With the Dobbs v. Jackson Supreme Court decision announced over the summer, women’s reproductive health continues to be at the forefront of people’s minds. This does not exclude the students of Saint Mary’s College.
Juniors Nicole Stutesman and Madison Mata are the new co-presidents of the student-run nonprofit Smicks for Choice.
Stutesman described Smicks for Choice as “a nonprofit organization, student-led and student-run for students… an organization that gives students reproductive health education, resources and information on advocacy.”
The nonprofit originally began in 2019 and was denied club status at that time based on the fact that they didn’t align with the College’s mission and need to affirm their Catholic identity.
In 2022, with Smicks for Choice’s new executive board and with new members on the administrative board of the College, the group once again applied for club status.
When Stutesman was asked about the importance of the group at this time she said, “Right now, we see a gap in conversation, we see a gap in diversity, and we see a gap in representation… so that’s where we fit in, we want to fill the gap and make sure that Saint Mary’s isn’t just performative.”
In an email, Mata described Smicks for Choice as “a club that supports and empowers students”.
She continued, “we are here to provide information that a student might otherwise not receive. We want to be a place, a safe haven for people to turn to when they need help and access that seems so far out of reach”.
When discussing the purpose of the organization Mata said, “We are here to allow for students to know their options and know that they are not alone. That they have a community, and they have people on their side no matter their decision.”
She added that “there is not one right way, and there is no wrong way, but when you feel silenced and like your college does not support you, that’s what we are here for.”
This time, when Smicks for Choice applied for club status, instead of being dismissed or denied immediately like back in 2019, their request was passed along to the Saint Mary’s administration to be deliberated.
Stutesman and Mata participated in multiple meetings with the Saint Mary’s administration where they discussed the group and how it would fit into the school’s mission. In addition to their meetings, Stutesman and Mata also created a public petition for students to sign in support of their group becoming a club.
As of Sunday night, the petition has received 282 signatures, roughly 20% of the Saint Mary’s student body.
Despite the success of the petition, vice president for mission Julianne Wallace stated, “The petition reinforced the passion behind the issue and showed to us our student body is engaged. But ultimately, the decision to not approve the club was made outside of the petition.”
Wallace commented via email on the Smicks for Choice group, saying the final decision on its club status was a matter of adhering to the school’s Catholic identity.
“Saint Mary’s College encourages education and discussion around women’s reproduction and sexual health both inside the classroom and in broader discussions throughout our campus community,” she said. “However, when discerning the application for Smicks for Choice, our Catholic identity necessitates we affirm a limit about what can be done in the College’s name and with the College’s resources, therefore the club cannot be officially recognized by the College.”
Wallace also said that a great deal of research, thoughtful discussion with students and discernment by college administrators led to this decision.
“Ultimately the final decision was made by… vice president for enrollment and engagement Lori Johnson [and myself],” she said.
Stutesman discussed the club’s extensive social media presence and the importance of it as a way of connecting to students.
“I think it’s really important to provide support and to put a face to the name, like thinking you’re talking to Instagram about something that can be really traumatizing and really hard to talk about, that’s not really helpful,” she said. “I think it’s really important to know that there are real humans behind the screen that want to help you and are here for you, and we’ll provide you resources no matter what your situation is.”
When asked if the student body’s opinion had an influence on the decision Wallace said that the student voice is a vital part of campus life, and administrators encourage students on campus to speak up on the issues that matter to them.
“Throughout this process, Smicks for Choice has been in dialogue and conversation with the administration, and we value the passionate voices of the club leadership,” Wallace continued. “The college is committed to responding to the voices of all students, both in this case and beyond, with thoughtful, well-researched responses that seek to continue dialogue and learning.”
Stutesman said that her time as a freshman and her desire for a club like Smicks for Choice at Saint Mary’s influenced her proactivity in pushing for the club’s official status.
“I know when I was a freshman and we had our club fairs, I was walking around hopeful, there wasn’t much for me. If we at Saint Mary’s College can do as much as help one scared freshman or student in a bad situation, that makes it all worth it,” she said. “Right now, as a nonprofit organization, off-campus, Saint Mary’s name isn’t attached to it, so we can’t promote on campus, which makes it hard for people to find us, and it makes it hard for us to reach people and give resources.”
For her final thoughts on the topic, Mata said she would stress that Smicks for Choice wants to advocate for women to have a choice to advocate.
“It’s important to remember choice does not mean to get an abortion, it means it is your choice to advocate for yourself, to make an informed and educated decision that is best based on you as an individual,” Mata said. “Choice does not mean that you absolutely have to follow a singular path but that there is in fact more than one way to follow. It means you have the right to your bodily autonomy.”
Contact Meghan Lange at firstname.lastname@example.org.