Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A response from Josh and Amelia

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. We also posted their first response, which can be read here. This is the second response from Josh and me. Please comment and participate - this is your discussion too. Our response, in full, is below.

Dear Professors George and Londregan,

Thank you for your thoughtful response to our letter. We are glad that we can engage productively on what we clearly both see to be a matter of great concern to the Princeton University community. In the interest of moving quickly to a productive response, we will immediately address the points in your letter where we disagree.

We advocated for a campus culture of openness about sexuality. You responded that although you were not personally interested in this open discussion, you "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..." While we do not want to turn this into a philosophical discussion about the abstract possibility of moral truth, we are skeptical about the way that you have deployed reason in the service of a perspective that is so highly politicized. Is it really appropriate to suggest "debating" about a sexual ethic? Does this not assume that students are entering the discussion with fully formed arguments and opinions about a subject which is fraught with political significance? A "debate" about the "truth" of a sexual ethic would exclude all students who are still struggling to form their sexual identity; those students, we would argue, comprise the majority of the Princeton community.

The essence of our disagreement lies with your assertion that "...we are not dealing with mutually exclusive options," and "the establishment of a Love and Fidelity Center would in no way hinder such discussions [of sexuality]." While we respect both the values that you defend and the logic with which you have structured your proposal, we find it disappointing that you give so little concern to the possibility of unintended consequences of the establishment of such a politically charged University institution. While we accept as legitimate the needs of the students for whom you are advocating, we believe that your solution would have damaging ramifications for the University community as a whole.

The current state of affairs is that student discussions about sex largely take place in informal contexts; the way we speak about sexuality is really little more than gossip. In this dishonest discourse, the hookup culture is a myth that is created and perpetuated by students looking to impress their peers. As we have discussed, the state of our dialogue about sex is damaging to the vast majority of students, who don't wish to engage in the mythologized hookup culture, but see no viable alternatives. Students are forced to choose between two extremes: the hookup culture, and the traditional sexual ethic proposed by the students who would support a Love and Fidelity Center. If a Love and Fidelity Center were established at Princeton, it would simply legitimize this binary and thus marginalize a significant proportion of the student population. This would silence, rather than enhance, discourse about a sexual ethic other than the hookup culture, because of the perceived extremity of the Love and Fidelity Center.

This all depends, of course, on the form that the Love and Fidelity Center takes. As we have seen, we agree strongly in our support for a change in campus culture that addresses the hookup culture, which we perceive to be damaging. However, and we apologize if we have misunderstood your proposal, a center that supports students living lives according to a narrow set of moral principles, which hold that sex is ethical only in the context of (heterosexual) marriage, is indeed exclusionary. The fact that you suggest that this center would be a space for "students who are struggling to lead lives of integrity" is problematic, for it suggests that the many students who do not hold the very specific set of beliefs that you seem to accept are not living with integrity. Integrity is a core value of the University community, and it is unfair to claim the exclusive privilege to define it for a wide range of students with different backgrounds. We would wholeheartedly accept a space for people looking to live sexual lives of integrity, but although we deeply respect those who choose to live according to the traditional sexual ethic that you defend, we cannot accept the possibility of the University institutionalizing a particular definition of integrity that is as narrow as the one that you seem to advocate. It is certainly true that such an institution would provide real services to the students with these values. However, the great number of students who are deeply committed to a high standard of integrity are at risk of being silenced.

Sincerely,
Joshua and Amelia

9 Comments:

At May 6, 2009 at 8:44 PM , Anonymous AC said...

Oh puh-leeze. As though the LGBT isn't exclusionary, or for that matter how many men would feel a welcoming atmosphere in the Women's Center (when occupied)? Just because these people disagree with you doesn't mean they don't deserve a space of their own.

 
At May 6, 2009 at 9:16 PM , Anonymous Dan said...

Josh and Amelia,

You say "Students are forced to choose between two extremes...". First of all, I don't see why this is so. Who or what is forcing them to choose only from extremes? Secondly, I find it problematic that you characterize the "traditional sexual ethic" as extreme while simultaneously claiming that you "deeply respect" those who want to live by that ethic.

I am at a loss to understand why you are so afraid of this proposal, and even more fundamentally, why you are so afraid of "deploying reason". It is precisely through the process of debating ideas that students will arrive at "fully formed arguments and opinions". Indeed, one can hardly claim to have arrived at an informed opinion until one has fully deployed reason and debated with those who hold very different opinions.

 
At May 6, 2009 at 10:00 PM , Anonymous Chloe said...

