view porn (only 11 percent of women had also done so). Studies of porn’s harmful effects on men’s views of women should be of concern to campus administrators who seek to foster a culture of mutual respect among the sexes. One study showed that many men who watched porn “animalified” women; they treated women as though they lack the capacity for complex thinking and reasoning. Another study, which involved a team of researchers examining 22 other studies, concluded that there was “little doubt that, on the average, individuals who consume pornography more frequently are more likely to hold attitudes conducive [favorable] to sexual aggression and engage in actual acts of sexual aggression.”

The research suggests that porn access is, at the very least, worth the concern of campus administrators who are attempting to act in the best interests of their female students and staff, and a group of men at Notre Dame has urged the university to filter porn from campus Wi-Fi networks in order to demonstrate its commitment to human dignity and combatting sexism.

On October 23, approximately 80 male Notre Dame undergraduate and graduate students signed a letter to the editor that was published in the Observer, ND’s student-run daily newspaper:

As the men of Notre Dame, we request that the University implement a filter to make pornography inaccessible on the Notre Dame Wi-Fi networks. This filter would send the unequivocal message that pornography is an affront to human rights and catastrophic to individuals and relationships. We are calling for this action in order to stand up for the dignity of all people, especially women.

The letter cites concerns that the writers have regarding the violent treatment of women in porn, and the association between consumption of porn and “addiction, child sexual abuse, divorce, male fertility problems, sexual assault and the acceptance, normalization and sexualization of cruelty towards women,” as well as “human trafficking and the proliferation of sexually transmitted diseases.”

According to the letter, 1,000 students, faculty, and staff members have pledged their support of the initiative to filter porn from campus Wi-Fi. A letter to the newspaper signed by 68 female Notre Dame students responded to the men’s letter, emphatically supporting it and noting that “pornography propagates a mindset that people, especially women, are mere sex objects.”

This isn’t only an act of chivalry on behalf of the dozens of mindful young men who are cognizant of the maladies, societal iniquity, and criminality that porn often breeds, where women are often the ones victimized — it’s an act of humanitarianism.

Pornography is a sacred cow in the broader sphere, beyond campus bubbles, so it’s not surprising that within most American campuses, porn is a regularity in the lives of many students (as statistics show), and the consequences of creating the demand for porn by watching it seem distant, if not simply nonexistent.

“With a filter, every time students attempt to access pornography, they would encounter Notre Dame’s enduring message that pornography is destructive and exploitive,” the men said in their letter.

While it’s true that students could merely access porn through other Internet sources, universities are responsible for cultivating their students’ interest in the humanizing truths by exposing them to reason that transcends vulgarity and that shapes boundaries. They are also responsible for what they choose not to expose their students to.

The students of Notre Dame who penned this letter have developed those boundaries and have matured within them to be able to elevate beyond the transactionary and seemingly innocuous nature of porn, which is permitted to thrive in an unrestricted sexual zeitgeist. Mutual respect among the sexes begins with mutual respect of boundaries, and filtering porn from students’ access is a small but laudable effort to reroute a culture that’s gone off the deep end.

Marlo Safi is a Pittsburgh-based writer and a former Collegiate Network fellow with National Review.

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