by The Cowl Editor
Catherine Brewer ’20
On Thursday, March 2, a bulletin board promoting marriage between one man and one woman was created by Resident Assistant Michael Smalanskas ’18 on the second floor of St. Joseph Hall at Providence College. Soon after, it was photographed and spread across campus via social media.
The bulletin board was taken down that night by students acting on their own accord, but was put up again the Sunday evening that students returned from spring break. However, this time it bore a message stating its approval from Vice President of Student Affairs Kristine Goodwin, despite the lack of any school policy that requires topic approval for bulletin boards, even through Residence Life.
Students reacted quickly to the board’s reappearance, and as a result, Goodwin was invited to speak at an open, weekly meeting for the Board of Multicultural Student Affairs on Monday night in Moore Hall. She was also scheduled to speak at the Student Congress weekly meeting the following night, but it was cancelled due to the snow storm, and may or may not be rescheduled.
The BMSA executive board facilitated questions and comments from students who wanted to voice their opinions on the matter to Goodwin and other administrators in attendance. Dean of Students Steven Sears and Director of Residence Life Jana Valentine were not in attendance due to a meeting with the residence staff of St. Joseph Hall.
The meeting began with the executives of PC’s LGBTQ+ advocate organization, SHEPARD, addressing the audience. “LGBT students exist on this campus, we are here, we deserve the same respect and rights that every other student has on this campus,” stated President Mallari Bosque ’18. “We are here and we deserve to be supported the same way that every other student is supported.”
After thanking SHEPARD, Goodwin expressed her concern that she and the other administrators would not be capable of fully addressing students’ questions in regard to the incident and further actions of the College because more information was still being gathered.
“I always try to resist reacting,” Goodwin explained. This became a common thread that ran throughout the meeting, as she and Father Gabriel Pivarnik, O.P., vice president for mission and ministry, both encouraged all involved to pause before attacking or growing defensive out of anger.
Hieu “Daniel” Nguyen ’20, a resident of St. Joe’s who reported the incident, was the first to voice concerns. He explained that he took action because he felt the bulletin board did not promote inclusion in St. Joe’s and on campus as a whole. “The first time, I felt really upset. But this time, I just feel angry,” he said, adding that he felt the reinstallation of the board was an effort to create a reaction on campus and that he felt especially angry when he saw the mark of approval from Goodwin on display. However, Nguyen acknowledged his feeling of relief when he found out that the approval was inaccurate.
“You belong here,” Goodwin said. “My answer is complicated, and again I’m not skirting it, but it’s important that I show you the complexity. I can tell you I am not in a position to say that what Michael put up, what the RA put up, is contradictory to what the Church teaching is, and so it’s complicated because I am not going to approve it, but I’m also not in a position to say that it cannot be up.”
Goodwin said that there is currently no policy surrounding the “purpose and function” of the bulletin boards. The Department of Public Safety is following up on all reported incidents, and this involves some level of an investigation. Students voiced their concern for the lack of procedure; however, Goodwin, Sears, and Valentine have all attested that the bulletin boards have not been an issue to this extent in the past, which may point to the lack of policy in place. Community boards, disciplinary action taken for the RA who created the board, and a strategic plan for the College in handling this incident and others moving forward were all suggestions made by those in attendance. Nevertheless, the bulletin board was put up for a third time later Monday night.
“The beliefs I hold are those of the Catholic Church and are consistent with the mission of the College as a Catholic and Dominican school,” Smalanskas explained. “The Church provides us with an account of the human person and sexuality that is good, true, and beautiful. On our campus, we must be committed to protecting the status of these beliefs from being falsely accused as hate speech or bigotry. The question must be put to Fr. Shanley—will Catholic teaching on marriage as one man and one woman be considered hate speech at Providence College or will its free expression be protected by the College?”
After the bulletin board was reinstalled, students flocked to social media to share their opinions. In an email shared on Tuesday evening, Nguyen encouraged students who wanted to stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community to print out the attached pride flag and display it on their door. “If you feel uncomfortable putting it on your door, you can write something positive like ‘Love is love’ or ‘Friar Family,’” he added. Residence Life has asked that students who wish to display messages on their door slide it into the door tag in order to abide by the school’s fire policy.
Next Wednesday, March 21, SHEPARD will hold a march against homophobia and transphobia at 6:30 p.m. The march will begin outside of Slavin and conclude at Moore Hall. On Monday, March 19, SHEPARD will provide materials at its open, weekly meeting at 7:00 p.m. in Feinstein for members of the community to create signs for the march. “We asked for allies, and we ask you guys to stand behind SHEPARD,” said Melanie Fricchione ’19. “Coming and showing support for SHEPARD and coming to this walk shows administration that we do care about this as a community and we will stand with our community members that are LGBT identifying. And we need it. We’re here and we’re queer and we’re not going anywhere!”
Goodwin’s first step after the BMSA meeting is to reach a common ground with student leaders, and she sent out an official letter on Wednesday evening. While Goodwin will ultimately take recommendations from Sears, she indicated the administration’s desire to form a task force which aims to collaborate with students to address the purpose of campus bulletin boards. All who are interested in being a part of the team should contact either Sears or Valentine. Support services for students in the wake of the incident are also available from Campus Ministry, the Counseling Center, the Office of the Dean of Students, and SHEPARD.
26 thoughts on “Bulletin Board Controversy”
As the father of a PC graduate class of 15 who is not catholic, I can appreciate the complexity of this issue. I also am the father of a transgender son so this issue is very important to me for that reason also.
