Nick Wallace ’14
The Lenten season is now upon us. As a non-Catholic, I was only reminded of this when I tried to order a Bacon, Egg, and Cheese from the on-campus Dunkin Donuts this past Wednesday (Ash Wednesday) before being told by the cashier, “I am sorry sir. We are not serving meat today.” Sure enough, when I walked into Ray Hall later that evening, signs read, “Just a reminder: Providence College is a Catholic School and will not be serving meat on Ash Wednesday and all Friday’s during Lent.” While my personal biases may be to blame, I simply think it is preposterous for the school to refuse to serve meat on Fridays. The way I see it, it is one of the ways PC enforces their religious preferences on the student body. I have tried to convey this idea to multiple people. Friends, family, and acquaintances alike have given me numerous explanations for the school’s policy, proclaiming I would just have to suck it up. In my attempt to explain my point of view, I refute a number of their pronouncements below:
“Providence College is a Catholic School, and therefore has a right to uphold Catholic traditions like not serving meat on Fridays during Lent.”
This is probably the most common response I receive when I argue my point of view. However, it is also the response I find to be the most flawed. Would the same logic be appropriate if PC decided to tell their LGBT students or faculty to rethink their sexual orientation? While the Catholic Church has officially argued homosexuals should not be discriminated against, their position against marriage equality shows that they certainly do not condone the lifestyle. PC would never be able to get away with attempting to convince its LGBT members to reconsider their sexual orientation, not engage in homosexual acts, or to understand how homosexuality violates biblical teaching. It would cause national controversy.
If you think I am taking the whole “Catholic School” issue out of context, let me use a couple of examples that are much closer to the issue at hand. My understanding is that on Ash Wednesday, Catholics are supposed to both receive ashes and fast until a certain time. Following the logic that Providence College is a Catholic School and has the right to enforce Catholic doctrine, PC should also be allowed to force students to receive ashes on Ash Wednesday. More, PC should be allowed to close all dining halls until dinnertime, being that according to AmericanCatholic.org, “All Catholics between the ages of 18 and 59 are required to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.” My guess is that not many students here at PC would be keen to the idea of the school forcing them to receive ashes or refuse to open to dining halls to enforce fasting.
PC doesn’t require these things; they know that they cannot get away with them. It would cause uproar amongst the student body. But if you argue that PC has a right to uphold the doctrine of the Catholic Church, realize that you must also agree that PC should be allowed to enforce ALL of Catholic doctrine. Gays convinced to change their lifestyles, no eating until dinnertime on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and no meat on Fridays during Lent. These three are one in the same. If you are willing to grant the college the right to do one, (based on the fact that PC is a Catholic School) you are granting the right for the college to do all three.
Furthermore, providing meat on Friday’s does not force Catholics to eat it. Some people refute this by saying, “If I see meat, I will be tempted to eat it.” Isn’t Lent supposed to be all about temptation? You give something up that is important to you in order to realize the importance of Jesus’ sacrifice for you. It is supposed to be hard, and you are supposed to think about it often. Having no meat available to students just makes it easier for them to abide by Roman Catholic law. Is it really a sacrifice if you have no access to it? A “good” Catholic will resist the temptation to eat meat whether it is readily available or not.
“Providence isn’t the only school that does it. Other Catholic School’s have the same policies.”
Not so fast. After hearing this affirmation, I did some quick research on the dining hall websites of schools that PC likes to compare itself to. (I specifically looked at Villanova, BC, Holy Cross, Notre Dame, and Fairfield) After examining the policies of serving meat in Fridays during Lent of these other schools, only Fairfield had a policy similar to PC. That’s right; every other school mentioned above had meat on the menu this past Friday, February 15th. While some Catholic schools choose not to serve meat on Fridays, some, believe it or not, actually do.
“If it bothers you so much, go off campus to eat on Fridays.”
Don’t worry, I do. Big Tony’s can count on my roommates and I ordering Gangster Wraps every Friday from now until Easter. However, what about those students who have the unlimited meal plan? Although many students here tend to order out on the weekends anyway, presumably, an unlimited meal plan means that every single meal can be eaten at Ray Hall. If that’s the case, the school should do more to accommodate people with different dietary needs. For example, what about a student who is trying to lose weight? Grilled chicken, along with other lean meats, is a great low-calorie source of protein. Salmon and tuna are too, of course. But what if I don’t like fish? What if I am allergic to fish? How many times can I eat fried cod at Ray without going insane? The school should be providing healthy options for students with all types of dietary needs. By refusing to serve meat on Fridays during Lent, PC is not accomplishing this goal.
“You chose to come to this school. If eating meat on Friday’s was so important to you, you should have gone somewhere else.”
Fair enough. I will concede to this assertion. I understand that when I officially became a student at PC I signed away some of my civil liberties that I would usually receive at a secular school. No one is claiming to be discriminated against under this policy. However, my points listed above should take precedent. More, I did not come to Providence College for religious reasons. Actually, I wasn’t aware that PC did not serve meat on Friday’s during Lent until Ash Wednesday of my freshman year. It certainly wasn’t mentioned on my tour with the Friars Club. When it came down to deciding which school to attend, PC offered me a prestigious education that was affordable and somewhat close to home. Religion had nothing to do with it.
I realize that it is only a select number of days that I have to deal with PC refusing to serve meat on Fridays. I know it’s not going to kill me. But this policy has much broader implications. It is a clear example of Providence College enforcing the views of the Catholic Church on the students, faculty, and staff. While us non-Catholics suffer, it is important to realize how this topic directly relates to my last Friarside Chat on diversity. As outlined in my last article, the homogeneity of Providence College goes beyond skin color. A majority of students are white, Catholic, and from middle and upper class families. By refusing to serve meat on Fridays, Providence College is simply favoring its majority population. Subsequently, it may be pushing away potential students who feel like the views of the Catholic Church are being imposed on them.
Often, people rant about an issue they find alarming, but never offer a solution to the problem. I understand that my viewpoint may not be in the majority. But here is what I propose to try and appease both sides:
On Friday’s during Lent, Providence College should continue to not serve meat in Raymond Dining Hall, which serves as the main Dining Hall on Campus. In Alumni Cafeteria, Sandellas, and Dunkin Donuts, meat options should remain as they usually do during the week.
As a non-Catholic who wants his meat, I would be very happy with this policy. It is a simple compromise. For those Catholics who are afraid to be “tempted” to eat meat by after seeing it the solution is simple, only eat in Raymond Hall. It provides both meat and non-meat options here on campus during the Lenten season.
In no way, shape, or form am I trying to argue that Providence College needs to become a more secular school. I understand it is trying to maintain its religious integrity. While I find it a bit weird and creepy that Jesus Christ literally stares down at me in every classroom from a crucifix, I have gotten used to it. If a priest leads a prayer before class and during invocation at Student Congress, I remain respectfully quiet but disengaged. While I strongly disagree with the fact that Providence College refuses to provide students with access to contraceptives, I understand they are trying to uphold their Judeo-Christian values. But refusing to serve meat on campus isolates those of us who are not Catholic. It is a clear example of how PC enforces its views on the student body, and this has no place at an institution of higher education. I’m neither in religious or marriage preparatory classes; I am in an academic setting. While PC requires each student to take two theology classes, I am mature enough to know that I am not required to believe it; it is simply an alternative point of view. Moreover, most professors reiterate the fact that I do not have to believe, but instead only comprehend. The no meat on Friday’s policy, however, relates to my personal lifestyle choices and is a direct way of forcing me into a certain behavior.