Letter to the Editor

Last weekend, students threw a party which employed certain Catholic stereotypes and traditions as the party’s theme. The party organizers were clearly aware of the potentially offensive nature of their endeavor and they took some steps to reduce or eliminate the possibility of causing discomfort. They asked that people “think wisely” about the costumes they wore to the party, they articulated a desire to make the party be an event where people of all faiths felt comfortable, and they wanted guests to know that they were not trying to stigmatize one particular faith tradition.

The problem is, of course, stigmatizing one particular faith tradition is exactly what they were doing. It is not surprising that despite their articulated desires, people were offended. Of course they were! Some Catholics were offended, as were others who support the idea that whether or not you are a person of faith, people who are ought not be marginalized for this facet of their identity.

What’s more, the “disclaimers” which appeared in the party’s invitation puts the onus on the potentially offended to basically “get over it”.  The disclaimers reveal that the party organizers recognized the potentially offensive nature of their endeavor, but by saying “with this party we are not trying to stigmatize or make fun of any religious beliefs” they believed that they were somehow off the hook. It is as if any discomfort individuals might feel is now a problem with those individuals, not the party. Even after being in conversation with some of the party organizers, I still don’t understand how such disclaimers could be made while so clearly trivializing the traditions of one particular faith. Such statements ring hollow and are arguably more disturbing that simply owning the offensive nature of the activity. Nothing is protected from criticism on this campus, nor should it be. People have a right, if they so choose, to criticize, or to poke fun at anything : including religion. And while I’d like to think that living in this community in a responsible way would mean that people would not throw a party which marginalizes a particular group, the bottom line is: offensive parties can be thrown. But folks should know what they are doing and not pretend otherwise.

Fundamentally, I think (I want to think) that the discomfort caused to several people on this campus by the party was a result of ignorance and not malice. One’s motivations, however, do not change the end results. And because some Catholics might have attended the party and enjoyed themselves is, of course, irrelevant. Other folks were offended and it isn’t surprising and nothing can change that at this point. I’m disappointed that some students at Whitman would decide to make fun of Catholic practices. I’m baffled, however, that those students would think that they could do so without making some Catholics (and those who support all religious expression at Whitman) “uncomfortable”.

Sincerely,

Adam Kirtley

Coordinator of Religious and Spiritual Life