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Voices Online Edition
Vol. XXIV, No. 1
Eastertide 2009

Women for Faith & Family
Celebrating 25 years of service to the Church

"Collegiate Sex Ed" and the Anscombe Society

What can you do about the pervasive campus “hook-up culture” if you’re a college student — or a prospective college student — or a parent of either? Is it possible to find an institution of higher learning these days that accepts (or even tolerates) traditional Judeo-Christian views about sexuality, marriage, or the family? Can a student find a social network on a university campus that not only doesn’t undermine traditional moral and ethical principles, but actually supports and encourages them?

Some students and professors at Princeton University have found a way to meet the challenge. In February 2005, a new student group was launched — the Elizabeth Anscombe Society, named for the famed Cambridge philosophy professor who was an intellectual defender of traditional sexual ethics and a former student of Ludwig Wittgenstein.

In a recent essay, “Collegiate Sex-ed”, Ryan Anderson, editor of The Public Discourse: Ethics, Law and the Common Good, described the goals of the Anscombe Society:

“We aim to foster an atmosphere where sex is dignified, respectful, and beautiful; where human relationships are affirming and supportive; where motherhood is not put at odds with feminism; and where no one is objectified, instrumentalized, or demeaned”, writes Anderson. “We aim to increase the level of respect among members of the university community who disagree on these issues as we explore our common understandings as well as our differences. Lastly, we hope to provide those students who strive to understand, live, and love their commitment to chastity and ‘traditional’ sexual and familial ethics with the support they need to make their time at Princeton the best it can be.”

The Anscombe Society seeks to balance the biased messages students receive with intellectually sound arguments, Anderson said: “The students who formed the Anscombe Society were tired of being subjected to a dehumanizing campus culture and hoped to point to an alternative, more excellent way. They were tired of the one-sided presentation of academic arguments related to marriage and family life — biased syllabi inside the classroom and monolithic student groups outside the classroom — and so they hoped to balance the intellectual conversation. Lastly, they were tired of an administration that absurdly claimed to be morally neutral when it came to matters of sexuality while consistently promoting liberal and liberationist sexual policies. They were determined to hold the administration accountable and seek change.”

The Anscombe Society achieves its goals, Anderson said, “through guest lecturers, newspaper op-eds, and discussion groups”. It provides “serious and respectful academic responses and counter-arguments”, he wrote, and explained that the scholars the Society has brought to campus for public lectures have “made the intellectual case for a traditional conception of human sexuality and the human family from a multi- and inter-disciplinary perspective that drew on outstanding scholarly works of philosophy, theology, ethics, biology, medicine, psychiatry, psychology, economics, and sociology”. The Anscombe Society also “created an academic database on their web site with the best articles from these same disciplines”, Anderson notes.

The success of the Anscombe Society in bringing like-minded students together has resulted in students on other campuses wanting to start similar groups. To assist with this, they formed a national organization, the “Love and Fidelity Network”.

“The future for groups like these is bright”, says Anderson. But meeting the challenge of cultural pressures to conform to “alternative messages” about sexual morality and other key moral issues will not be easy, he observes. The attitudes that are at odds with traditional understanding of the nature of human sexuality and the family are pervasive and deeply ingrained.

Ryan Anderson’s article, originally a presentation at the Center for Ethics and Culture at the University of Notre Dame, is accessible on the web site of Public Discourse: Ethics, Law, and the Common Good (, a publication of the Witherspoon Institute, Princeton.

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