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Students push for chastity center
Brandon McGinley '10, the president of Anscombe and a leader of the movement to establish a center, said the group hopess "to make the University social and sexual culture more conducive to students."
"[The Center would help] by rectifying the current double standard by which the University implicitly gives its seal of approval to a more libertarian view of sexuality," he said.
McGinley is also a columnist for The Daily Princetonian.
He said that Anscombe members had discussed the possibility of the creation of a center "for a while" and began to consider it in earnest in spring 2008. A group of supporters of the center has been in constant contact with the administration since then while developing a proposal, McGinley added.
This week, the group launched its publicity campaign by handing out fliers across campus and hanging posters that said, "It's time for the Center for Abstinence and Chastity." Both sets of advertisements promote a series of events this week endorsing the center. The Anscombe Society paid for the posters, though not all advocates for the center are officially affiliated with the society.
Monday morning, Anscombe also posted a petition supporting the center on its website. McGinley said that 116 people have signed so far. The petition also includes a question asking signers whether they would consider donating to the cause, and McGinley said 58 people expressed interest. After signing the initial petition online, supporters are given the option of sending a form letter to President Tilghman and Provost Christopher Eisgruber '83 endorsing the center's creation.
Politics professor Robert George, who said he supports the proposal, added that he believes it will be approved in the future. "I think the strength of the idea will eventually carry it through, so I'm confident," he said. "But I'm subscribing to that old wisdom, 'If you predict the place, don't predict the time. If you predict the time, don't predict the place.' "
In an e-mail sent in response to the petition signers, Tilghman wrote, "The question of whether the University would sponsor the establishment of a 'Center for Abstinence and Chastity' was raised with several members of the University administration last year, and each of us provided the same response, which was a firm 'no.' "
Tilghman explained that she recognized the difficulties some students may face pursuing chaste lifestyles, but said she did not think there was ample reason for a chastity center to be established. "I understand that it is sometimes difficult to stand up for what you believe when you are in the minority, but the fact that you are greeted with opposing points of view when you do so is not sufficient grounds for the University to establish a center," she said.
Still, McGinley said his group maintains that since the University has centers to support groups like women and members of the LGBT community, the implementation of the Center for Abstinence and Chastity would be natural.
"The professional service and the professional support that many students feel comfortable receiving from the University are not available to those who have moral commitments in the realm of sexuality that are looked on, at best, suspiciously by administrative arms and definitely by the student body at large," he said.
Tilghman, however, said this assessment of the University's already-established centers was incorrect. "There are a number of problems with this argument," she said in the e-mail. "First it implies that the Women's and LGBT Centers are there to support a non-chaste or non-abstinent lifestyle, which is not the case, and would be considered offensive by both centers."
George said he thought that conversation about the center had been healthy so far. "It always takes time, but an essential ingredient is students going forward with advocating the idea, and I think what is really terrific about the students who are advocating this idea is they're not doing street theater or demonstrations," he said. "What they're doing is giving reasons and making arguments."
Debate on Campus
The issue has initiated heated debate on campus in recent years, especially in the pages of several campus publications.
In the last two years, McGinley and Joel Alicea '10, Anscombe's administrative chair and a supporter of the center, have written multiple columns in the 'Prince' advocating for the center. McGinley said the vitriolic reactions to Alicea's most recent column have been largely unsurprising, as "a change in culture affects everybody, [and] the reaction, of course, is primarily negative."
Some students have questioned whether there is really a need for such a center on Princeton's campus. In the fall 2009 issue of Princeton Progressive Nation, James Coan '09 criticized the notion of a "hookup culture", noting that University Health Services data does not support the claim that Princeton has a "dominant sexual ethos on campus." The latter phrase comes from a February 'Prince' column by Anscombe member David Pederson '12 and has become a key talking point in the debate.
Coan noted, "Only 23.8 [percent] of students reported having two or more sexual partners ... in the past year, and a plurality, 43 [percent], reported having zero."
"After leading the COMBO II survey this past spring, I have found that students who respond to surveys represent the student body as a whole fairly well -- nothing that would push the number who engage in casual sex with multiple partners near 50 [percent], making it a dominant culture," he concluded.
Going into high gear
The group has planned one event per day this week in an effort to raise awareness about the movement.
George and politics professor John Londregan '88, who wrote a piece together for the March 4, 2009, issue of Princeton Alumni Weekly advocating the establishment of a chastity center, kicked off the week by hosting the first event, an open-form talk introducing the concept of the center.
On Wednesday, University of Virginia sociology professor W. Bradford Wilcox GS '01 presented a talk titled, "Wedded Bliss: What Makes for Marital Success in Contemporary America."
Anscombe is paying for the week's events, which have cost between $1,500 and $2,000, McGinley said. He added that he expects the Projects Board to agree to reimburse Anscombe for the event expenses, though he had not proposed this to the board as of Wednesday.