Colleges today urge students to be inclusive of all people, opinions, and choices. But at a Catholic university, the pursuit of inclusivity for its own sake presents a number of dangers.
The University of Notre Dame's 2021 freshman orientation provides an example. Every fall at Notre Dame, a volunteer group of returning students serves as a “Welcome Week Committee.” These students help incoming freshmen settle into their dorms the weekend before classes begin. This year, the university renamed the group the “St. Andre Committee.” St. Andre Bessette is the only canonized member of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, the religious order that founded Notre Dame. During his life, St. Andre was the doorkeeper of his community of Holy Cross priests and brothers.
At a pre-Welcome Week meeting for the volunteers, Lauren Donahue, program director for new student engagement at Notre Dame, encouraged student volunteers to embody the spirit of the committee's namesake—to welcome the class of 2025 the same way St. Andre welcomed visitors to his own community.
“St. Andre took on this ministry of welcoming people at the door,” she said. “He was able to have a very profound impact on people's lives in the simplest ways . . . in leading and taking on these small tasks with zeal, in creating a space that was inclusive and kind and welcoming for folks—a place where they felt safe and comfortable.”
She went on to tell the volunteers that in order to be inclusive in the spirit of St. Andre, one must not assume anything about anyone else's identity. Donahue stated, “Not assuming that all of our students are straight, not assuming the gender of our students or their identity in a variety of ways—so really being conscientious of the language that you use—I think is key and goes a long way.” During Welcome Week, the volunteers were instructed to wear rainbow-colored “Ally” pins.
In an interview with the Irish Rover, an independent newspaper run by Notre Dame undergraduates, Donahue explained:
I view my work as honoring the inherent dignity that every individual has in the likeness and image of God, and I think conversations about allyship and inclusion go hand in hand to that for me. The characteristics of what it means to be an ally and what it means to be inclusive feels incredibly rooted in the way that I live out my Catholic faith, and I think it is one that the university strives for similarly—that all are welcome at the Eucharistic table. If you imagine the way that Jesus broke bread, who he was breaking bread with was just incredibly inclusive.
St. Andre is indeed a model for Christians. He exemplified Christian love by welcoming individuals at the door and caring for their needs. But this did not mean that he affirmed all the choices and decisions of those he encountered. “Woke” inclusivity, on the contrary, requires not only that we welcome all individuals, but that we affirm all their choices as righteous and all of their opinions as truth. The student ambassadors at Notre Dame were instructed that they must not assume anything about anyone’s identity, regardless of the teachings of the Catholic faith. This creates a serious problem, especially when individual opinions and identities contradict Catholic teaching.
If one follows the logic of “woke” inclusivity to its conclusion, the only truth will be that there is no absolute truth. The Catholic Church holds that there is objective truth that exists outside of personal, subjective opinion. She holds that there are objective natural goods, as well as the objective supernatural good of salvation in Christ—one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. These are goods that are true in all times and places and that the Church offers to all people.
In many ways, the University of Notre Dame affirms these goods. A great many faculty members and students who attend Notre Dame are passionate about their faith, and that faith informs their pursuit of truth and knowledge. Notre Dame also maintains a vibrant sacramental life. Over three dozen Masses are said on campus every Sunday during the academic year. When I arrived on campus, peers invited me to attend daily Mass and join the pro-life club. Like St. Andre, my fellow students invited me into the truth that the Church professes.
Unfortunately, by carelessly using a buzzword such as “inclusion” to introduce new students to campus, the university works against the teachings of the faith for which it stands. The University of Notre Dame is a place of academic rigor and spiritual flourishing. But if the university meets the next generation of students at the door with the contradictions and false premises of woke “inclusivity,” how will they learn to pursue goodness and truth?
William DeReuil is an undergraduate student at the University of Notre Dame and the executive editor for the Irish Rover.
First Things depends on its subscribers and supporters. Join the conversation and make a contribution today.
Click here to make a donation.
Click here to subscribe to First Things.