Mister Anderson….

Posted: September 25, 2013 in Uncategorized

Tomorrow (or today, looking at the clock), Boston College’s St. Thomas More society is sponsoring a speaker from the Heritage Foundation and a Ph.D candidate at Notre Dame.  He will be presenting on the (a?) Catholic church’s case again same-sex marriage.  I don’t expect that there will be anything earth shattering about this presentation; likely a discussion on complimentarity, on the nature of what marriage is and the Church’s view of its purpose.  In fact, the speaker, Ryan T. Anderson, has said as much in his previous works.  It is no surprise that Boston College would host such a speaker.  Perhaps they’re trying to make up for the last time they tried (http://www.bcheights.com/2.6171/anti-gay-speaker-fails-1.919930).

Let me make a few important points: I love Boston College.  I very much enjoyed my experience there.  I find the ethos of the campus to be one that supports intellectual discussion around this issue.  Most members of the administration, the professoriate, and the ministry staff are open to discussions of the theological and sociological implications of defining, or as some might have it, re-defining marriage in contemporary society.  By and large, the institution makes an effort — at least at the individual level — to support its lesbian, gay, and bisexual students (from a policy perspective and a programmatic perspective, sometimes that gets a bit more tricky).  I also fully support allowing Mr. Anderson to speak on campus; to not do so would be a violation of the academic freedom that those working in Higher Education so often espouse.  The purpose of education is to promote critical thought and scholarship; to engage in meaningful debate around serious issues of our time.  It would be a grievous mistake to rescind an invitation on ideological grounds (as Providence College just did, in the reverse: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/24/education/catholic-college-rescinds-invitation-to-speaker-defending-same-sex-marriage.html?_r=0)

Where I will be critical, and this is where many of the student activist groups on campus are coming from as they plan protests/occupations of this presentation — these same student activist groups, I will say, that regularly push back against the teachings of the conservative Church in a meaningful and (usually) respectul way (GLC, BCSSH, etc.), is that there is no opposing view.  Last Spring, Boston College GLC hosted a student panel designed to raise awareness around issues of being LGBT at BC and, as a student group, had the forethought to include someone who could represent the Catholic position (incidentally, this individual is one of the folks headlining Mr. Anderson’s presentation).  The dialogue was measured and approached a sensitive issue from a number of different perspectives.

So where is that balance here?  Granted, most presentations on campus do not have someone sitting adjacent to the presenter offering counterpoints — but I would argue that most presentations are not on subjects that are so incredibly sensitive to a significant portion of the BC student body.  This is the first year that Boston College has not made the Princeton Review’s (methodologically flawed) list of least-friendly campuses towards LGBTQ students.  As I lived on campus for the two years in graduate school, I saw a change in the campus’s approach towards LGBTQ programming and discussing these issues.  My sense was that people were feeling better about the fact that Boston College really does support all of its community members.   My point, then, is that this one-sided presentation — sent out in an agressive e-mail blast to all students — has the potential to seem like a knife in the back.

Admittedly, Mr. Anderson has not spoken yet.  Perhaps the professor and the student hosting the event will rigorously question Mr. Anderson on these issues and provide just that balance.  My instinct, though, is that this is a lost opportunity — a chance to proselytize to an increasingly liberal student body at the expense of those in the audience who want their identity and their relationships to be compatible with the love they feel for their alma mater.

Tomorrow is a victory for Academic Freedom.  My hunch is that students will turn it into a victory for measured response and reasonable dialogue.  But I can’t help think, given recent history, that it’s all just a little bit Pyrrhic.

* It is also worth noting that Mr. Anderson has taken to Twitter to publicly shame the entire university because of one editorial:

  1. Ryan T. Anderson ‏@RyanT_Anderson18h

    also hopes that I have gay kids. A sad commentary on (Catholic) higher education. Stay classy Boston College. http://bcgavel.com/2013/09/24/editorial-the-case-against-a-case-against-gay-marriage/ …

    Details

  2. Ryan T. Anderson ‏@RyanT_Anderson18h

    Insists she’s not comparing me to Westboro Baptist, but is embarrassed that BC invited me to speak since I’m a hater http://bcgavel.com/2013/09/24/editorial-the-case-against-a-case-against-gay-marriage/ …

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