Students press Notre Dame to adopt anti-porn WiFi filter

Students press Notre Dame to adopt anti-porn WiFi filter

Students press Notre Dame to adopt anti-porn WiFi filter

(Credit: Stock image.)

Student activists say Notre Dame is refusing to adopt an anti-porn filter for its on-campus WiFi system.

SOUTH BEND, Indiana – Two students at the University of Notre Dame published an op-ed in the student newspaper Wednesday alleging that Father John Jenkins, Notre Dame’s president, has “rejected a student petition calling for a pornography filter on Notre Dame’s Wi-Fi.”

Senior Jim Martinson and sophomore Ellie Gardey, president and vice president of a student group on campus called Students for Child-Oriented Policy (SCOP) charge in the letter that their efforts over the past year to push for a Wi-Fi filter to discourage pornography consumption was ultimately rejected by the administration.

Upon request for comment, Paul Browne, Notre Dame’s vice president of communications, told Crux via email that the university “condemns and abhors” pornography as “an exploitative menace.”

“Our Office of Information Technology has the capacity to assist students in electing for filters on individual computers or phones,” the statement reads. “Notre Dame is happy to assist in that regard. However, we expect our students and others not to patronize pornographic sites in the first place.”

While Notre Dame has a written policy forbidding the use of the campus network to access illicit material, it is loosely enforced. In 2016, a graduate student who lived on-campus was found guilty and sentenced on two counts of possessing child pornography that he had downloaded on Notre Dame’s network.

“I thought Notre Dame already had a policy on the books that says students aren’t allowed to access this, and I knew that Holy Cross, [Notre Dame’s] brother college across the street, had already implemented this 13 years ago,” Martinson told Crux. “It just seemed so obvious for a Catholic university to implement something like this.”

Beginning last October with a letter penned in the campus newspaper, The Observer, titled “The men of Notre Dame request a porn filter,” SCOP’s campaign has accumulated more than 14,000 signatures in support and received national media attention — which ultimately led to a meeting with Jenkins on Feb. 5.

A day prior, a safe internet advocacy non-profit, “Enough is Enough,” penned a letter to Jenkins asking him “to listen to the call of these courageous students to make the University of Notre Dame a safe and wholesome environment.”

Martinson and Gardey claim in dialogue with the administration about the scope and implementation of a filter that Jenkins ultimately took a hard-line stance on an “opt-in” filter, in which students could sign up for an internet filter, with an accompanying awareness campaign. Jenkins also later responded to the letter from Enough is Enough on March 7, stating “we do not believe a mandatory filter is the best solution for us.”

In their letter to The Observer, Martinson and Gardey express their concern with such a stance.

“An ‘opt-in’ filter would send the message that degrading others, especially women, is merely a matter of individual choice. It makes what should be the expectation and standard of conduct — protecting and respecting human dignity — an option,” the letter states.

Martinson questioned Notre Dame’s commitment to assist its students.

“Father Jenkins and his head of public affairs can condemn pornography publicly, but it is hypocritical to describe pornography as ‘an exploitative menace’ and continue to provide it to students,” he told Crux.

“At Notre Dame, it’s laughable that they have a rule on the books that says students are not allowed to access pornography [when] studies in the past have shown that 63 percent of male students have accessed pornography at least once on the university Wi-Fi,” Martinson said.

“Nobody’s following the rules, and they know this, because all they have to do is look on their data and see that people are accessing it all the time, yet they choose to ignore the issue.”

The student push at Notre Dame has sparked similar efforts elsewhere. In April, Catholic University of America’s student senate passed a resolution asking for the administration to impose a filter to block the top 200 pornography sites from the campus network.

Last week, CUA’s president, John Garvey, published a column in the Arlington Catholic Herald claiming he was “so proud” of the student effort, and that a filter “says that this is not the sort of relationship they should be looking for, and we’re not going to lend our system to help them find it.”

Martinson told Crux that in the conversation with Jenkins, Notre Dame’s president had expressed serious doubts about other Catholic universities pursuing a filter.

“I told him, ‘if you do this, other universities will follow suit,’ and he said, ‘No, they’re not. They’re not going to’,” Martinson said. “The fact that CUA, after seeing us call for this, chose to bring it to their president, and the president applauds them and supports them, I think it does bring hope, and it shows that Father Jenkins is wrong.”

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