Pope Girl, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, April 18, 2013. (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review).
A couple of days ago, outgoing Carnegie Mellon University President Jared Cohon responded to criticism from the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh regarding an incident during the Spring Carnival 2013 festivities in mid-April. Known primarily for buggy cart races on campus/near Schenley Park, the Spring Carnival has also been a time for alumni to gather in force on the sanitarium of a campus, to relive whatever wonderful memories they have of attending CMU (by comparison, I’ve never attended, not even when I was a graduate student at CMU).
This year, though, the fourth annual spoofing of Carnival and the cart races by CMU’s School of Art — known as the Anti-Gravity Downhill Derby — involved a student dressed as the pope from the waist up. The get-up included a facsimile of the pontiff’s hat and crimson gown. From the waist down, the young woman wore nothing. Except for her vagina hair, cut in the shape of the cross. If this wasn’t bad enough, she and her compadres marched in the parade and handed out condoms during the event.
Now folks like Bishop David Zubik — and likely some deep-pocket conservative (and maybe even Catholic) alumni — want to see the CMU student the local media has called the “Pope Girl” punished. Hence, President Cohon’s emailed statement to the CMU alumni community on Wednesday:
Email message from CMU President Cohon to alumni, May 1, 2013. (Donald Earl Collins).
I don’t find what this CMU student did “highly offensive” or even mildly offensive at all. Maybe it’s because I’d been to gay and lesbian pride parades at NYU back in the ’90s, where women and men dressed as the pope. Where women put black tape in the shape of a cross across their breasts while holding signs that said, “F— the Catholic Church.” Maybe I’m not offended because CMU’s the same university that didn’t close on the Martin Luther King holiday back in the ’90s, yet somehow thought it okay for students to show Birth of a Nation (1915) on that day.
I’m sure that exposing one’s pubic hair and butt cheeks in public violates some standards, either public nudity or lewdness in general. But beyond this, if there’s to be any punishment, it would be beyond unfair. After all, the Pope Girl is an adult, and has First Amendment rights to free speech, free expression and in this case, freedom of religion (specifically, the right to mock the pope). Yes, five centuries ago, she would’ve been declared a heretic, tortured and burned at the stake. But then again, so would’ve the 6,000 or so Catholic priests and their superiors who were involved in child molestation and rape over the years.
Face it. CMU’s only responding now because money may be involved, as in the loss of financial support from donors and potential donors. Morality, religion and decency aren’t exactly the central tenets of a university that’s dying to be seen on the same level of elite as MIT or Stanford. Still, this is the most exciting end to the Spring Carnival that I or anyone else has likely ever heard of or seen.