I am certainly a big fan of Rod Dreher, author of “The Benedict Option” among so many other things, and so when I saw that he had written a piece on DePauw University and the racial issues that have popped up there, I looked forward to reading his take.
After reading his post, I would say, though, that some of it misses the mark.
Some of Dreher’s thoughts are certainly on target
1) The University is, in a sense, destroying itself. As with the entire secularist agenda, it is REALLY easy to tear something down, but what is to be built in its place? A situation where chaos is acceptable every time there is a grievance leads to chaos on a massive scale. But “Chaos University” or (to take it to the governmental national level) “The United States of Chaos”, is not a place where people CAN live, and certainly not a place where people WANT to live. Institutions (universities, states, companies, nations, etc.) have to both allow for protest, but also draw lines and say “there are also laws and due process”. The French Revolution showed us what happens when things are ruled via a mob mentality – 10,000 a day killed by the guillotine. Western liberalism rightly steered away from that approach.
2) The sad thing is that SOME (if not most or even all) of these ideas are being taught to students from WITHIN the University. So the university is teaching its students the ideas that are destroying the university.
3) Dreher also rightly points out that the University telling white people what they shouldn’t do (under the label “white fragility”), has an inherent and thus HIGHLY problematic flaw. Here’s the excerpt from a DePauw email: “WHITE FRAGILITY TAKES THE FORM OF RAGE, ANXIETY, GUILT, FEAR, TEARS, REFUSALS TO ENGAGE, WILLFUL IGNORANCE, SILENCE, INTELLECTUALIZING, SEEKING COMFORT, ARGUMENTATION, AND LEAVING/OPTING OUT OF DIFFICULT DIALOGUES AND SITUATIONS.”
The problem with this is, of course, that the responses described in the email cover EVERY possible response. So, according to this email, no matter what a white student does, it is wrong. This email from the DePauw administration is literally setting up every white person for failure. This is, as Dreher points out, sheer lunacy, and, far from helping, this email literally makes the problem worse because a person who is upset can point to every white student on campus, and, under the rubric of this email, claim “That person is GUILTY!”
But here is where I diverge from Dreher.
1) As a factual correction, all of the incidents DID occur on campus. The nature park, the “Inn at DePauw” and the “Fluttering Duck” are all elements that are a part of the campus. None of the incidents were “off campus”.
2) More importantly as a rebuttal, though, is that racism is a serious problem in the communities I serve (two neighboring parishes in addition to DePauw). As I shared in my homily this weekend, I am the Catholic chaplain at the local state prison, and in my annual training update there a few months ago, we went through all the gangs that are currently operating in the prison. They showed us tattoos and behaviors unique to each gang. They went through the Hispanic gangs, then the African American gangs, etc. The thing that I found to be really surprising: there are twice as many white supremacist gangs as there are any other type of gang. Racism is certainly real and present in our communities.
The Archbishop of Indianapolis recently wrote a letter talking about the issues he sees in our communities (drug use, abortion, euthanasia, gun violence, how immigrants and refugees are viewed and treated) and he identified racism as one of those issues that we still battle in our Archdiocese.
So my main concern is that all the instances of racism seemed to be either minimized by Dreher or even possibly explained away completely. I don’t have nearly as hopeful a belief about these incidents. When students say that there have been white people in pick up trucks yelling things at students of color, the proper response isn’t to minimize that at all, but to instead stand in solidarity with those students and to ask them how we can help.
A final conclusion, if I may. While standing in solidarity with those who are affected, we can and should propose again the Christian message by asking the question to everyone: “What is a path forward?” “Where can we get the language that will show us a way forward?” “On what can we build again a culture of unity?” And the answer to that seems to me to be exactly the revolutionary proposal of Christ in the Gospels, echoed throughout the New Testament letters, the early Church, the saints, the Catechism, the social doctrine of the Church, and Archbishop Thompson: the COMPLETELY RADICAL and, until the appearance of Jesus of Nazareth, completely unheard of notion that EVERY human person has EQUAL dignity and the fact that every human person has dignity completely changes EVERYTHING!
We recognize that elements of the Truth are found in other faith traditions, but in this area in particular, the Christian proposal to the world stands out and needs repeated: there is no other credible way to build a system around the dignity of the human person without the foundational notion that the dignity of every person comes from the fact that they are created in the image and likeness of God.
Some will say, “Slow down there, Catholics, you all have failed in this realm of racism too!” To that we say, “We know, and we’re deeply saddened by the failures of the past and present, but we have these teachings not about things we’re all living perfectly but about things we still FAIL at. If they were things that we all could do automatically without teaching and guidance, we wouldn’t need the teaching. But we can also note that the criticism of the behavior of those who’ve failed in the past comes FROM the Christian notions of right and wrong. Put another way, the very notion of racism would not have even have been developed if not for the completely radical teaching of Jesus Christ and His Church on the dignity of the human person.
This seems like the discussion to be having with the form of liberalism that has stripped itself of its Christian roots. It seems like the best way to have that discussion is to start by standing alongside those who are expressing hurt and grievances, and, while standing alongside them, start to have the discussions about how we go about reestablishing a greater respect for every human person once again!