Whenever you remove any fence, always pause long enough to ask why it was put there in the first place. – G. K. Chesterton
This issue of the Rover raises concerns about an advertisement for a Shakespeare audition and the opening of a new undergraduate residence hall. The seemingly banal circumstances of these events invites the question: Why create tension where there apparently is none? Why make Much Ado About Nothing?
The advertisements welcome students to audition for the Not-So-Royal Shakespeare Company (NSR)’s production of Much Ado About Nothing. One rendition of the poster features two men—apparently playing the parts of Benedick and Beatrice—kissing. Two of the other three posters also portray same-sex couples as the lead, with only one keeping Benedick and Beatrice in their proper gender.
The head of NSR’s marketing Christina Randazzo told the Rover, “My inspiration behind the poster designs stemmed from a conversation I had with the director of the show. She said, ‘The show is about love.’ So, I made four different posters with pictures with people in love.”
This marks the third time in the past year that performing arts groups at Notre Dame have changed the casting of classic plays—the other two being Cyrano and most recently Hamlet—to make traditional male-female romantic leads homosexual. The frequency of this shift over the past year raises the question whether the directors are really taking “creative liberties” or simply submitting to cultural conformity.
Breaking apart gender dichotomies has not, however, been confined to Shakespeare at Notre Dame.
As announced on February 1, a significant portion Fischer Graduate Residence is being transformed into “Undergraduate Community at Fischer ” (UCF ). About 80 students can now opt to move off campus into UCF early, seemingly walking back on the recently instituted three-year on campus residence policy.
The impetus for the decision seems to be a compromise to societal norms. Notre Dame is unique among top-20 universities in its sex-segregated dorm system. This has led to a strong yet, until recently, unforeseen pressure: to which dorms should Notre Dame assign transgender students?
This compromise allows students of any sexuality to live in an gender-unspecified space. It seems like a brilliant tactical play by the administration—they appease orthodox Catholics by maintaining single-sex dorms while creating a space for transgender men and women to live with individuals with whom they do not share biological sex. Why is this an issue?
Most apparently, conceding ground to the secular culture without setting limits to how far the concessions will go leads one down a slippery slope.
Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, for any flaws he had, was able to maintain the University of Notre Dame as a recognizably Catholic institution while all similar Catholic universities caved completely to secularization during his era. He did this by setting limits while at the same time granting some room to secular forces to build prestige.
While choosing to hire an increasing number of non-Catholic faculty, under his jurisdiction, he insisted that the Notre Dame faculty retain a majority number of Catholic professors. Also, when he included lay persons on the board of trustees, he also guaranteed that half the board and the university president still must be a C.S.C priest.
Whether you like his compromises or not, they were true compromises—a quid pro quo rather than a surrender.
The recent assimilation of secular gender norms at Notre Dame has not come with any reinforcement of Catholic values.
Not only was posting images of physical homosexuality permitted on campus, but permission came with no reaffirmation of Church teaching or explanation of when or why such depictions are permissible. In opening the first co-ed undergraduate residential community in university history, no one in the administration reaffirmed that the single-sex residences—and the moral formation they strive to provide—is integral to the university moving forward.
Incremental erosion of the Catholic character of the university will rapidly escalate if, when relaxing policy, the administration will not even justify, explain, or add counterweight to their capitulation.
Eliminating single-sex dorms and treating men and women as interchangeable would not “diversify” Notre Dame. It would rather homogenize it with the other top twenty American universities and “elite” schools everywhere. As the administration sets Ivy League schools as “aspirational peers,” they should recognize that similarity to UPenn or Stanford is both unlikely and undesirable.
Notre Dame is only a choiceworthy institution so long as she is ostensibly Catholic.
Publicly portraying physical homosexual affection through re-written Shakespeare and allowing a university-affiliated space to house men and women in the same building perhaps does not mark the definitive fall from grace. But the administration ought to remember: without Catholicism, Notre Dame is merely another research facility with a large endowment and pretty buildings, fighting over the same set of students as WashU, the Ivies, and all similar institutions.
Joseph DeReuil is a junior from St. Paul, Minnesota who is enjoying the early South Bend thaw. Forgive his naivete in believing in the fake spring, and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo Credit: Matthew Rice