The Center for Abstinence and Chastity for Princeton University

A response to President Tilghman and Provost Eisgruber from the Anscombe Society

Please find below the letter sent by President Shirley Tilghman and Provost Christopher Eisgruber to supporters of the Center for Abstinence and Chastity, followed by the Anscombe Society’s response.

Dear students,

As all of you have seen fit to send the Provost and me the identical message, I hope you will not be offended that I respond, on behalf of us both, with a single message in return.

The question of whether the University would sponsor the establishment of a Center for Abstinence and Chastity was raised with several members of the University administration last year, and each of us provided the same response, which was a firm no. Let me review the reasons why this decision has not changed over the summer.

You argue for such a center on the grounds that abstinent students feel stigmatized, marginalized and alienated when they publicly reject the dominant hook-up culture of the campus. Each student must make his or her own decision about how public to be about one¹s sexual mores, and that decision should be informed by some understanding that others will not necessarily agree with your position. I understand that it is sometimes difficult to stand up for what you believe when you are in the minority, but the fact that you are greeted with opposing points of view when you do so is not sufficient grounds for the University to establish a center.

This brings me to your second argument that the University support for the Women’s and LGBT Centers dictates on fairness grounds that there should be a center to support students who lead a chaste and abstinent lifestyle. There are a number of problems with this argument. First it implies that the Women¹s and LGBT Centers are there to support a non-chaste or non-abstinent lifestyle, which is not the case, and would be considered offensive by both centers. Second, those centers arose because women and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered students faced not just discrimination that was often stigmatizing, marginalizing and alienating, but that discrimination was (and still is, in some instances) enshrined in law. In other words the discrimination is able to draw upon the full force of the state. LGBT individuals and women are denied fundamental civil rights in many countries around the world, and even in some states with the U.S.A. The same cannot be said for chaste students, which makes the analogy inappropriate, to my way of thinking.

I am sympathetic to the need for students who share a set of ethical values to have opportunities on campus to gather together for both dialogue and relaxation. Such an organization to facilitate these activities already exists on campus – the student-run Anscombe Society. Its mission statement includes the following: We aim to promote a chaste lifestyle which respects and appreciates human sexuality, relationships, and dignity. Therefore, we celebrate sex as unifying, beautiful, and joyful when shared in its proper context: that of marriage between a man and woman. The Anscombe Society is a proactive community that provides social support and a voice for those already committed to these values, and promotes intellectual engagement to further discussion and understanding of this ethic on Princeton’s campus and in the broader community. From everything I can tell, it is doing a very good job of providing a safe space and support for abstinent students.

Best wishes,

Shirley M. Tilghman

cc. Christopher Eisgruber


Dear President Tilghman and Provost Eisgruber:

Thank you for responding to our letters and explaining the administration’s position. We really do appreciate your attention to this matter. Regardless of its outcome, we see this discussion itself as one element of the very reciprocity and openness to reasons that motivates our request for a University center for chaste and abstinent students. In the same spirit, we wish to address some of the objections raised in your letter. We’d also like to request further clarification, in light of the points we raise, of the administration’s rationale for denying chaste and abstinent students this form of concrete and institutional support.

You point out that the mere existence of views opposed to our own is not a sufficient basis for establishing a center. Perhaps what we’ve said has been unclear, but we certainly never meant to imply otherwise. Indeed, we embrace opportunities to engage in constructive debates, which are wholly appropriate in a university setting. It is in part for this reason, in fact, that we consider a new center necessary. In a sexual culture that dismisses chaste and abstinent arguments as retrograde and insulting, the health of the University’s intellectual milieu is seriously imperiled.

Our request for a new center does not imply, as you suggest, that previously established centers exist to support a non-chaste or non-abstinent lifestyle. You would agree, we trust, that two centers can be necessary to serve distinct missions despite not being opposed, and even when the groups that they serve happen partly to overlap. Even if current university centers never sponsored a single program at odds with abstinent students’ commitments, since they do not exist to represent and support such commitments, many students’ concrete needs would go unmet.

