Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry overstepped some bounds in his campuswide e-mail Wednesday afternoon. The message urges students to “keep safe” and avoid situations that could lead to bad decisions, especially on Halloween weekend, which is always an active time on campus. That is fair enough. But that is not what we think about as we finish reading the e-mail. What we do hear is Dean Gentry preaching his philosophy of sexuality to the whole student body as dogma and as mature, sensible wisdom.
Nobody disagrees that sex ought to be consensual. But I am not alone in disagreeing with the affirmative attitude toward hookup culture and casual sex that a message like this promotes. It is nothing less than an ode sung to “glorious consensual sex.”
But not everybody believes that casual, or even premarital, sex is at all “glorious.” Nor should we need to have our opinions about it informed by the Yale administration. It is enough for them to remind us to keep safe and stay out of harmful situations. On the other hand, I would encourage a stronger and sterner stance against rape or unsolicited sexual advances, and I wish that the e-mail had made it clear that such behavior will not be tolerated. It would deliver the messages of keeping safe and promoting respect, and it would do so without indoctrinating the student body. But instead we are left with the reassurance that it is “our wish to … strengthen the resolve of those who are dedicated to finding just the right words that would lead to glorious, consensual sex.” So much for discouraging uncomfortable situations and unsolicited, persistent sexual advances.
The word “glorious” is used several times in the e-mail, and it betrays a forced and childish attempt to attribute transcendence, dignity and a sense of approbation to the message. We never say that we did “gloriously” on a midterm without the intention of being funny through exaggerated language. Why, then, would we have to try so hard in this case? We have a tendency to attribute a false transcendence to things that we feel uneasy about. We describe our Saturday nights as “epic,” and always have to reassure each other when relationships are strained: “No, we’re actually really good friends.” Of course, the look on our faces always shows that we know that we are kidding ourselves. There would be no need to decorate the message with such language if there were not something troubling at its core.
It is already difficult enough for students with chaste convictions to stand firmly against sexual indifference and the hookup culture at Yale. An e-mail like this only makes it harder for those of us who are easily discouraged in our convictions by showing that the administration, too, encourages promiscuity and an indifference towards sexual restraint.
As a final note, I would like to point out that Yale (or whomever “we” refers to in the second paragraph of the e-mail) has not, in fact, “introduced the idea that consensual sex could be glorious.” Humans have recognized the glory of sexual union for quite a long time. The reason “it seems that was a surprise to many” is that some people still recognize that sexual union has a proper place in which it is glorious, and it comes as a shock to them to see a Yale administrator taking an affirmative stance toward relativistic moral standards. Perhaps it will come as a surprise to many to see that Dean Gentry’s ideas about the giving, shared and joyful nature of sexual union can be found almost verbatim in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is true that we do often pick and choose which aspects of a moral law we wish to open our ears to. Of course, it was with words from Scripture that Satan tempted Jesus in the desert.
Eduardo Andino is a sophomore in Trumbull College.