Taking Back the Campus
5:30 PM, Dec 23, 2011 • By THERESA CIVANTOS
A new organization that offers college students an alternative to the hook-up culture has been created. The Love and Fidelity Network (LFN) is based on the simple principle that marriage, family, and sexual integrity – defined as “sexual fidelity to your future spouse,” or what was once called chastity – are good and worth protecting.
The network began at Princeton University in 2007, when undergraduate Cassandra DeBenedetto founded a club with two unusual aims: to support and organize students who wanted to opt out of the hook-up culture and to educate the rest of campus about their choice. She called it the Anscombe Society, after Catholic British philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe. Harvard undergraduates soon started a similar group called the True Love Revolution, and as more groups sprang up, a national network slowly began to form. After her graduation, Cassandra DeBenedetto (now Cassandra Hough) made the network an official organization. She hired two other young women, Ashley Crouch of the University of Dallas and Shirene Urry of Brigham Young University, to help her run it.
LFN has grown quickly. Its fourth annual conference recently had some 270 attendees at Princeton University for a conversation about “Sexuality, Integrity and the University.” Most participants were college students from over forty different universities, including Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, Georgetown, the University of Virginia, and Columbia. A few even traveled from the Sorbonne and two Australian universities.
What drew this dedicated and intellectual crowd together for the conference? “It’s a one-stop shop for really intelligent students to encounter the best arguments on these topics and the best scholars that are leading this movement,” said Crouch, the director for programs and outreach.
A growing number of college students are disillusioned with the hook-up culture and the dearth of dating, Crouch said. “In America and throughout the world, there’s a real hunger for more formation on these topics,” she said, referring to the LFN core principles of marriage, family and sexual integrity. “The decline of dating and romance on college campuses has left many students feeling a sense of loss. Young adults feel a lot of confusion with a lack of guidelines. LFN offers a research-based, academic perspective on why it’s okay to hope for a happy marriage and stable, intact family.” For a group of students whose countercultural ideas often leave them feeling isolated on campus, the conference is a chance for them to be “surrounded by hundreds of other young adults who are willing to courageously take a stand and pursue those same goals.”
The conference featured a roster of well-known researchers on marriage and family issues. Helen Alvare of George Mason University School of Law discussed the competing views of the human person held by those who support and those who oppose cohabitation. Those who oppose normalizing cohabitation, she said, give arguments that correspond to the best science about what makes human beings happy. She also said “marriage plays a vital role in learning to love the non-kin other, learning that the nature of love is giving.” By contrast, “cohabiting takes. Its primary modes include ignoring, delaying, or refusing commitment.”
Frank Fincham of Florida State University gave practical advice on building healthy relationships. An expert on the psychology of forgiveness, Fincham encouraged his listeners to always say, “I will try to forgive you,” after a disagreement rather than, “I forgive you,” because his research has shown forgiveness is not an instantaneous act.
LFN tries to base its instruction on facts. Alvare cited studies showing that cohabitation is the second biggest indicator of marital failure, while Robert Lerman of American University used his research to show that stable marriages and families benefit the economy. The speakers gave an impressive barrage of statistics to back up their claim that sexual integrity is a healthier way of life.
“The scholarly research that’s been done on these issues offers a very cohesive set of findings,” said Crouch. “The importance of a stable, intact marriage and family and the importance of sexual integrity – these arguments are not heard in the public square but the data and research support them.” One imaginative exception was a speech by Anthony Esolen of Providence College called “The Person as a Gift,” which used Shakespeare’s As You Like It to celebrate the romance and beauty of marriage
Much of the conference focused on outreach and grassroots activism, tactics typically associated with the left and now being appropriated for a more conservative cause. Students could choose from workshops like Wall Street Journal writer Bill McGurn’s on spreading “The Good Word on Marriage” or a session called “From Dorm Room to Classroom: Effectively Responding to Critiques from Friends, Peers, and Professors.” McGurn warned his audience, “Don’t expect your article or blog post to change someone’s life. People are not won by argument but persuaded by example.” Since so many of the students attending the conference find themselves in the minority on their campuses, however, learning to explain and defend their position is crucial. “One thing students ask for often,” Crouch said, “is more education and training on how they can communicate this message to their peers and the wider campus community.”
It’s perhaps unsurprising that the majority of students attending the conference come from religious backgrounds. “A lot of the faith traditions have a strong set of principles and values that they convey to young adults,” Crouch explained, “so they have a preexisting set of values that they will seek to uphold when they enter the university.” One of the most popular conference sessions was an interfaith panel held Saturday night with representatives from four faiths: Jewish doctor Miriam Grossman, Mormon professor Thomas Holman, Muslim author Asma Uddin, and Evangelical Christian professor John Van Epp.
The various religions share an emphasis on chastity, modesty, and faithfulness to one’s spouse, the speakers said, but the way they express these things greatly differ, from the Jewish prohibition on touching unrelated people of the opposite sex to the Muslim practice of veiling women. “Many students initially get interested in these issues because of their religious beliefs,” Crouch said. But the topics the conference raises aren’t just for people of faith. “Even if students approach the issues from a particular religious lens, they have a lot of interest in reaching out to other students. They want to approach these issues through academia and from an interfaith perspective.”
Professor Donna Freitas of Hofstra University moderated the interfaith discussion and her introductory comments helped reveal why LFN is growing in popularity. On college campuses, she said, “everyone wants to date, but nobody is doing it. It’s the norm to dissent from the hook-up culture, but not to tell anyone about it.” At the LFN conference, students finally have a chance to talk about it, in the company of hundreds of like-minded young people, and to take that message back to their campuses.
Theresa Civantos is an editorial assistant at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.