Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A response from Professors George and Londregan

Earlier this month, Josh and I sent an open letter to Princeton professors Robert George and John Londregan, responding to their March 17 article in the Princeton Alumni Weekly, titled "Princeton and the hookup culture." We had questions and concerns which we wished to air in the spirit of academic discussion, particularly with regard to the creation of a "Love and Fidelity Center." We posted our letter on this blog, which can be read here. This response from Professors George and Londregan is the first in a series, all of which will be posted on Equal Writes, in an attempt to involve other students in this important dialogue. Please comment and participate - this is your discussion too. Their response, in full, is below.

Dear Amelia and Joshua:

Thanks for inviting us into a conversation with you about the hook up culture at Princeton. We are encouraged that you perceive the same problems and challenges we perceive. Working together across traditional lines of ideological division, perhaps we can find ways to improve the social life of our community in ways that make it more decent and humane for everyone.

First let us take stock of our points of agreement with you; then we’ll turn to our disagreement about whether establishing a Love and Fidelity Center on campus would benefit at least some students. You expressed more articulately and powerfully than we did in our article a central fact giving rise to our concerns: “There is a damaging tendency for students to feel socially compelled to make themselves sexually available, because of widely held campus assumptions about what other students want, and what other students expect. “ You are on to an important insight here. Yet people are not (or at least need not be) slaves to culture and its norms. People can make themselves agents of cultural change. That is what partisans of “sexual freedom,” such as Hugh Hefner, set out to do when they emerged as a force a little more than fifty years ago. That is also what critics of the hook up culture they bequeathed to us are trying to do today. “A sexual culture that benefits no one,” as you rightly put it, needs to be challenged and reformed by agents of cultural change.

We agree with you that students who believe in traditional norms of sexual morality are marginalized in the sense that the campus culture and many of the University’s policies and practices tend to undermine their values and make them seem and even feel like “outsiders.” There is no doubt that in a thousand subtle and some not-so-subtle ways, students who dissent from campus orthodoxies on sexual matters are pressured to conform or else keep their mouths shut. Moreover, students with genuine needs for support find themselves without assistance from the university and its culture. For example, same-sex attracted students who believe that homosexual conduct is morally unacceptable and wish to lead chaste lives are offered no support; indeed, they are treated as if they do not exist. They regard LGBT institutions on campus as hostile to their beliefs and values, rather than supportive; and some wish for non-sectarian counselors and for solidarity with like-minded peers across religious divides. What they and other students of a traditional mind on sexual morality need, it seems to us, is access to the support that would be available if there were a Love and Fidelity Center on Campus. And they are far from alone. Students of many other descriptions would benefit from access to such support.

But now we have wandered into that area of disagreement with you. So let us, in a spirit of willingness to learn and not merely to instruct, engage your arguments. First, we agree with you that there is a danger of, as you say, “creat[ing] more islands of difference.” But it strikes us as odd to call for a moratorium on creating such “islands” just at the point at which students whose beliefs and values run contrary to politically correct sensibilities begin asking for a center that will support their particular needs. After all, those needs are in part the result of a campus culture that is shaped to some extent by the University’s establishment and maintenance of a large number of centers and institutions perceived, not unreasonably, as promoting beliefs and values that are sharply at variance with their own. Many of these have to do with sexuality. Beyond various student groups that span the moral and political spectrum, the University’s thumb on the scales contributes to the marginalization of students who believe in chastity, modesty, and related virtues. The need for a Love and Fidelity Center is in part a need created by official support for other centers and groups. There is a fairness issue here, but please note that we are not focused on that right now. Rather, our focus is on the importance of meeting the concrete needs of students whose particular needs arise to no small extent as a result of the culture that exists on our campus, and whose needs appear to be invisible to the University.

You propose that instead of a Love and Fidelity Center, what is needed is “to open the conversation to all Princeton students, so that people who fall on all sides of the sexual spectrum feel comfortable speaking openly about their desires, confusions, and fears when it comes to sex.” We’re not sure what to make of your proposal. First, we do not believe that providing the support that would be offered by a Love and Fidelity Center to students who need that support and are currently being denied it impedes anyone, including those students, from having a conversation about sexual morality or anything else with anybody else. So it appears to us that we are not dealing with mutually exclusive options. We are certainly all in favor of conversation, though we recognize that some people need counseling, encouragement, and other forms of support that are not what discussion groups are typically designed to provide. When it comes to such groups, we believe they make a real contribution when they are forums for the engagement of ideas and the consideration of rational arguments. We are less confident of their desirability if they are efforts at group therapy or mere opportunities for the public or quasi-public expression of emotions. Speaking for ourselves, we would not support the idea of discussions designed to encourage people to “speak openly about their desires, confusions, and fears when it comes to sex.” (Though again, the establishment of a Love and Fidelity Center would in no way hinder such discussions.) By contrast, we would enthusiastically support discussions of sexual morality in which people of differing beliefs shared their reasons and arguments, and engaged in civil discussion and debate with a view to getting at the truth of things and more fully understanding each other’s perspectives. And that is a cause that a Love and a Fidelity Center would positively help.