Those needs result from the social pressures of a sexual culture in which premarital sex is not only celebrated but expected. The existence of this culture is widely acknowledged, even by members of the University administration. In conversations with us, both Vice President Janet Dickerson and SHARE Director Dr. Suraiya Baluch have spoken of the hookup culture’s destructive effects, particularly with regard to the pressures it places on women. University chaplains ranging from Catholic to Muslim have described the struggles that their students experience in staying true to religious precepts of chastity and modesty in an aggressively sexual environment. The recent Daily Princetonian editorial denying the need for an Abstinence and Chastity Center implicitly conceded the pervasiveness of this culture when it assumed that health concerns that can only result from widespread sexual activity are inevitable.Indeed, it is difficult to argue that the campus culture is not hostile to chastity when there is sufficient readership to warrant a Sexpert column in that same newspaper.

The University-mandated play Sex on a Saturday Night demonstrates the tragic consequences of the hookup culture. It attempts to depict average dorm-room interactions, with male and female characters discussing their expectations to have sex and subtly pressuring their friends to engage in sexual activity. Sexual assault can be the devastating result, a truth very much reflected in the reality of campus sexual assault statistics. The most recent Public Safety Annual Security Report indicates that there has been a 50% increase in the number of reported forcible sexual offenses in the last two years. The hookup culture is, unfortunately, alive and well at Princeton, and the lives it ruins testify to the need for a center to counterbalance this pernicious culture.

Such insidious campus cultures have been grounds for establishing centers in the past, including the Women’s and LGBT Centers. However, you argue that there is a significant disanalogy between chaste and abstinent students on the one hand, and women and LGBT students on the other: that the latter, but not the former, have been marginalized or discriminated against legally. But was the Davis International Center founded as a response to legal discrimination against international students? If state and federal laws were sufficiently reformed, would the need for all of these centers be obviated? If there were discrimination at Princeton but not elsewhere, would none of the centers have been formed? We suspect, rather, that the primary point of these centers is to provide support for students within the Princeton community, whatever may be true outside it. University centers are clearly designed to correct university problems, irrespective of national trends.

Finally, you propose that the needs of chaste and abstinent students are sufficiently met by student groups. But the University already recognizes that when it comes to sexual issues, student groups are insufficient to meet students’ needs. That is why it saw fit to establish, for instance, the LGBT Center, even though the Pride Alliance was already active. On the other hand, our request would not logically require a center for every student group; we are merely asking the University to apply more evenhandedly its insight that sexual issues require more comprehensive attention. For it seems unfair to suggest that the Pride Alliance was insufficient to meet the needs of LGBT students but that Anscombe is enough to support the entire chaste and abstinent community on campus.

The tremendous discrepancy in resources and capabilities between centers and student groups is clear. Against the marginalization that their constituencies might face, University centers lend institutional support and secure a central presence on campus. Their full-time staffs use funds to organize and sponsor roundtables, lectures, discussion groups, screenings, and social events at a level of coordination among students, faculty, and administrators that no student group has the authority or power to match. They offer libraries of educational resources, counseling, and referrals. Unlike student groups, they can participate in RCA training and reach underclassmen by leading advisee study breaks in residential colleges.

Which of these ways of meeting needs would be irrelevant to chaste and abstinent students? If all of them are relevant, may we respectfully ask if you see any remaining reason to deny such students the increased institutional support, staff, coordination abilities, outreach opportunities, and other resources that the University has granted to other students with demonstrated needs?

Still, we may be misreading the central goals of such administrative centers and thus failing to see the relevant differences between the one we propose and those already established. To ensure this discussion’s fruitfulness and keep us from talking past one another, could you outline the general criteria on the basis of which the University decides whether to establish a new center? If you will kindly provide students and alumni with the guidelines used in determining the need for new centers, all of us can make a more fully informed judgment as to the appropriateness of a Center for Abstinence and Chastity. We eagerly await your response to this critical question.

Thank you, again, for considering and responding to our concerns.


  • Brandon F. McGinley, President
  • Shivani V. Radhakrishnan, Vice President
  • Jose Joel Alicea, Administrative Chairman
  • David J. Pederson, Public Relations Chairman

on behalf of The Anscombe Society

This exchange can also be viewed in pdf format: Exchange Regarding the Petition for the Center.