“Every part which does not harmonize with its whole is disgraceful.” — St. Augustine, Confessions III.8

In their recently released Strategic Framework, Notre Dame leaders reaffirmed that the Catholic character of the university is her single most distinctive feature and expressed the intention that in all matters she act in accord with this identity. Though this may be heartening, the time has already come to make good on their promise.

The primary goal listed in the framework is to “ensure that our Catholic character informs all our endeavors.” But many “endeavors” undertaken at the university not only fail to meet this noble aspiration, but work directly against it—as seen especially through the recently discovered drag performance coming to campus.

As the Rover reported, Professor Pam Wojcik, former chair of the Department of Film, Television, and Theatre is planning to host a drag performance in the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center on Friday, November 3 [staff at DPAC was unable to confirm that the event had been scheduled]. Professor Wojcik told the Rover that the “symposium” will be co-sponsored by the Departments of Gender Studies, Music, and American Studies as well as the Initiative on Race and Resilience.

This particularly shocking event is merely the most recent instance of Notre Dame faculty members employing university resources to cut against the very raison d’être of their place of employment. Some may argue that hosting such performances at Notre Dame is part and parcel of being an institution of higher education. Is not drag a venerable element of modern entertainment culture? Shouldn’t responsible students of contemporary art gain firsthand experience of all aspects of their field?

A university lacking the mooring of Catholic teaching on the human person might be forgiven for answering “yes.” Notre Dame lacks no such foundation. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity” [italics original]. Regardless of their degree of obscenity, drag performances create confusion about this fundamental imperative and are thus corrosive to the Catholic life of the university and her members. Furthermore, as they promote a lie about the human person, they have no place in an institution dedicated to finding and upholding truth.

Yes, thousands of Masses are said on campus each semester, countless hours are spent by students and faculty in Eucharistic adoration every week, and long lines snake up to the confessionals in the basilica every day. The Catholic culture at Notre Dame is strong for the many who engage with it. But identity is a different matter.

The identity of the university is not written in stone. It depends on each member of the community’s perception of the institution and their actions that shape its future. Of course, all members of the Notre Dame community will not agree on each and every matter of importance. Such homogeneity could even be toxic to the exchange of ideas integral to healthy academic engagement.

Though disagreement over particulars is inevitable and, in some cases, desirable, the professors at a Catholic university must share a common vision of the formation they are employed to provide. Blessed Basil Moreau summarizes the goal of Holy Cross education in a quotation that appears in du Lac, the student handbook: “While we prepare useful citizens for society, we shall likewise do our utmost to prepare citizens for heaven.”

The University of Notre Dame was founded upon this integrated vision of academics and the Catholic moral and spiritual life. Recent events show that this vision may no longer be the identity—the collective conception—of the university. Many professors embody their role of formators as envisioned by Bl. Basil. And others, who may disagree with points of Catholic teaching, still provide excellent academic formation without interfering with the university’s formative mission. But a third contingent is vocal and active in undermining the very formation for which the university was founded. This last group presents an existential threat to the Catholic identity of Notre Dame.

According to the Strategic Framework, the administration’s first goal is to act in accord with Notre Dame’s Catholic character. In light of recent controversy, it is time for the University of Notre Dame to embrace her identity, seek faculty who share the institution’s dedication to Catholic formation, and put an end to programming that undermines it—starting by canceling the drag performance.

Paul Howard is a senior majoring in classics and medieval studies. He can be reached at phoward2@nd.edu.

Photo Credit: Matthew Rice

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