November 8th and 9th marked the Love and Fidelity Network’s 6th annual intercollegiate conference on Sexuality, Integrity, and the University. Among its attendees were students from nearly thirty-five schools including Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Dartmouth, Georgetown University, University of Virginia, and the University of Pittsburgh, just to name a few. As students, faculty, and ministry leaders eagerly filed into McCosh Hall the introductory remarks, Forging a New Counterculture by Dr. Matthew Franck, there was a sense of camaraderie and fellowship between both friends and strangers.
Drawing old friends and new faces to Princeton every year, the themes of the conference create a sense of familiarity among attendees as the realities of today’s declining campus culture grow increasingly apparent. As Matthew Franck put it:
“Young people are expected to be iconoclastic, to be rebellious and countercultural – to blaze new trails for themselves where their parents’ generation did not go. But in the present age, what does that mean? …Could it be that sexual integrity is the most radically countercultural choice of all?”
The challenge that students face on college campuses today is not only a challenge of upholding values (like the belief that marriage is between a man and a women or that randomly hooking up isn’t exactly the most promising way to end up in a happy, committed life-long relationship), but also a challenge of articulating one’s values and commitments publicly, among those whom students call friends. During the Q&A session after a panel discussion with Dr. Matthew O’Brien and Jennifer Marshall, a student had the courage to ask whether those who uphold traditional beliefs about marriage, as well as the dignity of human sexuality, can just sit back and wait for things to get better. Following laughs of support and remarks from the peanut gallery (“wouldn’t that be nice”), the concluding truth is that no, we cannot just sit back, whether in fear of speaking out or from lack of interest in becoming more involved in the seemingly unstoppable course of sexual havoc on college campuses. We must speak out. With delayed marriage at an all time high as Dr. Carroll pointed out in his talk, Knot Yet, it is clear that our society’s attitude towards marriage has not only changed but that the means to achieve marital happiness is being damaged.
We have seen on college campuses the broken relationships, the encouragement from peers to “do whatever” along with the endorsement of, or a blind eye towards campus pornography screenings, sex weeks with lectures on sex toys, condoms, orgasms, and a slew of other sexually-related lectures disguised under the term sex ed or sexual health on campus. It is from our American Universities and Colleges that students are allowed to expose their worst behaviors towards men and women in a perpetual cycle of promiscuous parties and binge drinking, fueled by the misconception that a little alcohol and an overcrowded room is the only (or only realistic) way for men and women to interact on campus. The idea of asking a girl to grab coffee during the week instead of handing her a beer at a party is just about as scary for men (so it would seem) as it would be for a woman to strike up a conversation with a guy instead of communicating messages by the clothes she is wearing.
But the Love and Fidelity Network’s Sexuality, Integrity, and the University conference asks us to think beyond what is going wrong on college campuses when it comes to men and women’s distorted view of relationship fulfillment, to ask the question, “how can we as young men and women in support of reshaping the campus conversation on issues of marriage, family, and the integrity of sex, make a difference?” And while it may seem daunting to form a group such as the Anscombe Society, to host renowned scholars and speakers such as Catherine Pakaluk, Donna Freitas, J. Budziszewski, Ryan Anderson, or Robert George, our college campuses need young leaders to arm themselves with the scholarly arguments that enrich the college conversation towards the dignity of human sexuality.
We must be, as Dr. Matthew Franck said, “countercultural” among our peers. To speak out when a friend is struggling with a damaging relationship and needs to get out, to help the roommate who struggles with an addiction to porn, and to live according to your values – that we may inspire others to expect more than what the hookup culture has to offer.