This summer, Penn asked all incoming freshmen to read the play “Doubt” as part of its Year of Proof. The play centers on an open question as to whether a Catholic priest did or did not sexually abuse a young student at the parish school attached to the Bronx church where the suspect, Father Flynn, works. My initial, visceral reaction was one of anger: How could this administration be so insensitive? After cooling off, I felt the exact same way.
To devout Catholics (and I’m not one of them), the play jabs at unhealed wounds. Philadelphia, in particular, styles itself as a blue-collar town and is heavily populated by Catholics of Irish and Italian descent. For many of these people, the church is the center of their lives. The archdiocese provides schools, social events, after-school programs and important charitable functions. Its actions frequently make the front page of The Philadelphia Inquirer. The sex abuse scandals were sensitive and painful issues for many such families.
While Penn is technically located in Philadelphia, it does not represent the city’s demographics. Irish-Catholics and Italian-Catholics, who generally are not part of our country’s highest socioeconomic stratum, don’t fall under Penn’s definition of “diversity.” Relatively few attend this school. As a Wharton junior, I can count on one hand the number of Italian-Americans (roughly 20 percent of the United States’ population) in my business classes.
What we end up with is a colorful and global aristocracy. You won’t find a more diverse collection of oligarchs’ offspring. We look on at Father Flynn and his students with a sort of detached intellectual curiosity. After all, Penn doesn’t draw many students from Catholic schools in the Bronx. We think it’s cute how its provincial characters cling to their church. Of course, it would be unfathomable for
Penn to assign a book about doubt over Israeli sovereignty or about human rights abuses in the Gaza strip. On these issues, Penn’s administration takes public and unequivocal stances. Thus, proof doesn’t apply to us. Proof is something we demand of others and with which they must grapple — we know that we’re 100 percent correct. We’re the elite and we’re free to build a society around our own biases.
Instead of assigning “Doubt,” Penn should have asked its new students to watch “My Kid Could Paint That,” a documentary from Sony Pictures Classics about the validity of paintings attributed to a 4-year-old girl from Binghamton, N.Y. It doesn’t insult anyone’s religion, and frankly far more students would have watched the 83-minute movie than the number who read “Doubt.” Of the film’s dilemma, Roger Ebert says, “Some paintings are good, says me, or says you, and some are bad. Some paintings could be painted by a child, some couldn’t be.” Ebert, an incisive thinker, believes the questions we investigate are more important than the proof we find (or don’t find).
Stephen Carpinello is a Wharton junior. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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