Within two months of starting college, I took on the role of policy director for a student-run campaign to block access to the top 20 pornography websites on university-provided Wi-Fi. We, as Notre Dame students, wanted to use our voices to speak against the insidious harm of pornography to individuals and relationships by inspiring our university to act.
As a newly arrived freshman, my lunches became meetings with student government leaders. I made friends with university administrators as I conducted outreach. Picking up the phone, I interviewed IT directors at various universities about the technical methods for filtering websites.
None of this would have been possible without high school speech and debate which equipped me to write policy proposals, prepare talking points, and build coalitions.
Pornography filter initiatives on campus Wi-Fi present an opportunity for advocacy that is tailored both to the skills and values of Stoa alumni and the needs of the college environment.
For the remainder of this reflection, I will articulate my strategy for pornography filter advocacy. This strategy is the fruit of three years of leadership in the Wi-Fi filtering campaign at Notre Dame and interviews with leaders of similar campaigns at other colleges. While Notre Dame has not yet implemented a filter, the Notre Dame campaign inspired two successful campaigns at other schools (Catholic University of America and the University of Dallas), generated 17,000 petition signatures, and sparked over 100 national news articles, including an ABC News Nightline segment.
My hope is that fellow Stoa alumni will be inspired to take similar action.
The best way to address the problem of pornography on campus is to launch a campaign for a pornography filter on university-provided Wi-Fi. This will start a policy conversation about the proper institutional response to pornography, which can then be leveraged to bring the personal dimension of pornography to light and open doors to recovery.
Why address pornography at college?
College students have extremely high levels of pornography use and suffer the consequences that stem from pornography’s objectification of persons. A 2018 study put the percent of adult men who view pornography between 91% and 99% with the number of adult women between 60% and 92%. Additionally, the study found that “A small, general decrease of pornography consumption occurred across age for both genders”, which does not bode well for college students who sit at the very start of the adult age range. Research reveals that treating people on a screen as objects for sexual pleasure has consequences for interactions off-screen. A 2016 meta-analysis of 135 peer-reviewed studies found that men who view pornography have a diminished view of women’s morality and humanity. A 2015 literature review of 22 studies from seven different countries found that pornography is linked to sexual aggression, which is highly concerning in the context of a campus environment. According to a 2017 meta-analysis, pornography is linked to “lower interpersonal satisfaction outcomes,” in relationships. Moreover, pornography is involved in over 50% of divorce cases.
I have found that colleges are generally open to considering student proposals about campus life. Students frequently pursue advocacy through passing legislation in student government, partnering with the office that establishes campus standards of community conduct, and petitioning university administration to set new policies. At most colleges, it is surprisingly easy to start a signature petition, write an article for the school paper, host debates, and lectures, and organize initiatives through clubs and organizations.
Additionally, college administrations take note of students who challenge the narrative that pornography is harmless. There is certain credence to students’ claims because the porn-saturated campus is their lived experience. Most students know the effect of pornography first or secondhand.
Why filter Wi-Fi?
First, a filter ensures that university resources are not used to perpetuate a base degradation of human dignity that is harmful to the health, safety, and relationships of the student body. Second, a filter sends a clear institutional message against pornography. A filter is admittedly incapable of preventing students from accessing pornography on their cellular networks and is not intended to cut off all access to porn. But students will get the message that the university takes pornography seriously, particularly if they consistently need to disconnect from university Wi-Fi in order to view it.
Will a filter impact students?
Proposing a pornography filter is the most effective way I know to help students who personally want to stop using porn. This is because the filter is guaranteed to launch a lively campus debate which can be used to meet students where they are and aid them in what is often a silent struggle.
At Notre Dame and elsewhere, the filtering campaign started a robust discussion on the previously rare and dreaded “P” word. Discussing the merits of a filter policy does not require individuals to divulge too much of their own personal history, so the filter instantly became the hottest topic on campus. From the collective response of the student body, the filtering campaign has clearly hit a nerve. Over 1,000 students at Notre Dame signed the petition calling for the filter, a host of students volunteered with the campaign, and op-eds flew back and forth in the school paper.
As a student leader, I heard from several peers who courageously revealed their appreciation for the campaign efforts given their personal struggles with pornography. I began to suspect that the students who confided in me were emblematic of many more students whose personal struggle with pornography was driving involvement with the movement.
Survey data backs up my intuition. At any given moment, 19% of Christian adults are trying to quit porn, according to a 2016 study. In a 2017 survey of over 3,000 Catholic college students, 42% responded that they “struggle” with porn. To emphasize this point, these are students who want to quit porn, not students that simply view porn.
How to address students’ personal struggles?
In the face of this massive problem, filtering campaigns should be creative in opening discrete pathways to personal accountability that build on established relationships already in place on the college campus.
Just as a Wi-Fi network connects the campus, there is an equally strong social network that can be leveraged to heal the wounds inflicted by pornography. Colleges are in a unique position to help students that struggle with pornography because students already have trusted friends, counselors, and religious guides on campus. If these networks can be activated to send a standing offer for help if and when a student struggles with pornography, the stigma that keeps many students from opening up about pornography could be bypassed or mitigated.
Initiatives in this vein include hosting trainings for students on how to walk with friends struggling with pornography addictions in order to prepare willing students to send a standing offer to their closest friends to help. Inconspicuously distributing resource sheets with information on campus professionals who are willing to help with pornography is another option. At Notre Dame, the club that organized the filtering campaign staples a pornography resource sheet to the back of every handout and lecture program it hands out. The guiding principle for personal outreach on pornography is to find methods specific to your campus’s resources and sensibilities.
In summary, the first goal of a filtering campaign is achieving an institutional response to the pornography pandemic with a Wi-Fi filter, but the second (and perhaps most consequential goal) is capitalizing on campus discourse about pornography to extend offers to accompany close friends to find freedom from porn.
So, to current and future college students: How boldly are you willing to speak for Christ?
Veronica Maska graduated in 2018 and competed in speech and debate for a total of five years. She is a junior at the University of Notre Dame but vastly prefers the warmer temperatures of her home state of Texas to Northern Indiana. She is pursuing a degree in Business Analytics and is a member of the Beta Gamma Sigma business honors society. Veronica is passionate about defending the dignity of the human person and has served as Co-President and Public Policy Officer of Students for Child-Oriented Policy, a student club at Notre Dame that advocates in the interest of children on the issues of education, adoption, drugs, pornography, and marriage policy. Students for Child-Oriented Policy launched the first collegiate pornography filter initiative in the fall of 2018. If you would like to learn more about pornography filtering campaigns or are interested in starting your own campus initiative, you can reach Veronica at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed in pieces written by guest authors are the authors’ alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Stoa or the Stoa Alumni Committee.