The Film, Television, and Theater (FTT) Department at the University of Notre Dame plans to host a drag show on Nov. 3. This event comes after a series of controversies in recent years as Notre Dame has grappled with its Catholic identity and the bounds of “academic freedom.”
Founded by a French missionary priest in 1842, the University of Notre Dame prides itself on roots in the Catholic intellectual tradition and calls its students to “be powerful forces for good in the world.” The school’s mission statement advocates for a university “dedicated to the pursuit and sharing of truth for its own sake.”
On Sept. 13, the school’s independent Catholic student newspaper, The Irish Rover, reported that the drag show was to take place following the conclusion of a one-credit class titled, “What a Drag: Drag on Screen — Variations and Meanings.”
The Rover interviewed the course instructor, Pamela Wojcik, professor of FTT and concurrent professor in the Department of Gender Studies. The class description states that “students will be asked to read essays on drag, write weekly reflections, attend class discussions, and attend weekly screenings, as well as a symposium on drag and performance on Friday, November 3, 2023.”
The event has since been confirmed by posters around campus advertising the performance which will feature drag artists “Blair St. Clair,” “London BaCall,” and “Cordelia,” a student performer. It is co-sponsored by the Departments of Music and American Studies, the College of Arts and Letters Initiative on Race and Resilience, the Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts, and the Gender Studies Program.
The Rover’s Editor-in-Chief Nico Schmitz published a column on Oct. 11 calling on “Students, faculty, and staff who care about preserving Notre Dame as an authentically Catholic institution [to] make their voices heard on the matter.”
He outlined the Catholic Church’s clear stance on issues of sexuality and rebuked the university for allowing this event to be held: “In supporting lies about the human person — lies that say men can be women and that a minstrel show of femininity is a legitimate art form — the university is not only actively working against her mission, but permitting irreparable damage to its community and image.”
Echoing Schmitz’s concerns, students at the Catholic university are campaigning to persuade the university administration to pull funding from the event. The form automates an email template directed to university President Father John Jenkins, Vice President of Student Affairs Father Gerry Olinger, Provost John McGreevy, Dean of the College of Arts and Letters Sarah Mustillo, and heads of the other co-sponsoring departments.
The email template asks that “The University’s invitation … be rescinded [and that] the University offer an apology, especially to her women, for ever considering such a degrading portrayal of femininity, and direct its funds to events that support authentic femininity and the dignity of the human person.”
Those who have emailed are receiving an automated response from the office of the president, stating that the school is committed to its mission as a Catholic university but defends the event on the grounds of “academic freedom” and “freedom of expression.”
“We defend this freedom even when the content of the presentation is objectionable to some or even many. The event you reference is part of a one-credit course in Film, Television and Theater on the history of drag, and the principle of academic freedom applies,” the president’s statement reads.
The very statement being used to justify the drag show under “academic freedom” also states that “the right of free expression does not, of course, extend to speech that threatens violence or constitutes harassment against an individual or a group. Such expressions violate University policies and will not be tolerated.”
Opponents of the performance argue that a drag show is a violation of this university policy because drag harasses and degrades women, perverting the truth of God’s creation of man and woman. After all, as a Catholic university, Notre Dame’s mission statement says, “The University is dedicated to the pursuit and sharing of truth for its own sake.”
More than 400 people have sent an email expressing opposition to date, but the university has yet to respond outside of its automated email or address whether it will pull funding from the performance. Students plan to host a rosary rally outside of the performance on Nov. 3 if the show is not canceled.