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Saturday, March 2, 2024
The Observer

The power of Notre Dame’s Christian left

It’s not always easy to be a progressive student at Notre Dame. Some of our school’s rules, like the lack of available birth control and parietals, can be difficult to explain to those who haven’t gone to “Catholic Disneyland.” Trying to argue that Notre Dame is in fact a progressive space, deeply rooted in a call to social justice, can become even more difficult when Notre Dame crafts its national image around an ex-football coach spouting hate speech at the RNC and putting forward a conservative Supreme Court Justice, while simultaneously having its University president attend and contribute to a Trump-endorsed Covid superspreader event in the Rose Garden (two birds, one stone!). And lest we forget the image of a massive “God, Country, Notre Dame” flag at the Capitol Hill insurrection just a few weeks ago. So the question arises: How does a university which claims to be “one of the most powerful means of doing good in this country” end up so firmly on the wrong side of history? A deep dive into the institutional structure of our University will only cement the narrative of our University not as one of a social-justice centered, progressive space, but rather as a conservative Christian university that is often hesitant to change and even more opposed to activism. 

Despite what the administration of Notre Dame continues to extort, an examination of the student body will bring strikingly different results. While most people may not be able to tell, Notre Dame’s student body is actually fairly progressive. In student government’s mock presidential election last year, the vast majority of students supported Biden over Trump. Further, it was the students (most publicly the football team) that organized rallies, sit-ins and class strikes in response to the racially motivated killings of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Aubrey and George Floyd, and countless others over this past spring and summer. And when Donald Trump was elected President and threatened the rights of DACA students, it was the student body and faculty who staged walkouts and protests. These are just a few of the instances where the mass of Notre Dame’s students showed their true ideological colors. Beyond these specific instances, every day you will find most ND students encouraging diversity, working to strengthen their community, serving the less fortunate and respecting each other’s personal, private and biological selves — actively living out the core tenets of Catholic Social Teaching. While our greater institution may not always meet this standard, the vast majority of students do. 

And yet even with all that, Notre Dame still manages to uphold the image of a conservative Christian university. Why? Because the Christian left within our student body is painfully disorganized. I can think of at least four student groups on campus that center their purpose around conservative Christian causes and not one that rallies around the Christian left. 

The Christian left at Notre Dame needs to embrace their faith in conjunction with their politics. More of us need to be willing to say, “I am progressive because I am a Christian,” and those people who do say that need to have organizations that will amplify their voice. There are tons of us out there spread across the quads; it’s time we organize and start making a tangible difference. 

Think of the ramifications if Notre Dame were to send more people to the Women’s March than to the March for Life, or if we fought back until Notre Dame officially released a statement condemning Lou Holtz’s remarks at the RNC and the presence of the ND flag at the Capitol Hill riots. What if we pushed until the student health center offered birth control and other reproductive health services? Or what if, and I can’t believe I even have to write this because it is such a bare minimum, we brought Notre Dame to finally include “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” in its notice of non-discrimination, so that the faculty, staff and students who are members of the LGTBQ+ community could be legally protected against discrimination? More importantly, what if we did all these things not just in the name of progress and equality, but in the name of Christ? What if we stood up for women’s rights, condemned right-wing hate speech, offered students and faculty the freedom to control their own bodies, and stood up for our LGTBQ+ peers because we are compelled to do so by our faith? Is that not a powerful message?  [Quick side note regarding reproductive health services: A cornerstone of the Catholic faith is that God gave men and women autonomy over their own bodies and the freedom to act however they choose. By offering birth control and other reproductive health services, who does that hurt? I hear all the time from gun-rights advocates, “If you don’t want a gun, then just don’t get one!” Um, ok, well, “if you don’t want a condom, just don’t get one!” Providing students with birth control is not going to encourage sex, but banning birth control on campus will certainly encourage unsafe sex.]

The Christian left at Notre Dame needs to start thinking of themselves in terms of Redditors on Wall Street Bets. If we actually organize ourselves and speak with a clear voice with a consistent message, we can start to influence real change. Narrative matters. Our image and public standing matter. It is time for us to take control of our identity and show the world what Notre Dame truly stands for. 

Clark Bowden is a senior Political Science major. When he is not sleeping through his alarm or reminding people that he studied abroad, he can be found having heated political debates or watching the Washington Nationals play baseball. He can be reached at cbowden@nd.edu or @BowdenClark on Twitter.

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