UD deserves commendation, not eulogization

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Photo by Peter Burleigh

I am not a legacy student, yet I have come to find tradition here at the University of Dallas among its imperfections and nuances. I find it imperfect, but transformative nonetheless. 

I am not blind to the in-fighting in the all-faculty emails last summer, the debates over transgenderism or the controversy that erupted in the student government senate due to the Student Leaders for Racial Solidarity club’s proposal last fall. I not only witnessed these issues, I also reported on many of them. 

Because I reported on these issues, I feel I have a unique perspective in the debate about what makes UD worthy of preservation. 

In an article in the National Catholic Reporter titled: “The end of something precious: What happened to the University of Dallas?,” alumna Valerie Schultz writes a farewell―an obituary to the university that she used to know. 

As a current student, I find that Schultz’s perspective lacks the necessary context on which her claims on the condition of UD’s dialogue depend. She has not been witness to the struggles that our students have experienced in the last several years, especially this last one. Nor has she been privy to conversations and debates that have encapsulated our student culture.

For some, UD is a place where competing ideas are free to reign. For others still, they don’t feel safe to express themselves fully. I stand in the middle of these two perspectives and I am here to say that, despite all this, I think UD is worth loving and preserving. 

UD is a place where I found faith again, a place where I was allowed to dream and think big, a place that held me during my broken hours and a place that guided me through difficult journeys. 

In my three-year experience at UD, I have gone from hating the university to cherishing her. She took me in after I watched my parents’ marriage fall apart after 22 years. She expanded my mind, challenged every fundamental ideal I had, gave me a community that was challenging but loving, saw me through the deaths of loved ones and a trying medical condition. 

In short, regardless of its imperfections, UD has still loved me and cared for me despite my trials and flaws. 

As a Catholic school, we should remember that no perfect harmony or love can be achieved on this earth. It can only be strived for. 

Schultz is disappointed at controversy and disagreement, but isn’t that what we learn to do in our Core classes? In our first year as students, competing discourse challenges us. 

As we read Homer’s Iliad in our first year as students, we simultaneously read Plato’s Republic in which Socrates advocates for the censorship of the Homeric tradition. As students of the Core, we read Marx alongside Locke and a number of other competing philosophies.  

UD is in a unique position, as are all schools that value the Western Tradition and Catholic values. While students and faculty on any side of the issues are asking good questions, they often fail to rise to the level of discourse of which they are capable.

We have witnessed this failing in our public discourse and actions in this past year. We have not engaged with each other in the manner that we have been taught. We have failed to both act in good faith and to trust the good faith of our university community. 

Despite this, I have faith that with a little more practice and more trust in each other, we can be a model for discourse in our nation, and not an echo chamber. 

I am deeply concerned that some who say they love this school seek to abolish it.

When alumni like Schultz, who claim that they love UD, seek to convince the world that their university (the university which has instructed me, saved me and developed me into a whole individual) has strayed from its mission, I think it important that we call their bluff. 

In Schultz’s article, she references President Donald Cowan’s 1977 Convocation address, which argues that intellectus and caritas are inherently inseparable. 

Cowan said: “I have spoken of this campus as an intellectual community because it is the search for the intellect that brings us into common purpose.” 

Schultz’s obituary to UD posits that the university that Cowan spoke of in his ‘77 address has forgotten its identity. Schultz claims that the community I inhabit now is missing the curiosity and love that once defined it. 

Schultz’s account defends its claims with two highly contentious events that sparked categorical disagreement on campus. Schultz seems to claim that this categorical disagreement occurred because the intellectus of our common community has vanished since her departure.

I disagree. There was such vehement disagreement on these issues at UD precisely because our university is strong, curious and full of brilliant intellects. 

If the intellect has no boundaries–as Cowan states in his address–we must dare to disagree with each other if we are to pursue the truth. 

Schultz does not hear the conversations that I hear. Through their conversations, our students challenge their own views on the Black Lives Matter movement, transgenderism, LGBTQ+ rights, Catholicism, climate change and many other contentious issues. These are students who, according to mainstream views, ought to ideologically hate each other, but yet often find themselves logically debating such issues with beers in their hands. 

Last fall, I witnessed productive conversations about human dignity and racial solidarity from those on the Left and the Right. These conversations stung and burned people from time to time, but the community discussed its disagreements and everyone was made better through them. 

These types of conversations, where people who disagree vehemently on fundamental matters can engage in discussion as friends who seek the truth are all but extinct in our culture. Yet, they remain alive and well here at UD.

This is not to say that even in my own perhaps romatized perspective all students are free from discrimination. These concerns remain and must be addressed. 

I am particularly sympathetic to our LGBTQ+ students at UD. When I first arrived here, it was not the straight students who opened their arms to me, it was the LGBTQ+ students. UD has a long way to go to open these dialogues and channels of communication when it comes to that community especially. 

However, we as a student body should not stop having these conversations about race and gender identity. There are legitimate and fundamental disagreements about sexual orientation, gender identity and real concerns about the effects of critical race theory. 

I can’t help but thank you, UD, for enabling us and teaching us how to actually have disagreements, debates and honest conversations about these difficult matters. 

We are living in a nation of increased censorship from our government and corporations. UD ought not to succumb to secular culture’s censorship because limited discourse will not make our conversations more productive. Silence will not aid in the pursuit of truth. 

UD is precious because it refuses to be censored by internal or external threats. 

Schultz’s article did get something right, though: UD creates leaders. UD creates leaders with whom I am proud to serve on both sides of the aisle. UD creates leaders who question everything, who don’t always get it right, but always aspire to Veritatem, Justitiam Diligite.” 

The late Dr. John Alvis closed his 1989 King Haggar speech with some striking advice for our university: “We fight to win. But some losing battles are worth the fighting if they witness to a purpose which might inspire better-equipped armies to fight in the same cause and which, by bringing the margin of high-heartedness to their stronger forces, might enable those who come after to prevail.” 

UD hasn’t died as Schultz posits; however, if UD is forced to be silent on matters where there are fundamental disagreements, it surely will perish because our legacy is one of discord and not of silence.

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