Following The Leader
I’ve never really fancied myself a leader.
I am by nature an introvert, and following, rather than leading, has always been my predominant instinct. Comfort and anonymity—two luxuries I did not have in high school—marked my life at Notre Dame pre-Rover.
See, I was abused in high school. A group of teachers maliciously targeted me for four years because I am conservative, and the situation was so grave that by senior year, the Ohio Department of Education was investigating one teacher and administrative cover-up of her abusive conduct.
This sort of experience leaves a lasting impression, to say the least. Part of what initially drew me to Notre Dame was the opportunity to fly under the radar and focus more on enjoying school than fearing it. Consequently, I avoided confronting big issues—the types of grand questions that led me into such a dire situation before—in favor of a rather quiet, routine and unremarkable existence.
It was not until sophomore year at Notre Dame that I related my experience to an adult on campus. We were chatting about my struggle to discern a major when my professor asked what led me to Notre Dame. In the days following that long conversation, I realized how unhappy and restless being uninvolved and detached made me feel.
Per my professor’s recommendation, I reached out to then-Editor-in-Chief Bob Burkett to get involved with the Rover.
Everything about it, from the content to the community, almost immediately seemed to fill the gaps in my life at Notre Dame that made me so restless. There was suddenly new purpose, new knowledge to gain, new opportunities to push my limits and no shortage of benefits to reap. Transitioning over the past few years from staff writer to Executive Editor to Editor-in-Chief has only confirmed that my niche is with the Rover.
Among the most crucial aspects of my formation through the Rover has been a more profound understanding of what it means to be a Catholic student leader at Notre Dame.
This first appeared in the need to engage with campus issues and their underlying themes, many of which are timeless. The Campus Crossroads project raises questions about university spending; the HHS Mandate battle raises questions about sexuality and participation in evil; Pope Francis’ challenge to Notre Dame raises questions about how to understand Notre Dame’s Catholic identity.
One need not look very far to see how contemporary debates about any number of issues affect—and sometimes, directly attack—Catholicism. As Christ says throughout the Gospels, following Him is unpopular, and it is not hard to see the truth of this statement on our own campus.
Perhaps closer to the hearts of students than the aforementioned campus debates is the bitter controversy over the past few months surrounding Students for Child-Oriented Policy (SCOP). SCOP, an unofficial student group advocating for the rights of children, penned a petition asking for the university to publicly defend conjugal marriage. This, coupled with its April 3 conference, “For Richer, For Poorer, For Children,” has spurred a counter-petition (“Students Against SCOP”), a handful of Observer Viewpoints and social media posts and comments bordering on slander.
The College Fix and Cardinal Newman Society have reported on the events, yet the administration seems to be steering clear of addressing anything concerning SCOP or its mission.
The marriage debate is alive and contentious, and Notre Dame’s witness would carry so much weight. Many students are confused about the truth of marriage, and they need guidance, especially those who are of good faith and trying to engage both sides of the issue. Notre Dame is missing out on a pastoral and intellectual opportunity to promote marriage.
The administration is poised to make a powerful statement, but has refrained.
Rather than engaging this most pressing question, University President Father John Jenkins, CSC, chose to address Ann Coulter’s visit to campus based on her rhetoric—something that was rightly called into question, but that really should be a non-issue. He wrote an Observer Letter to the Editor on April 15, in which he very vaguely discussed Notre Dame’s “aspiration to create an environment where all feel welcome.”
Father Jenkins continued: “As members of a community that strives to seek the truth and to honor the dignity of all, we should state our views forthrightly and argue and advocate for them as passionately as we wish, but we must never express ourselves in ways that, intentionally or unintentionally, demean others. At a university, our work is reasoned inquiry and discussion and our object in arguing for our views should be to persuade others. Language that demeans others closes rather than opens conversations, prevents understanding and deepens division.”
It is indeed curious that Fr. Jenkins would elect to issue a public statement about the decidedly inappropriate events surrounding the Coulter controversy, but has shied away from addressing—publicly or otherwise—the treatment of SCOP.
I like to believe that Fr. Jenkins speaks genuinely when he calls for “seek[ing] the truth” and “reasoned inquiry and discussion.” Unfortunately, ignoring the vitriol and unabashed insults directed at SCOP and students who oppose same-sex marriage is inconsistent with what he claims in his letter. A quick scroll through the comments on the Observer website reveals how openly folks will toss around words like “bigot,” “hateful” and “ignorant” to describe proponents of conjugal marriage.
It is precisely out of such situations that student leaders arise.
The administration of any university needs checks imposed by the student body, and my friends and predecessors from the Rover, idND, Rodzinka, Right to Life and SCOP have modeled so gracefully how Catholic student leadership should look: respectful, faithful and unafraid.
One of my most important realizations at Notre Dame has been that to be an effective student leader means also to be a follower.
Casting aside some of my fears and desire for anonymity, I have returned to being a willing follower: of the Truth, Christ, the Church, my parents, professors and peers. As much as I have grown and will continue to grow while leading the Rover, I hope to always have the humility to recognize and emulate the virtue of others.
Notre Dame is blessed to have incredible scholars on her faculty and priests on her campus. We have so many excellent role models, and it is in our best interest to seek them out for guidance—in how to make sense of tough questions on campus, how to live the faith and how to become better men and women once we leave Notre Dame.
I am grateful to each of my wonderful professors, but special thanks are in order for Fr. Bill Miscamble, Semion Lyandres, Patrick Deneen, Thomas Werge and Laura Hollis, whose friendship, counsel and examples continue to inspire both my academic work and personal pursuits.
It is not easy or comfortable to have convictions that seem increasingly unpopular. But if these convictions have been gained from sincere pursuit of the Truth by following Christ, then heed His command, and be not afraid.
“Always remember,” my professor told me sophomore year, “that gold gets tested in fire.”
Lilia Draime is a junior history major with minors in constitutional studies and philosophy, religion & literature. Her favorite movie is From Here to Eternity. Ask her about it at email@example.com.