by Elizabeth Sawka
Assistant Opinion Editor
Justice is not only a required attribute for Griffs, but it is also one of the Jesuit values that our school promotes. We have international service trips through Campus Ministry in addition to service learning classes which allow students to see first hand social injustices abroad and spaces within our own community that need us, men and women with and for others. When I meet students from other colleges and universities, I’m excited to tell them about the climate of our campus because I think our students and faculty do a great job of not only tolerating, but embracing diversity. Our reputation, however, does not seem to match with this reality. Students are surprised to learn that we are allowed to put the word “gay” on event posters ( to be fair, we weren’t always allowed to do this). They are surprised to learn that Unity and Campus Ministry hold a retreat for LGBTQ+ students and their allies. I believe this is in large part due to our religious affiliation, but our Jesuit tradition should be the reason for our social progress. The Jesuit values we hold near and dear by no means need to serve as a detriment to social movements on our campus, but rather should be utilized for guidance when questioning our policies. A prime example of when we should consider our social justice value is the displays we allow for the voice of pro-choice students.
Each year the Students for Life club places white crosses outside the chapel as a representation of the number of abortions that happen each day in New York State. This year, the Women and Gender Studies club wanted to display birds that would represent freedom. The birds themselves would have had statistics about poverty and pregnancy, medical reasons why women get abortions, and statistics about abortions as a result of rape. Even though Women and Gender Studies club had funding approved to buy the birds, Student Life denied their event request because the display was too controversial. Unity had a similar issue with the PRIDE March mentioned in the editorial. Administration became concerned the morning of Unity’s event that it was a demonstration in opposition to administration. I can only guess that the word “march” made them nervous. Although Unity was not denied like Women and Gender Studies club, I think it is a fair parallel to make that more than one club has had an event called into question last minute after being approved for funding.
I think we should consider the messages that are being conveyed by the crosses and the birds because both are commenting on the current legislation surrounding abortion. It’s easy to say that we’re a Jesuit school, and that’s why Students for Life can display their crosses, but there can’t be birds. Considering these displays as a comment or response to legislation is far more interesting. The crosses are displayed in protest of the legislation allowing abortion, but the birds are on the side of legislation. By denying the bird display because it is considered controversial, our administration is calling an opinion controversial, but not the political protest.
Another way to think of this is that Unity hosted the first Transgender Vigil in the chapel a few weeks ago, which was a call to remember the transgender lives lost due to hate crimes. This was an event to honor transgender lives, but also to raise awareness that legislation is not doing enough to protect these human lives. As a Jesuit institution, we need to examine why some political protest is accepted, but not some events that support actual legislation.
Though many students feel uncomfortable with the cross display, pro-life students deserve to have their voice heard just like Unity deserves to host the Transgender Vigil. There are social justice issues that our Jesuit school should be considering, and these club events/displays are a way to start that discussion. That’s also why I firmly believe our school is shying away from our Jesuit tradition by denying the bird display.
If our students want to promote social justice issues (which I truly believe they do) then we need to keep asking questions. Shying away from events that are controversial or make some students uncomfortable delay progress. If we’re going to maintain a justice attribute, why are we not upholding this attribute in practice?