AC, I'm a straight woman who's hung out at and felt very comfortable at the LGBT centre. LGBT peer educators are training in making people feel comfortable and included, and they do their job very well. As a member of the Women's Centre and someone who has attended and organized a number of events with them, I can say from firsthand experience that men are most welcome there too. These two centres are exclusive only in that they exclude bigotry, bias, intolerance and discrimination, and no one could honestly argue that it's a mistake to exclude those.
A Love and Fidelity Center would be based on a view of the world that condemns and excludes the LGBT community. Sure, it would
welcome them, but only if they were willing to deny and repress their identity.
I disagree with the worldview on which a Love and Fidelity Center would be based (also with the name, which implies that gays, lesbians and anyone else who has premarital sex is incapable of love or fidelity), but that's not why I oppose it. I oppose it because, unlike the LGBT Center or the Women's Center, it doesn't preach mutual tolerance or respect. It simply demands tolerance and respect for its own views without reciprocating - in fact, it demands that the Princeton community be tolerant of its hateful and exclusionary intolerance. And as a member of the Princeton community, I refuse.
It would be a huge mistake - a shame and a disservice to the student body - for Princeton to allow such exclusion and intolerance to be institutionalized.

 
At May 7, 2009 at 1:31 AM , Anonymous Emily said...

"In this dishonest discourse, the hookup culture is a myth that is created and perpetuated by students looking to impress their peers.... If a Love and Fidelity Center were established at Princeton, it would simply legitimize this binary and thus marginalize a significant proportion of the student population."

EXACTLY.

 
At May 7, 2009 at 12:52 PM , Anonymous Dan said...

Chloe,

I see no reason to assume that a Love and Fidelity Center would be "hateful", "exclusionary", or "intolerant". Those are your labels for people who embrace a worldview which differs from yours.

Saving sex for marriage is damn difficult. It requires a strong commitment to one's worldview, and that strong commitment can at times appear intolerant of other worldviews. By opposing the proposal for a Love and Fidelity Center, you seem to be suggesting that no one should be allowed to have that kind of commitment, because it might hurt the feelings of those who don't.

 
At May 7, 2009 at 3:25 PM , Anonymous Chloe said...

@Dan:
Uh, no. Those are my words for a worldview that hates and excludes the LGBT community.
If the center were just about abstinence until marriage, that would be different. But it's about abstinence until marriage, coupled with denying non-heterosexual people the right to marry. It's about telling gays and lesbians that their attractions are sinful and wrong and should therefore be repressed not just until marriage (because apparently gays and lesbians don't deserve to marry), but forever.
So yes, a "strong commitment" to the worldview on which a "Love and Fidelity" Center would be founded "can at times appear intolerant of other worldviews." And that's because it is. I'm not opposing the Center because it might offend people who lack that strong commitment, I'm opposing it because it WOULD offend those people who it condemns and excludes (and all their loving friends).

 
At May 7, 2009 at 8:10 PM , Anonymous Dan said...

Chloe,

The Center would not "condemn and exclude" the LBGT community, nor would it "condemn and exclude" the much larger community of heterosexuals who engage in non-marital sex, nor anybody else. This Center is rather about providing a supportive environment for those who believe they ought to save sex for marriage, and for those who want to understand why this might be a way of life worthy of their consideration. I expect there are many others who would choose not to go there, not because they would be excluded, but because the Center would not serve their needs and interests. No one would condemn them for making that choice.

Are you saying you *would* support the Center if it favoured gay marriage, but still insisted that sex before marriage is wrong (for everyone, gay and straight)? If that is the case, I think it is important for you to actually make that statement.

 
At May 7, 2009 at 8:53 PM , Anonymous Chloe said...

@Dan:
The center would be less problematic were it to approve of gay marriage, but still not without its problems. For example, if it passed the moral judgment "that sex before marriage is wrong (for everyone, gay and straight)" then it would still be excluding and condemning a large proportion of the campus community (not to mention 95% of Americans).

Also, most abstinence-only sex education materials denigrate people - OK, let's be honest, women - who have premarital sex, and reinforce ideas about gender and sex. It's hard to imagine that a "Love and Fidelity" center wouldn't do the same.

So while the clear exclusion of the LGBT community is my biggest objection to such a center, it's far from my only objection.

 
At May 8, 2009 at 6:40 PM , Anonymous Dan said...

Chloe,

When someone believes they should live their life in a certain way and explains to those who want an explanation why they believe this... that is *not* the same thing as condemning and excluding persons who choose to live their life in a different way! This is not about condemning anyone. It's about trying to figure out the meaning of human sexuality and trying to figure out the best way to live it going forward. It's about the participants in that discussion trying to figure it out for themselves and amongst themselves, rather than trying to figure it out for (and from) other people who have vastly different starting assumptions and therefore have not chosen to be part of that discussion.

Contrast this with your own statements, which effectively condemn anyone who believes they have good reasons for avoiding non-marital sex, because those reasons, in your view, would offend anyone who engages in non-marital sex. Thus, it seems to me that what you really object to is other people taking a moral position that differs from yours. Denying the Center to those whose needs it would address amounts to imposing *your* ideology on everyone else.

Furthermore, the Center is *not* intended to be aligned with mainstream behaviour. It is intended to support a minority, and to represent that minority point of view. Thus, it is irrelevant to argue that the Center would not reflect the behaviour of the majority, or that it would not serve the needs of the majority.

Finally, I question your blanket statement that "most abstinence-only sex education materials denigrate people... who have premarital sex...". Are you sufficiently familiar with the whole universe of abstinence-only sex education materials to be able to justify that assertion? Even if this were true, there is nothing to justify your suggestion that the Center would do the same.

 

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