News Analysis

Is Notre Dame a safe space for outspoken Catholics?

A hard-edged protest at America’s top Catholic university has some conservative students fearing for their safety and wondering why the administration has remained silent.

The week of September 19, a board appeared on campus at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, with a series of articles, mostly from the Irish Rover, a conservative student publication. The articles all defended the Catholic viewpoint on sexual morality and LGBT issues – something whoever posted the board clearly objected to. Some students interpreted the poster as a threat.

“Most shockingly, the sign’s message was painted in blood red, and the names of the articles’ writers were all circled in blood-red paint, drawing hostile attention to individual members of the Notre Dame community,” said an article in the Irish Rover on September 26. “Among the names circled in red paint were those of current students, faculty and alumni of the university.”

The Rover has filed harassment reports with the Notre Dame Police Department and the university.

The Observer, another student newspaper, published a poem by a student named Audrey Lindemann, titled “There’s queer blood on homophobic hands”. Included was a video (posted to Vimeo) of the student reading an extended version of the poem while someone else smashed the aforementioned sign to pieces with a crowbar.

Lindemann’s poem reads, in part:

… your ivory
tower theology
slit my loved ones’
… the murdered
trans angels (18 this year yet)
leak brimstone into your
praying mouths…
Child Oriented Policy…
Irish Rover.

“Notre Dame has been offering uppity theoretical quibbling rather than solidarity and assistance,” reads the description on the video. “The comments on certain SCOP [Students for Child Oriented Policy] members’ articles have been appalling — they call for drastic and hateful acts.”

Lindemann and the other protesters objected to an event held by Students for a Child Oriented Policy, a university club, that discussed the trend of “gender-affirming” treatment for children who believe they are transgender, which has led to pre-pubescent children being given powerful puberty-blockers and sex hormones. Lindemann referred to the “discoursal irresponsibility” of even permitting such a discussion in the first place.

“Your articles have directly affirmed violent lurkers online who would have us lobotomized with crow bars, thrown back into the closet, expelled from the school,” Linemann wrote in the extended version of her poem.

There are two noteworthy things about the protest. First of all, the main objection to SCOP is not to anything the group itself has done. Members are accused of having “affirmed violent lurkers” by failing to moderate comments by other people.

The other significant feature is that the protest relies on the transgender murder trope: a talking point that is all over the media and has been repeated by several of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates. Many progressives believe that it is open season on transgender people in America. Yet the statistics do not bear this talking point out. In fact, when a man decides to live as a woman, his chances of being murdered drop substantially.

This heated rhetorical climate is one of the driving forces turning middle-class girls into slam poets when someone suggests a healthy teenage girl shouldn’t be given a double mastectomy or a 13-year-old boy shouldn’t be given estrogen shots.

Conservative students aren’t likely to get much support from their student government. Anne Jarrett, the student government’s Director of Gender Relations, tweeted that when the original sign was taken down she swore at “someone [who] pushed down the anti homophobia art display.”

Several commentators have argued that the real scandal is not the protest itself but the cowardice of the administration. As at most universities, the authorities talk about “safe spaces”, but remain silent while protesters appear to threaten student journalists for defending Catholic viewpoints. University president Fr John Jenkins declined to comment on the matter, though sources said several attempts were made to prevail upon him to do so.

“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,” wrote Alexandra DeSanctis at National Review, herself a Notre Dame alum.

Meanwhile, the author Rod Dreher wrote: “A line has been crossed. What is the university going to do about it?”