Student senate resolution fails, four-year advocacy continues
The most recent attempt to institute a pornography filter on university Wi-Fi failed on Wednesday March 8.
The first push occurred in 2019 when a campus-wide petition started by Students for Child-Oriented Policy (SCOP) accumulated over 2400 signatures from students, faculty, and staff. But in a meeting with Fr. Jenkins, the proposal was rejected.
The petition’s popularity led Enough is Enough, an organization promoting internet safety for children and families, to pen a letter imploring Fr. Jenkins to adopt the filter. Fr. Jenkins replied, “Although we do not believe a mandatory filter is the best solution for us, we are taking steps to encourage students and others to adopt filters voluntarily.”
A source familiar with the matter told the Rover that Fr. Jenkins said he would reconsider a Wi-Fi filter proposal if it were approved by the student government. Thus, student senators Ayden Ellis, John Soza, Bobby Spence, and Caroline Potts cosponsored a resolution that proposed: “The University of Notre Dame in coordination with the Office of Information Technologies should prevent students from accessing pornography on campus Wi-Fi by adding pornography sites to a list of banned websites on all campus Wi-Fi networks.”
The proposal inspired intense debate, but after a motion to make the vote anonymous was allowed, it failed by an 11–24 vote.
The circumstances surrounding the attempt to implement this bill raised questions about the university’s institutional stance on the matter. The evening before the vote, the Office of Information Technologies (OIT) emailed Soza, who with Ellis was the primary author of the bill. OIT informed him that, regardless of the vote, nothing would be implemented, stating: “attempting to implement such a filter would have both technology and staff costs as we do not currently have the devices we would need to operate for this.”
Back in 2019, however, the then-head of OIT, John Gohsman, told SCOP that implementation of a filter “would be neither technologically difficult nor costly.” At that time, Holy Cross College implemented a similar Wi-Fi filter on their campus.
Despite the assurance that there would be no technological difficulties, the filter was rejected at the time because, as the petition’s author Jim Martinson wrote in First Things, “[Fr.] Jenkins told us that a filter would inhibit the faculty’s ability to participate in academic research.”
The argument that a filter would violate academic freedom was not present in the recent student senate meeting, which voted against implementation. Student senators instead argued that a filter would be ineffective, adding, “You say that since it’s banned on campus Wi-Fi people can just watch it using cellular data on their phones. Won’t this disproportionately affect underrepresented minorities who have limited access to cellular data?”
Another major argument, according to Ellis, included, “What precedent will this bill set for queer people? What is the university going to do to queer people after this bill passes?” Other senators debated, “God created evil and wants us to give in to our temptations”, and “Notre Dame should have a sex-positive culture.”
In an interview with the Rover, Soza and Ellis described their response to these arguments and their hopes moving forward:
“Pornography use is already banned on the campus services in the rule book, but the university is not courageous enough to enforce their own rule. If Notre Dame is going to be a force for good, then it needs to take the hard actions, be at the forefront of the issue, and actually follow through on banning pornography,” stated Ellis. He continued, “Some senators claimed that we should not let our own religious beliefs influence our senatorial voting, but our religious views are completely in line with Notre Dame’s. We support what the Church supports, and we want the culture to start pushing back against this attack on human sexuality.”
Soza added, “We obviously wanted the resolution to pass and hoped that the university would work with OIT to institute a filter that eliminates porn viewership on campus; however, we hope that our efforts can start a conversation on campus about the deleterious effects of pornography on society and potentially lead to the university reevaluating its enforcement of the responsible use policy.”
In regard to whether the bill would set a “bad precedent,” Ellis told the Rover, “We hope the bill sets a precedent. We want the bill to cause the university to uphold and enforce more Catholic teaching.”
In addition to the desire to uphold Catholic teaching, Soza noted, “We were frustrated that some of our fellow senators were unwilling to acknowledge the significant scientific research in favor of our argument and instead focused on matters completely unrelated to the bill.”
The discussion of the bill continued across campus.
Joseph Tunney, a senator-elect in Fisher Hall, acted as a fill-in proxy during the vote and commented to the Rover, “If the ban was to be put in place, I think that there would be a good amount of cases where a person begins to search for porn while forgetting they are on the student Wi-Fi, receives the message that it is blocked, and then realizes what they are doing and its consequences.”
Luca Fanucchi, a sophomore in Fisher Hall, was surprised to see the bill’s failure. He remarked, “This proposal does not seem to be meant to abridge the choices of any willing adults on campus. Simply put, we are a Catholic institution and should not have to support an industry that goes against Catholic teaching by allowing access to it on our Wi-Fi.”
Kephas Olsson, a freshman in Duncan Hall, though “extremely disheartened,” was not so surprised at the vote’s outcome. “I get the sense daily that Notre Dame is in a battle for its identity as either a great Catholic school or a middling secular one.” He added, “The vote is sad because it promotes a culture that objectifies women, that allows for increased likelihoods of assault and sexual abuse, and because it degrades the minds and souls of these students, my friends.”
Meanwhile, Catholic University of America and Franciscan University of Steubenville approved campus-wide pornography filters in the aftermath of SCOP’s nationally publicized push in 2019 and large chains such as McDonalds, Starbucks, and Chick-fil-A continue to maintain filters on grounds of safety.
Joseph DeReuil is a junior from St. Paul, MN studying philosophy and classics. After riding the Amtrak back to school from home, he is a recently converted train-lover. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mia Tiwana is a senior from Dhahran, Saudi Arabia studying political science and theology. Upon returning to France, her French is still abysmal, but she is now an expert at drinking Chartreuse, eating crepes, and comparing acoustics of huge churches. Reach her at email@example.com.
Image: The Most Chaste Spouse
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