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Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024
The Observer

To the president

Dear Fr. John Jenkins,

We are writing to express our disappointment with your recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. Because you represent the entire Notre Dame community, we feel we must speak up to ask you to reconsider your statements and to open a public dialogue about this important social issue.

We are disheartened that you objected to the NCAA’s decision and chose to make a public statement that privileges the rights and feelings of cisgender, heterosexual people over transgender and gay people. Perhaps you do not understand what transgender is, or have not considered the experiences a transgender person might face negotiating gendered bathrooms. Yet they are not alone: Many cisgender people face similar difficulties when using gendered bathrooms due to their role as parents or caretakers of people of a different gender. Many communities and institutions have responded by creating gender-neutral and family-friendly bathrooms.

Your placing of privileged people’s comfort over those of a disenfranchised group does not align with statements you made during your recent address to the Notre Dame faculty. There, you spoke at length about the need for more diversity and inclusion at our university, grounding that goal in the principle that every human being is worthy of respect and dignity. One need only replace “transgender persons” and “biological sex” in your statement with some other marginalized group or identity, such as “people of color” and “race,” to understand how problematic it is. Moreover, your op-ed echoes many of the biased and reductive statements made in favor of North Carolina House Bill 2 (HB2). As you note, this law is not just about legislating bathroom use, although those in favor of it consistently raise that canard. HB2 is about a state stripping rights from cities and citizens. It is about civil rights.

HB2 is a segregationist law of precisely the sort that our university has stood against for decades. Like its antecedents in the Jim Crow era, HB2 constructs an imaginary threat, and inflicts suffering on the most vulnerable members of our society. Indeed, segregation laws involving people of color have also frequently been about policing gender and sexuality; the bodies in question are often the same. Understanding the history of those connections is important for anyone wanting to weigh into a critical debate on HB2.

We also find your comments about the NCAA’s decision and its role as a “moral arbiter” deeply problematic and inconsistent with the values of our university. Certainly, any organization of whatever nature has the moral obligation to speak up and act in the face of discriminatory laws such as HB2. We applaud the NCAA for taking this stand when many other powerful institutions, such as Notre Dame, have not.

In your op-ed, you argue, “When it comes to complex, contentious social issues, universities have a critical role to play in fostering reflection, discussion and informed debate.” We agree, but Notre Dame is not yet a place where the discussion of such issues is fully welcome or valued. For example, public discussions about the LGBTQI community have been consistently squelched on our campus, to the detriment of our students, faculty, staff, alumni and larger community. Indeed, your recent op-ed seems to continue that trend. Those of us signing here, however, will not remain quiet in the face of discriminatory remarks and the dearth of dialogue on our campus about such significant social issues. We will value and support de-privileged people, and we will attempt to change the oppressive systems that keep such individuals subordinate and disempowered.

We would welcome an opportunity to meet with you in person to express our views and to understand your own, as well as to provide you with information about the issues transgender and gay people face here at Notre Dame and beyond.


Select Members of the Notre Dame Progressive Faculty/Staff Alliance (in alphabetical order)

Francisco Aragon, Associate Professional Specialist, Institute for Latino Studies Katrina Barron, Associate Professor, Mathematics Laura Bayard, Outreach Services Librarian Christine Becker, Associate Professor, Film, Television, and Theatre Catherine E. Bolten, Associate Professor, Anthropology and Peace Studies Katherine Brading, Professor, Philosophy Joseph A. Buttigieg, Professor, English; Director, Hesburgh-Yusko Scholars Program Mary R. D’Angelo, Professor Emerita, Theology E. Jane Doering, Retiree, Professor of the Practice, Teachers as Scholars Program Margaret Anne Doody, Professor, English Stephen Fredman, Professor, English Agustin Fuentes, Chair and Professor, Anthropology Daniel A. Graff, Director, Higgins Labor Program; Faculty, History Karen B. Graubart, Associate Professor, History; Concurrent, Romance Lang. and Lit. Perin Gurel, Assistant Professor, American Studies; Concurrent, Gender Studies Darlene R. Hampton, Academic Advisor, First Year Studies Susan Cannon Harris, Associate Professor, English; Concurrent, Gender Studies Karen Croake Heisler, Instructor/Internship Coordinator, Film, Television, and Theatre Ricky Herbst, Assistant Director for Public Interest Law Peter Holland, Associate Dean for the Arts, College of Arts and Letters Michael Kackman, Associate Teaching Professor, FTT Asher Kaufman, Professor, History and Peace Studies Mary Celeste Kearney, Director of Gender Studies; Associate Professor, FTT Janet Kourany, Associate Professor, Philosophy; Concurrent, Gender Studies Maureen Lafferty, Assistant Director, University Counseling Center Anne Leone, Research Assistant Professor, Romance Languages and Literatures Julia Marvin, Associate Professor, Liberal Studies and Medieval Institute Sara L. Maurer, Associate Professor, English Sarah McKibben, Chair and Associate Professor, Irish L&L; Concurrent, Gender Studies Joyelle McSweeney, Director of Creative Writing Program Rory McVeigh, Professor, Sociology Marisel Moreno-Anderson, Associate Professor, Romance Languages and Literatures Pierpaolo Polzonetti, Professor, Music and Liberal Studies F. Clark Power, Professor, Program of Liberal Studies Ava Preacher, Assistant Dean, Undergraduate Studies Valerie Sayers, Professor, English Kristin Shrader-Frechette, Professor, Philosophy and Biological Sciences John Sitter, Professor, English Nancy K. Stanton, Professor, Mathematics Jim Sterba, Professor, Philosophy Maria Tomasula, Professor, Art, Art History, and Design Christine M. Venter, Director, Legal Writing Program, Law School Sean Wernert, Academic Advisor, First Year of Studies Richard Williams, Associate Professor, Sociology Michelle Wirth, Assistant Professor, Psychology Pamela Robertson Wojcik, Professor, FTT; Concurrent, Gender Studies Maryam Meechka Zomorodian, Academic Advisor, First Year of Studies

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.