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Students petition SMC in wake of demonstration

and | Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Wednesday afternoon, Saint Mary’s vice president for student affairs Karen Johnson sent an email to students in response to events last week “that called into question the faithfulness to the Saint Mary’s College mission as a Catholic, women’s, residential, undergraduate college in the liberal arts tradition.”

IMG_0021Stephanie Szymas

Last Thursday, the Feminists United club at the College hosted a display of 1,852 flags, each of which represented 10 services offered by Planned Parenthood not related to abortion.

The next day, Saint Mary’s senior Mary Robin created a petition on the website change.org titled “No More Celebration of Planned Parenthood at Saint Mary’s College.” As of midnight Thursday night, the petition had 595 signatures.

Robin said the goal of the petition is to encourage the administration to reaffirm the College’s identity as a pro-women, Catholic institution, dedicated to educating the truth about the sanctity of life and Planned Parenthood.

“This petition is simply asking the administration to stick to the mission and guidelines it is supposed to honor in the first place,” she said in an email. “This petition is asking Saint Mary’s to reaffirm its loyalty to the Catholic faith and clearly declare its dedication to the pro-life, pro-women movement that Planned Parenthood so obviously works against.”

All of the information on the petition’s webpage was obtained from students in the Feminists United club, students who witnessed the display or social media posts, including the post by Planned Parenthood Action celebrating the display, according to Robin.

She said the petition has received support from Bishop Kevin Rhoades of the Fort Wayne-South Bend diocese, as well as alumnae and families of students.

“The comments on the petition page have varied from joyous gratitude to everyone signing for this reaffirmation of Saint Mary’s Catholic identity, to sheer sadness and disappointment in this public display of support for an abortion business, all the way to downright frustration — families promising to withdraw financial and public support for Saint Mary’s until a positive, pro-life statement is made by the school,” Robin said.

In yesterday’s email, Johnson said in the email the College consistently upholds its Catholic mission.

“As a Catholic college, we strive to foster a culture in which faith and reason are cultivated,” she said.  “The liberal arts tradition calls us to investigate, study and ponder the very difficult circumstances facing society. We do so through the lenses of both faith and reason.”

Johnson said education can occur outside the classroom in the form of College-hosted lectures, department- or club-sponsored panel discussions and distribution of facts and information through mediums such as posters or handouts.

In the email, Johnson shared the following three guidelines, which she said are consistently followed by Saint Mary’s:

  • “Education at Saint Mary’s includes examining and critically evaluating controversial issues from many perspectives. Saint Mary’s supports a long and revered tradition of open dialogue and free access to information.”
  • “At a Catholic institution, activities that advocate and support Catholic teachings are appropriate and welcome.”
  • “It is inappropriate for Saint Mary’s College student clubs and organizations to advocate for or support organizations, agencies or groups that act contrary to Church teachings or to sponsor events that advocate positions contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

Concerning the third guideline, Johnson said students’ ability to host events goes hand-in-hand with a responsibility to uphold Saint Mary’s mission.

The co-curricular environment provides an opportunity for advocacy and support. Some student clubs and organizations exist to effect change. Student organizations are granted certain privileges such as the sponsoring of events; those privileges are accompanied by responsibilities. Because Saint Mary’s College is a Catholic college, among those responsibilities is consistency with Catholic teachings. Sponsorship of a speaker, in and of itself, does not constitute advocacy or support of ideas expressed by the speaker,” Johnson said.

Saint Mary’s student body president senior Kaitlyn Baker said in an email to the College’s students yesterday that she initially sought her position in order to allow all voices to be heard.

“I also believe that there are two sides to every story, and in most cases, even more than two sides,” Baker said. “It is important for us as young women to be well-educated and then given the freedom to think critically about what we have learned, form our own opinions and stand up for what we believe is right.”

Along with standing up for beliefs, it is also important to listen to, learn from and respect each other, Baker said.

“We all know that there is more than one way to be a Belle,” Baker said. “And since this year’s core value is community, it is important that we unite as a community to recognize, learn from, and respect the unique gifts, talents and opinions that every Belle brings to the table.”

Robin said the purpose of the petition was not to degrade Saint Mary’s, but rather to an attempt to improve it.

“ … I believe the level of response speaks to how highly we all esteem and love our school,” she said. “We have such high expectations of this beautiful school and are so proud of its heritage. … It is a painful sight to see its most important identity compromised in such an unmistakable way.

“We want our school to be as bold and courageous as the students it educates,” Robin said. “We expect our school to be so especially when its Catholic integrity is challenged on such a critical issue. The Sisters who founded Saint Mary’s would want no less of us and neither will our daughters who may want to come to our alma mater.”


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About Alex Winegar

A junior at Saint Mary's, Alex is a Communicative Sciences and Disorders major. She serves as the Saint Mary's co-associate news editor. Alex enjoys traveling, food and spending time in "The Mitten."

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About Kathryn Marshall

Kathryn Marshall, Saint Mary's College '17, is a Biology and Humanistic Studies double major. Follow Kathryn on Twitter @kmarshallSMC

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