If we have understood your argument correctly, and we apologize if we have not, you seem to suggest at one point that a Love and Fidelity Center would somehow be exclusionary. You ask: “Could a Love and Fidelity Center serve all students as they come to terms with the role that sex will play in their lives?” As we have said from the beginning, a primary purpose of the Center would be to meet the concrete needs of students who have needs for support as a result of a campus culture that they did not create and for which they are not responsible. This culture is what it is, in part as a result of policies and practices of the University itself. The University, to its credit, takes steps to try to meet what it regards as the needs of other students. No one accuses it of being “exclusionary” for doing that. It should do the same with regard to the needs of students who are struggling to lead lives of integrity in the face of the pressures and challenges of the hook up culture. Indeed, we would argue that the refusal to do so is exclusionary. The stark reality at the moment is that the University is simply ignoring students whose needs are not of the type that registers on the radar screens of people who hold “progressive” as opposed to “traditional” views about sexual morality. If there were people holding positions of authority and power in the University’s administration whose views were on the “traditional” rather than “progressive” side when it came to sexuality, perhaps these students would not be treated as if they were invisible or as if their need for support did not matter. The double standard that currently exists might then disappear.

An important point you make in your letter is that many students come to Princeton with largely unformed views about sexuality. You ask how we “envision the services of the proposed Love and Fidelity Center in terms of all of the students who are coping with the negative effects of the hook up culture.” The answer is that the Center would make an important contribution to meeting the problem, though not all by itself. It would play a role alongside other campus institutions, some of which represent perspectives different from that of the Center, in helping to ensure that there is a lively and balanced discussion on campus of the meaning and significance of human sexuality and the ethical principles and moral virtues by which we should conduct our relationships and lead our lives. We believe that the existence of the Center would expand discussion and ensure a fuller representation of points of view. Students who feel institutionally supported are naturally more confident and more comfortable with participating in discussions. With respect to many potentially valuable intellectual events, the Love and Fidelity Center could cooperate as a co-sponsor with other campus centers and programs, profoundly enriching the quality of the reflection and discussion. In this way, an effort to meet the needs of a significant segment of the student body would also enhance the academic culture for the whole Princeton community.

Best wishes,
Robert P. George and John B. Londregan

7 Comments:

At April 29, 2009 at 7:49 PM , Anonymous Dan said...

I think the proposal of Profs. George and Londregan is very reasonable, and would contribute positively to the campus culture. I think it is important to understand the rational basis for a more conservative sexual morality, whether you decide to live by it or not. If you decide to live by it, a solid understanding will help you stay the course, even if you are not religious or experience serious doubts about your faith (which often happens at a university). If you decide to reject it, you will understand what you are rejecting and why.

 
At April 29, 2009 at 10:06 PM , Blogger Briallen said...

There are many, many Princeton places that welcome same-sex attracted students who feel that acting on their attraction would be wrong. Those places include: Anscombe Society events; Aquinas events; PEF events; James Madison Program events; and (not least) Professor George's house. I also know that Chattin' with the Chaplain is a LGBT-center-supported venue in which the choice of celibacy-- whether for same- or opposite-sex attracted students-- is respected and affirmed.

My sense however is that many of these students prefer not to be "out" about their attractions. In fact, I think the culture of Anscombe etc. encourages these students to disavow these desires and identities even in the context of universal chastity, thus causing terrible psychic damage and self-mutilation. I think if these religious celibate gay students were out, and asked the LGBT center to create events for them, the LGBT center would be more than happy to support discussion and intra-gay diversity stuff. The LGBT center would truly try to serve all gay students not just sexually active ones. But the Love and Fidelity Center would NOT be a welcoming place for loving and faithful sexually active students.

 
At April 30, 2009 at 1:13 AM , Blogger Madeleine said...

