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Student Activists Petition Schools to Censor Pornography on Campus
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Student Activists Petition Schools to Censor Pornography on Campus

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A movement to ban porn is gaining steam on some Catholic universities’ campuses, and it’s mostly led by male students.

Activists at two Catholic universities are petitioning their schools to censor pornography on campus, claiming that explicit sexual content on the internet runs contrary to the schools’ values and poses a health risk to students on campus.

University of Notre Dame

University of Notre Dame / oneclassblog.com

At the University of Notre Dame, student James Martinson is leading the fight for pornography censorship.

In October, 80 male Notre Dame students penned an open letter to the campus newspaper requesting that the administration install a porn filter on the campus Wi-Fi so that students wouldn’t be able to access websites like Pornhub and Redtube.

Martinson’s open letter in the Notre Dame Observer claimed that pornography teaches men to objectify women, normalizes sexual assault, and exploits the men and women involved.

As he wrote in his letter:

Pornography is the new sex education, providing a disturbing script about what men find sexually appealing and what women should do to please them. Notre Dame's sincere efforts to educate students about consent and other aspects of healthy sexuality are pitifully weak in light of the fact that by the time students arrive on campus, many have been addictively watching pornography for years.

Porn is not acting. The overwhelming majority of contemporary pornography is literally filmed violence against women –  violence somehow rendered invisible by the context.

The letter was quickly followed by a response from more than 60 “women of Notre Dame,” who argued that pornography’s prevalence on campus was “preventing men and women from encountering the full personhood of one another in friendships and relationships.”

petition in support of the measure was signed by more than 1,000 men and women – more than a tenth of the Notre Dame student body.

“Our goal … is to help students realize how damaging pornography consumption is to your physical and psychological well-being,” Martinson said.

Since then, Jim Martinson said, he’s received emails from more than 40 students at other universities who want to install a filter on their own campuses.

“Students [elsewhere] have been asking me to get something similar done at their schools.”

He added that numerous national news outlets have contacted him about his efforts.

“This kind of exposure has allowed so many people to think differently about how many students feel about pornography consumption and how it affects individuals, relationships and campus communities,” he said.

Notre Dame’s technology policy already bans accessing pornographic, sexually explicit, or offensive material on campus networks.

“The university has been very receptive,” Martinson said. “I’m confident that we’ll be able to get it done by the end of the year.”

Georgetown University

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Inspired by Martinson’s letter, Amelia Irvine, a senior at Georgetown University, recently began efforts to have the Jesuit school install a porn filter on its university network. The Daily Beast reported that Irvine is considering a petition effort this semester.

“In the United States, three of the top ten most-visited websites are pornographic. Internet porn use is quite common among young people; a March 2017 study found that 10 percent of college students are clinically addicted to cybersex,” Irvine said.

“Georgetown seeks to educate its students on the harms of alcohol abuse and sexual assault, but completely ignores the addiction that can fuel sexual assault: pornography addiction,” Irvine added. “Georgetown, as a private, Catholic institution, has not only the right but the duty to take a stand against pornography. Pornography is not speech or art; pornography is a drug.”

Students at secular schools like Harvard, Princeton, and the University of Pennsylvania also said they were excited by the idea, but were still figuring out how it could work on their campuses. At Princeton and Penn, students said they were already tabling and handing out fliers about the dangers of pornography on campus.

Campus porn filters aren’t a totally new idea, though.

Northern Illinois University attempted a similar ban in 2014, according to the Northern Star, but later revised it to cover only employees. Private companies like McDonalds, Panera, and Starbucks have all installed similar filters on their public Wi-Fi networks.

Whether porn is actually a problem on campus, however, is debatable.

A 2013 study found that the average college student engaged in “arousal-oriented online sexual activity” less than once or twice per month.

2014 study of students across four countries found that 76% had viewed online “sexual entertainment” in their lifetimes, but showed “relatively infrequent experience” with the subject matter in the previous three months.

There’s also little evidence that porn consumption leads to negative treatment of women. A 2007 study from the Queensland University of Technology in Australia found that the amount of pornography viewed did not predict negative attitudes toward women. And as some experts have pointed out, the rate of sexual assault has decreased in recent decades, even as porn use has soared.

Watchdog group says schools shouldn’t censor

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a campus watchdog group, would give any university that censored pornographic material a “red light” rating.

“Most pornographic, sexually explicit, and offensive material is protected under the First Amendment. As such, any institution that claims to protect free speech should not treat pornography substantially different than other protected speech,” a spokesman for the group wrote.

The best argument against banning porn on campus, though, was articulated by Notre Dame student Jeffrey Murphy who wrote an opinion piece to the school’s newspaper, titled “Give Me Pornhub or Give Me Death,” in which he argued against Martinson’s efforts to have Notre Dame go porn-free.

“The relationship between the codified suppression of sexually-oriented material and the subordination of women extends well into the modern era (and will inevitably persist into the future),” Murphy wrote, pointing out that numerous countries that censor pornography, such as Afghanistan, nevertheless have poor track records on women’s rights.

“Giving any governing body – even a private entity not bound by the First Amendment – the subjective power to determine what content is or is not permissible has never, and will never, lead to prosperity for the intended beneficiaries of such censorial measures.”

Author: USA Really