Fr. Jenkins offers no response to national attention and student plea
Over a month ago, students at Notre Dame put up an unauthorized sign outside DeBartolo Hall with the words “There’s queer blood on homophobic hands” displayed prominently in red paint. On the sign were articles written by past and current Notre Dame faculty and students, most of which advanced Catholic teaching on human sexuality. The authors’ names were circled in red paint. This sign was taken down by campus police, though it was followed by a poem in The Observer bearing the same title as the sign. The poem contained a link to a video produced by the authors and included one of the students beating the sign with a crowbar.
This incident prompted student leaders from more than five different student groups to write to Notre Dame’s President Fr. John Jenkins, CSC, saying in part, “There is a palpably violent spirit to these signs. It feels, in a very real way, that someone has a target on the back of these members of our community, and on the publications their articles are featured in.” Worried for their safety, the safety of others, and the health of student life on campus, these students called on the University’s president to “offer a public reproof of the threatening sign placed on campus” and “affirm that our community will remain one of openness, civility, and love.”
Notre Dame law professor Rick Garnett, an Irish Rover faculty advisor, wrote in a blog post, “These incidents are particularly upsetting, not only because the attacks aim at the University’s animating and foundational Catholic mission and commitments, but also because Notre Dame has been (thankfully) relatively untouched by the fever-swamp excesses of our overly politicized and excessively polarized academic culture.”
The incident also garnered significant national attention. Jordan Bloom at the Catholic Herald, Rod Dreher at American Conservative, and Notre Dame (and Irish Rover) alum Kate Hardiman at the Washington Examiner all reported and commented on the incident, asking whether the administration would respond. Alexandra DeSanctis, also a Notre Dame and Irish Rover alum, called from her post at National Review for action: “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.”
Bill Dempsey, head of the Sycamore Trust, appeared on Fox News’ Laura Ingraham Show to “speak about basic civility on campus,” defending his group (which had been named as an antagonist in the poem) and the student and faculty authors identified on the sign. “The really distressing thing about it is the inaction of the president of the University,” Dempsey said.
Ingraham mentioned that University spokesman Paul Browne had given a statement about the incident. Indeed, Browne told 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.” This has been the only public statement from the University about the incident.
In 2014, Notre Dame also experienced an incident involving students acting in a demeaning way toward other students. The College Republicans invited controversial pundit Ann Coulter to speak, and the group’s president wrote an email to the club about potential protests, referring to the student protesters as “racial rabble rousers in the NAACP and BSA (Black Student Association).”
“They plan on wearing all black and handing out Ann Coulter quotes that will likely be doctored by some ‘reputable’ blog started by a welfare recipient in his step-mother’s basement who hasn’t seen the light of day since his trip to the 2008 polling station,” he wrote in his email.
In response, Fr. Jenkins wrote an open letter in The Observer, stating that the email “used language and made assumptions that could have reasonably been perceived as demeaning to members of our community and vulnerable groups in our society.” “While perhaps unintended,” he continued, “this communication has caused pain to individuals and groups on campus and has harmed our aspiration to create an environment where all feel welcome.” Appealing to his obligation as president to “to uphold the values of the institution,” Fr. Jenkins called for Notre Dame students and the community at large to “reject polarizing rhetoric and instead strive to make our community a model for civil discourse.”
Whether or not that incident is comparable to what took place with the sign and video earlier this semester, it has not always been the case that Notre Dame administrators choose to remain silent when students provoke and target one another. Their silence in this case is notable.
Nick Marr is a senior from San Diego, CA. He studies history and political theory. As a 10 year old, he argued with a Supreme Court justice about who was a bigger Notre Dame fan. It was neither his first nor his last argument. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.