My goodness, the Princeton of 2009 is apparently a very different place from the one I attended in my youth. Of course I’m intrigued by the new-fangled “hookup culture” that one hears so much about these days (Professors George and Londregan have certainly helped me to understand it by presenting it as a latter-day embodiment of The Playboy Philosophy). But I’m especially interested in “the University’s establishment and maintenance of a large number of centers and institutions perceived, not unreasonably, as promoting beliefs and values that are sharply at variance” with the views of “students who believe in traditional norms of sexual morality.” Apparently, “many” of these university centers “have to do with sexuality.”

Is it really true that the university is sponsoring numerous institutional entities that promote values at odds with “traditional norms of sexual morality”? Wow! Back in my day we had the Women’s Center – which didn’t have much to do with sexual morality, but which did provide a space where it was safe to be a feminist. And we had the Gay Alliance of Princeton – which didn’t promote hooking up, or promiscuity, or really any form of sexual behavior or lack thereof, but which did provide a space where it was safe to identify as queer. And of course there was SECH (Sexuality Education, Counseling, and Health), a division of the University Health Services – which didn’t advocate in favor of or against any particular sexual morality, but which recognized the reality of college students’ lives and offered information, education, protection, and health care for those who were in fact sexually active. Thirty years ago, that was about it. I’d love to know about how things have changed – about this “large number” of university-sponsored entities that “have to do with sexuality” and that are at odds with “traditional norms of sexual morality.” I’ve searched the Web, and I can’t seem to find them.

I’m also curious about the ways in which those students who do accept “traditional norms of sexual morality” feel “pressured to conform or else keep their mouths shut.” Does this mean that,
say, if someone writes a column in the Prince arguing for the value of chastity, the columnist might get a lot of silly, juvenile responses in the online Comments section? (Unlike anyone else opining in the Prince, who would only receive thoughtful, civil, and judicious commentary?) Or is there something more pernicious going on? Do the members of the Anscombe Society need to meet in secret, for fear of being “outed” on such an inhospitable campus? Back in my day, the Gay Alliance of Princeton held its social functions on the top floor of the New South Building, far away from the center of undergraduate life. There were reasons for that, aside from the lovely view. Do Professors George and Londregan actually have evidence that this kind of “marginalization” is occurring with students who embrace “chastity, modesty, and related virtues”? If so, I’d love to see some concrete examples.

Professors George and Londregan begin by decrying the “hookup culture” and propose a new initiative to combat it and to balance out the supposed support of this culture by university-sponsored organizations. They name their proposed entity the “Love and Fidelity Center” – “love and fidelity” meant, apparently, to convey “traditional norms of sexual morality.” I’m still not sure which university entities they see their center as balancing. As far as I’ve been able to gather from my admittedly distant perch, Princeton’s Women’s Center, LGBT Center, and SHARE program don’t advocate for promiscuity, nor do they mock or demean celibacy. But I'd welcome further enlightenment on this point; if Professors George and Londregan have evidence that any of these entities are in fact promoting promiscuous sexual behavior, I’d be interested to hear about it.

Princeton’s LGBT Center does, of course, refuse to see homosexuality as immoral. If that’s what Professors George and Londregan have a problem with – the existence of a university-sponsored entity that accepts moral values different from their own – then I wish they’d come right out and say it, instead of getting me all excited about the university’s support for a wild “hookup culture.” And perhaps they could consider the legitimacy of all those university-sponsored entities that accept moral values different from *mine* -- for example, the "large number" of university chaplaincies and religious organizations that promote viewpoints that are in radical opposition to my own understanding of The Good.

-- Madeleine Picciotto '78

 
At April 30, 2009 at 1:20 AM , Anonymous Madeleine Picciotto said...

My goodness, the Princeton of 2009 is apparently a very different place from the one I attended in my youth. Of course I’m intrigued by the new-fangled “hookup culture” that one hears so much about these days (Professors George and Londregan have certainly helped me to understand it by presenting it as a latter-day embodiment of The Playboy Philosophy). But I’m especially interested in “the University’s establishment and maintenance of a large number of centers and institutions perceived, not unreasonably, as promoting beliefs and values that are sharply at variance” with the views of “students who believe in traditional norms of sexual morality.” Apparently, “many” of these university centers “have to do with sexuality.”

