Two seniors at the University of Notre Dame are leading a group of concerned students in objecting to a university-sponsored drag show, set to be held on campus as part of a one-credit course.

In a letter to the editor published Oct. 24 in the Observer student newspaper, seniors Madelyn Stout and Merlot Fogarty said multiple students reached out to Father ​​Gerry Olinger, vice president of student affairs, to object to the planned Nov. 3 show, which is set to follow a symposium on “efforts to ban drag.” 

Olinger in his response defended the course and the show as being protected under the principle of academic freedom. The university has not responded to CNA’s request for further comment. 

Stout and Fogarty told CNA via email that they felt compelled to “stand up for the truth” as Catholics in favor of the Church’s teaching on sexuality, a teaching they say is degraded in drag shows, which generally feature males dressed as women dancing provocatively. 

The Nov. 3 show is planned as part of a course taught by Professor Pam Wojcik for a class titled “What a Drag: Drag on Screen — Variations and Meanings,” offered through the film, television, and theater department at Notre Dame, the Irish Rover reported.

Wojcik told the Rover in September that she hopes to “give students knowledge about an art form that has been misdescribed” and answer common misconceptions about drag, arguing that drag “won’t turn kids gay.” She claimed that it is “dangerous to put bans [on drag].”

Posters on Notre Dame’s campus advertise the show, saying that any member of the university community can attend with a free ticket. The posters do not mention the show’s connection to the course. 

A poster advertising a drag show on the University of Notre Dame's campus, offered as part of a one-credit course. Madelyn Stout
A poster advertising a drag show on the University of Notre Dame's campus, offered as part of a one-credit course. Madelyn Stout

In her email to Olinger, shared with CNA, Fogarty said that “university funding will be paying drag artists to come to Notre Dame, dress as women, defile femininity, and most importantly, promote the disordered ideology that gender and sexuality are fluid — in direct contradiction to the Catholic Church’s teaching.”

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“I understand that this class is being offered for the sake of learning, inquiry, and discussion,” Fogarty wrote to Olinger in the email. “The class is not where I take issue. My question is why (and how) can the university authorize funding for a large-scale performance event, within multiple academic departments, that harasses and objectifies women?” 

Olinger in his reply cited a February statement from outgoing university president Father John Jenkins in which the president emphasized the importance of academic freedom on campus. 

“This freedom in academic contexts is critical, and the university protects this freedom even when the content of the presentation is objectionable to some or even many. Because the event you reference is part of a one-credit course in film, television, and theater on the history of drag, the principle of academic freedom does apply in this instance,” Olinger wrote. 

Fogarty, the outgoing president of Notre Dame Right to Life, said she was “surprised” that Olinger, with whom she has a “good relationship” after working together on pro-life projects in the past, cited Jenkins’ statement in this instance. 

University of Notre Dame senior Merlot Fogarty. Courtesy of Merlot Fogerty
University of Notre Dame senior Merlot Fogarty. Courtesy of Merlot Fogerty

That particular statement, she said, was released in the milieu of a controversy at Notre Dame regarding a sociology professor’s alleged pro-abortion activism, including her alleged efforts to help students obtain both emergency contraception and abortifacients.

“I knew this statement was made to address the harassment that the professor was receiving for her pro-abortion stance … [but] I was infuriated about the fact that a professor who openly advertised access to chemical abortion pills was being protected by this statement, but an entire campus of women being mocked by this drag show were not,” Fogarty lamented. 

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Stout and Fogarty argued in their letter that drag shows amount to the harassment of women and thus do not fall under the umbrella of academic freedom. 

The young women expanded on their arguments in their emails to CNA, saying the dignity of the university’s namesake, Mary, “must be protected.”

“People care about the dignity and sanctity of women — and it’s been evident in the feedback I’ve received thus far,” Stout said. 

University of Notre Dame senior Madelyn Stout. Courtesy of Madelyn Stout
University of Notre Dame senior Madelyn Stout. Courtesy of Madelyn Stout

“I’ve been accused of spreading homophobic rhetoric and of ignoring how the art form of drag is a realization of what ‘it truly means to be a woman.’ As a young woman who faces a world in which the very essence of womanhood seems to be constantly called into question, I find these sentiments to be deeply unsettling and concerning.”

Fogarty also spoke about the pushback she has received for speaking out on the matter, calling it “disheartening but not surprising in a world that degrades femininity on a daily basis and can’t even define what it is to be a woman anymore.”

“This is a world I’ve grown up in. But it’s one that I absolutely reject,” Fogarty said. 

“The beautiful creation of man and woman by our God is too perfect to give up on. We cannot let disordered gender ideologies and perverted conceptions of sexuality win. We must fight back against these falsehoods. We must stand up for the truth.”

Stout and Fogarty in their letter to the editor held up Mary as an example of an image of femininity for women on campus to aspire to, not the distorted images that men portray in drag shows.

“Notre Dame, Our Lady, the Mother of God: She is the essence of the spirituality, femininity, and motherhood that women of faith aspire to,” Stout and Fogarty wrote. 

“And yet, the university refuses to protect such an image … [T]o refuse to protect the beauty, sanctity, and dignity of the women of this university is to refuse to protect the woman who sits upon our dome,” they said, referring to a recently refurbished statue of Mary on the most prominent campus building. 

Fogarty and another Notre Dame student, meanwhile, have created a website where students, faculty, and alumni can send a form email expressing their concern about the show to “Jenkins, university administrators, and the heads of each sponsoring department.”