The Corner


Unrest and Inaction at Notre Dame

The Word of Life mural on the Hesburgh Library at the University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Ind., Sep 14, 2019. (Matt Cashore/USA TODAY Sports)

All is not well at my alma mater, the University of Notre Dame. A couple of weeks ago, anonymous students put up unauthorized posters on campus that read “There’s queer blood on homophobic hands,” suggesting that Notre Dame students, faculty, and alumni were responsible for violence. Here’s more on the signs from Notre Dame’s independent student newspaper the Irish Rover (for which I was once executive editor):

The sign contained many articles from the Irish Rover and the Observer which reflect Catholic doctrine regarding human sexuality, implying that the authors of these were responsible for the deaths of “queer” people nationwide.

Most shockingly, the sign’s message was painted in blood red, and the names of the articles’ writers were all circled in blood-red paint, drawing hostile attention to individual members of the Notre Dame community. Among the names circled in red paint were those of current students, faculty, and alumni of the University.

The signs were taken down by campus police, but that wasn’t the end of it. Next, a student letter to the editor appeared in The Observer student newspaper, bearing the same title as the sign. The poem listed student groups Young Americans for Freedom, [Students for] Child Oriented Policy, and the Irish Rover, along with Catholic alumni group the Sycamore Trust, as being responsible for “homophobic discourse.” Among several violent images, it included suggestions that those groups had “slit my loved ones’ throats” and “lobotomize[d] me with a crowbar.”

Along with the letter, the Observer website published a video created on campus by the author, which showed her reading an extended version of the poem and concluded with a student taking a crowbar to the poster bearing the articles and the blood-red paint. The author wrote on Twitter that the video is “in response to the recent Irish Rover articles and the transphobic lectures sponsored by Students for Child Oriented Policy.”

Bill Dempsey, director of Sycamore Trust, suggested in a letter to university president Fr. John Jenkins that the posters and video “seem plainly to violate Indiana’s ‘intimidation law,’ which makes it a crime to incite violence or to take action intended to expose a person ‘to hatred, contempt, disgrace, or ridicule.’”

Whether or not they rise to that level, the posters were, as Irish Rover editor Nicolas Abouchedid wrote in an editorial last week, “an unmistakable attempt to scare those with differing views (Catholic views, in this case) into silence.” He admirably affirmed the value of open discussion and noted that “at Notre Dame, under no circumstances should expressing a viewpoint, much less a Catholic one, be equated to committing a heinous crime.” More from Abouchedid:

The question here is not whether we should allow for non-Catholic viewpoints to be expressed on campus. The question is whether Notre Dame is going to foster true intellectual freedom, where the pursuit of truth reigns, or mere intellectual chaos, where the will of the powerful prevails.

Compared to what goes on at most major universities, Notre Dame is a relatively peaceful community. In my time there just a few years ago, there was hardly any controversy of this sort. What’s most disturbing to me is not that students expressed their progressive views in this way (though beating a poster full of student names with a crowbar is plenty disturbing). It’s that university leadership has hardly said a word.

I asked Notre Dame spokesman Paul Browne on Monday whether the administration would issue a statement on the matter. In response, he offered this comment to National Review, “When the sign was first displayed on campus, it was quickly taken down by the Notre Dame Police Department. A subsequent request for permission to display the sign on campus was denied by the university.”

Browne failed to answer my follow-up question about whether his answer means the university does not in fact intend to make a statement.

Given the explicitly personal nature of these displays, directed at specific members of the Notre Dame community, one would think administrators might feel some obligation to affirm the value of peaceful and respectful speech devoid of personal targeting, of expressing opinions charitably and without displays of violence. Had far-right students personally targeted left-leaning Notre Dame students with vitriolic displays suggesting that the articulation of their progressive views is tantamount to murder, it isn’t difficult to imagine that the university’s response would be swift and severe.

Fr. Jenkins himself has affirmed the importance of civility in the past, something he speaks about so often that it might be considered a theme of his tenure. Is it so unthinkable that he would caution the campus community to remember that value, and perhaps even to recall the preeminent virtue of charity in expressing ideological disagreement? Especially given that these students at Notre Dame have drawn the ire of their classmates precisely for communicating the teaching of the Catholic Church, and in this age of campus violence, Notre Dame administrators ought to break their silence.

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