Is it really true that the university is sponsoring numerous institutional entities that promote values at odds with “traditional norms of sexual morality”? Wow! Back in my day we had the Women’s Center – which didn’t have much to do with sexual morality, but which did provide a space where it was safe to be a feminist. And we had the Gay Alliance of Princeton – which didn’t promote hooking up, or promiscuity, or really any form of sexual behavior or lack thereof, but which did provide a space where it was safe to identify as queer. And of course there was SECH (Sexuality Education, Counseling, and Health), a division of the University Health Services – which didn’t advocate in favor of or against any particular sexual morality, but which recognized the reality of college students’ lives and offered information, education, protection, and health care for those who were in fact sexually active. Thirty years ago, that was about it. I’d love to know about how things have changed – about this “large number” of university-sponsored entities that “have to do with sexuality” and that are at odds with “traditional norms of sexual morality.” I’ve searched the Web, and I can’t seem to find them.

I’m also curious about the ways in which those students who do accept “traditional norms of sexual morality” feel “pressured to conform or else keep their mouths shut.” Does this mean that,
say, if someone writes a column in the Prince arguing for the value of chastity, the columnist might get a lot of silly, juvenile responses in the online Comments section? (Unlike anyone else opining in the Prince, who would only receive thoughtful, civil, and judicious commentary?) Or is there something more pernicious going on? Do the members of the Anscombe Society need to meet in secret, for fear of being “outed” on such an inhospitable campus? Back in my day, the Gay Alliance of Princeton held its social functions on the top floor of the New South Building, far away from the center of undergraduate life. There were reasons for that, aside from the lovely view. Do Professors George and Londregan actually have evidence that this kind of “marginalization” is occurring with students who embrace “chastity, modesty, and related virtues”? If so, I’d love to see some concrete examples.

Professors George and Londregan begin by decrying the “hookup culture” and propose a new initiative to combat it and to balance out the supposed support of this culture by university-sponsored organizations. They name their proposed entity the “Love and Fidelity Center” – “love and fidelity” meant, apparently, to convey “traditional norms of sexual morality.” I’m still not sure which university entities they see their center as balancing. As far as I’ve been able to gather from my admittedly distant perch, Princeton’s Women’s Center, LGBT Center, and SHARE program don’t advocate for promiscuity, nor do they mock or demean celibacy. But I'd welcome further enlightenment on this point; if Professors George and Londregan have evidence that any of these entities are in fact promoting promiscuous sexual behavior, I’d be interested to hear about it.

Princeton’s LGBT Center does, of course, refuse to see homosexuality as immoral. If that’s what Professors George and Londregan have a problem with – the existence of a university-sponsored entity that accepts moral values different from their own – then I wish they’d come right out and say it, instead of getting me all excited about the university’s support for a wild “hookup culture.” And perhaps they could consider the legitimacy of all those university-sponsored entities that accept moral values different from *mine* -- for example, the "large number" of university chaplaincies and religious organizations that promote viewpoints that are in radical opposition to my own understanding of The Good.

-- Madeleine Picciotto '78

 
At April 30, 2009 at 12:20 PM , Blogger Scott Weingart said...

"This culture is what it is, in part as a result of policies and practices of the University itself."

Post hoc, ergo propter hoc, much?

Suppose the University were to eliminate all of its sexual health programs, including the LGBT center. Would the "hook-up culture" would go away, or even be diminished? I doubt it.

 
At April 30, 2009 at 8:08 PM , Blogger Madeleine said...

Indeed, Scott. When I was an undergraduate thirty-plus years ago, the primary force in promoting a so-called "hookup culture" (alas, we didn't have that evocative phrase in our vocabulary back then) was The Street. I'd be surprised if that's changed much. Which makes me wonder why Professor George and his minions don't spend their energies on supporting, furthering, and giving credit to university-sponsored initiatives that challenge the social dominance of the clubs - e.g. the four year colleges, Murray Dodge Cafe, etc. If someone *really* wants to provide alternatives to the "hookup culture," it seems to me like that would be a good place to start.

 
At April 30, 2009 at 10:34 PM , Blogger PeterW said...

"But it strikes us as odd to call for a moratorium on creating such “islands” just at the point at which students whose beliefs and values run contrary to politically correct sensibilities begin asking for a center that will support their particular needs."

Well said, Professors! Alas, it seems that ideology is trumping concern for fellow students here; the feminists of this board view those who wish for a "Love and Fidelity Center" as opponents, and therefore reflexively want to deny them this center. We should come together as students and recognize the needs of those who disagree with us.

 

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