To The President of Sacred Heart University

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To Dr. Petillo:

As a student, I am deeply disappointed, dismayed, and angered by the decision to permit Donald Trump to use the Pitt Center at Sacred Heart for a political rally. While I understand this was technically not a University sponsored event or an endorsement, the public association between the Trump campaign and Sacred Heart University has now been made and cannot be undone. Inviting or permitting figures to appear on campus who may be controversial in order to promote lively discussion and debate is indeed a noble endeavor and one which challenges those of us in the University community to examine our individual beliefs and continue to form our individual consciences. But at the same time, every speaker, every event held on campus is a statement about our collective University conscience. It reveals a part of who we are as a community.

We have dorms on this campus named after Pope John XXIII and Pope Francis. Pope John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council with high hopes of promoting Christian unity, fostering ecumenism, and deepening the respect for the dignity of the human person. Pope Francis has called us to embrace, welcome, and protect the poor, the marginalized, the refugees, the immigrants and the disabled. These are great men who by their words and example showed us how to be people of deep compassion, people who build Christian unity, who uphold human dignity and who foster understanding amongst all religions. This speaks to core beliefs that Sacred Heart University was founded upon.

Mr. Trump, by contrast, would ban an entire segment of our student body from even entering this country based solely on their Islamic religion, which is not only practiced by my fellow students, faculty and staff, but studied in our classrooms. To permit Mr. Trump to hold a rally on campus is a slap in the face of Islamic students and faculty advisors who have worked so very hard to promote interreligious dialogue and build understanding on this campus.

And what about our Latino and Hispanic population? Or those with disabilities? Or any of the other groups Mr. Trump has deemed worthy of his seemingly endless contempt? Mr. Trump’s outrageous statements are not isolated incidents of sarcasm or political missteps. He has, since the start of his campaign, been quite plain about who he is and what he stands for. He is more than controversial, he is divisive even within his own political party. He has shown himself to be unwilling or unable to take part in healthy, respectful dialogue and, as such, he has shown himself to be the anti-thesis of core values of this community.

Ultimately whether people choose to vote for him or not based on their individual beliefs about what would be best for this nation is immaterial when it comes to the University. We are not responsible for each individual’s conscience. We should be responsible, must be responsible, for defining who we are and what we stand for as a University community. Is our Catholic identity a deeply held conviction or a convenient slogan? Is Catholic social justice our calling and our mission or merely a marketing ploy? Is our prized Catholic Intellectual Tradition a tradition we hold sacred or a just good branding?

As Christians and Catholics we are called by Christ to be ‘in the world but not of the world.’ This decision and the lackluster explanation of it are most decidedly an example of being ‘of the world.’ The leadership of Sacred Heart University needs to do some serious soul searching and decide what matters most to this community. Are we willing to sell out all that we proclaim to be for an event fee? And if we are, do we really deserve to be called a Catholic institution?

Respectfully,

Christine J. Pelfrey, Class of 2018, Theology and Religious Studies Major

 

Connect or Dig?

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“One of the salient features of the modern world is the growing interdependence of men one on another, a development promoted chiefly by modern technological advances. Nevertheless brotherly dialogue among men does not reach its perfection on the level of technical progress, but on the deeper level of interpersonal relationships. These demand a mutual respect for the full spiritual dignity of the person. Christian revelation contributes greatly to the promotion of this communion between persons, and at the same time leads us to a deeper understanding of the laws of social life which the Creator has written into man’s moral and spiritual nature.” – Gaudium et Spes (December 7, 1965)

Reading this document, it’s hard to believe it wasn’t written a month or two ago. The understanding that dialogue isn’t improved by technical progress but by deeper interpersonal relationships is a frequent discussion in news articles and blog posts. In this time of text messages, emails, and social media, we can certainly say we have progressed in terms of technology but have we progressed in interpersonal relationships? I’m not so sure. I see many people who engage in monologues on social media, whether it be for political or religious purposes. People spend more time defining and defending their views than listening to others, which essentially eliminates the social from the term “social media.”

This climate of the monologue can lead people to surround themselves with only likeminded followers. The danger in this is that such behavior has the potential to amplify selfishness, racism, classism, homophobia, anti-religious attitudes and xenophobia. I’ve seen families and friendships torn apart by political arguments that started online. I’ve seen religious apologists who, rather than offer education and/or gentle repudiation of error, choose to condemn and demean those who have differing views, thereby all but guaranteeing they will win few new followers to their cause and more likely will alienate many.

At the same time, social media has the potential for good. I’ve seen GoFundMe accounts raise money for cancer treatments and other medical bills. Acts of kindness campaigns have taken off. Grass roots campaigns that would have had a much harder time spreading the word now grow overnight. I’ve also seen religious figures use social media to educate, encourage and start open discussions. The Slate Project’s #SlateSpeak is a personal favorite of mine for asking tough questions, sparking social justice discussions and encouraging action.

So how does all this digital interaction impact the dignity of the human person? It is possible to use social media to build the kind of interpersonal relationships that deepen our appreciation for other points of view and for social groups other than our own. This is the kind of deeper understanding that can overcome discrimination in all its forms. This is what can lead people to move beyond online posturing to actually working within their communities to meet the needs of the most vulnerable amongst us. Online connections can lead to in-person connections. In this way, the barriers, both real and imagined, between “us” and “them” can crumble. Granted, that is a hopeful, some would say idealistic, outlook. The same digital interaction can deepen paranoia and radical views of all types. It can spread hate and violence just as easily as love and understanding. It will depend on whether we choose to deepen the sense of brotherhood of all mankind or dig trenches for our own like social group. If we’re going to reach out to others, we have to put down our shovels first.