UPDATED: Oct. 17, 2012, at 12:02 a.m.
One of the first things that Emily D. Mancuso ’09 remembers about her experience with True Love Revolution is the heart-shaped candies that the organization left outside freshmen girls’ dorm rooms on Valentine’s Day in 2007. TLR, a Harvard student group which promotes abstinence from pre-marital sex, delivered the candy with a note that said, “Why wait? Because you’re worth it.”
“I thought it was kind of weird,” Mancuso said. “True Love Revolution wasn’t an organization that wanted to judge people. But the one thing that I was uncomfortable with was this advocacy that waiting for sex until marriage would make people have more fulfilled lives.”
Despite her initial reaction to the candies, Mancuso later became a board member of TLR. She said that she came to view the organization as a group that accepted students with different viewpoints on the sexual culture at Harvard, particularly those who chose to remain abstinent.
In recent years, however, the group has adopted a greater advocacy role. In addition to its original sole stance endorsing pre-marital abstinence, TLR published official platforms just after Mancuso graduated that denounced same-sex marriage as “harmful” and that affirmed the “equality and differences between the sexes” in discussion of women’s work and motherhood.
Just last week, the organization made its latest change: its name. Current president Luciana E. Milano ’14 published an opinion piece in The Crimson announcing the organization’s conversion to the Harvard College Anscombe Society, a move that Milano said honors British philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe.
“Elizabeth Anscombe was a big figure in 20th century ethics who wrote on issues related to chastity, and we constantly turn to her work to get to the root of our intellectual mission on campus,” Milano said in an interview. “We chose this name as a way to honor her legacy.” The name also matches that of abstinence societies at Princeton, Stanford, the University of Texas, and other schools.
Milano and other board members of the re-christened organization do not see this name change as reflective of a significant shift in priorities. But other students and alumni said they feel the organization has strayed from its original purpose and may alienate potential members.
True Love Revolution, the gathering space for students determined to stay abstinent on a campus where virginity is not the norm, no longer exists. Now, they say, the Anscombe Society exists not as a support group but as a community promoting abstinence, heterosexual marriage, and traditional gender roles.
“This definitely wasn’t how TLR was like from 2006 to 2009,” said Mancuso, who also served on the board of the Harvard-Radcliffe Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender, and Supporters Alliance, now known as Queer Students and Allies. “It’s unfortunate. It definitely goes against the way I interpreted it and I would absolutely not join if I were a student now.”
PRO-ABSTINENCE SINCE 2006
TLR was founded in 2006 by Justin S. Murray ’07 and Sarah M. Murray ’07, then undergraduates at the college. The couple, who married after graduation, firmly believed in abstinence and wanted to create a safe space on campus for other students like them, former TLR affiliates said.
“True Love Revolution was created in response to the fact that nobody on campus was promoting abstinence,” said Peter A. Syski ’08, who served as TLR webmaster. “It was intended as a support group for students who wanted to live the abstinent lifestyle because it’s quite difficult when you’re surrounded by everything at Harvard.”
A little more than a year after Syski graduated, students said they remember a distinct change occurring in TLR.
“In 2009, when they announced their stance on traditional marriage, it was seen as a cultural shift and was controversial on campus,” recalled Matthew P. Cavedon ’11, who was then vice president for social justice of the Catholic Students Association. That was the platform that denounced same-sex marriage.
The Abstinence MystiqueFrom what I’ve deduced from TLR’s platform, there seems to be little room for gender non-conformity and even less room for choice.
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