The purpose of bulletin boards over the years has been to inform people. I question why this RA felt the need to inform people of their personal feelings regarding marriage in this way. I am pretty sure that all who follow the catholic faith at PC did not need to be informed of this.
To all those who are angry about this situation I will say what I tell my son “do not be angry be strong”. Three years ago I found out I had a son. He was 18 at the time. The journey has been so unbelievably awesome. We know it will not always be easy and it will be a day by day learning process. He is a sophomore at RIT and these type of issues are not things he deals with but again with PC is is a little more complex.
I hope Father Shanley and the staff at PC address this quickly and fairly.
Again to all those who are LBGTQ and all those who support them be strong not angry. KEITH Buohl
In my heart I do firmly believe that marriage is between a man and a woman however I absolutely do not think it is OK to be pushy about that especially if you are an RA who is compensated to be fair to everyone. The RA has a ludicrous agenda, not a wholesome mission. I feel so bad for the administrators who are being dragged into this self-righteous crusade by an intolerant person who doesn’t respect people with different values or lifestyles. He probably never should have been allowed to be a leader in a dorm because he lacks something crucial for the job, love of people whatever their situation. Jesus would never have done this to the people in his dorm. Of that I am certain. God bless the fine administrators who help us every day. On behalf of this community I want you all to know that I hold you in prayer.
I can imagine a whole line of these Catholic bulletin boards. You could have the “Get your hands out of pants. Masturbation is evil (CCCC 2352) version or the “Put that turkey sandwich down, it’s Friday” type or the “Hey girl, not you, you can’t be a priest” vocation announcement. No one would ever do this because it is rude. Smalanskas’ bulletin board is rude. It may be a true teaching of the church, as are all of the other things mentioned above, but like those, it is just plain rude to put it in someone’s face.
In defiance of other dorm residents he put the bulletin board up for a third time. What kind of a person does that?
From an outside view it appears that Smalanskas won’t be content until he ruins Providence College because it doesn’t fit his view of Catholicism. By that I mean that the care and concern that Goodwin and Fr. Pavarnik show for students regardless of sexual orientation and their compassion in trying to ensure that students don’t feel hated in the place where they live seems to really eat away Smalanskas. The tone he takes in his challenge to Fr. Shanley is misplaced. Michael, raise your fist to the entire USofA, all of whom have made marriage something else and stop misplacing your anger toward the fine president of your college.
If the college considered that bulletin board hate speech, Mike Smalanskas would have been immediately fired from his job as an RA for putting it up over and over and over again. He’s still around so obviously they don’t consider it hate speech. Now move along. Show is over.
The truth of marriage being between one man and one woman is so self-evident in that it does not require a bulletin board to announce it to the world. It announces itself by being the manner in which new life is naturally brought into the world. But the world is a sinful places and God’s plan does get pushed aside especially when people stop seeing things clearly which is what I think has happened with many things to do with human sexuality. As you can see, I do affirm the idea that Mike put on the board but I albaolutely do not think that he should have done what he did. What he did lacked charity. What he did was provocative. The provocation was not to help gently move hearts but rather to put the college on the stop to take a stand in a losing battle. Those of us who think with the church on this issue risk being calling bigots because the laws of our country no longer affirm our position solely. The way through this is not a battle on the political front, it is a spiritual battle. Let’s pray for Mike. Let’s pray for those who were deeply hurt by Mike’s provocation of them. Lets pray to be led to see things as God wants us to see them so we cooperate with his plan for the salvation of the world. Let’s pray for gentleness rather than provocation in our interactions with each other. St. Dominic Pray for Us.
Providence is a Catholic School and the statements in the bulletin board we’re not hate, but truth espoused by the Catholic Church regarding marriage being between one man and one woman. It’s completely okay to express that. If this were a public school or an non-Catholic Private school then I would agree that it would have to come down. However, in this case, there is no problem with such.
As a father of a Providence College graduate, I am shocked that Michael Smalanskas has been bullied and intimidated by other students at PC. Those students who took down his postings should have been disciplined. What this article leaves out is that Michael Smalanskas had to be moved to other quarters for his safety. This is unbelievable. Michael Smalanskas’ civil rights have been violated. This is a sad day for Providence College.
It is a sad day, for sure when an employee of the college sets out to target the people he is paid to take care of with a bulletin board that served no other purpose than to taunt them with what he knows he do not believe in. He is irresponsible on his job or maybe just tone deaf to the community he lives in.
I am having a hard time buying that he was actually bullied or harassed. When a person is a deliberate provocateur and is seeking to have people harass and bully him to fulfill some martyrdom agenda, then everything that person reports should be in question. I will await the results of whatever investigation in ensuing before attributing bullying and harassment to this community.
How do you know that he doesn’t believe in what he was posting and what he post was just to taunt them? I really having a hard time believing that you know exactly what Micheal Smalankas’s intention is.
A Catholic employee of a Catholic institution should have no fear of repercussion over reinforcing Catholic doctrine. This makes me sick to my stomach that the University isn’t staining in solidarity with this individual as a matter of both free speech as well as Church doctrine.
Although we are called to love all, we aren’t called to love or tolerate all actions. The action of homosexuality is a grave sin against God. Any Catholic organization should permit the truths of Jesus and His true Church to be displayed. Not treating everyone equally given we are all made in the image and likeness of God is unacceptable. A Catholic college not making clear what actions are sinful is hypocritical.
I am sorely tempted to remove my daughter from a school that doesn’t take IMMEDIATE action in the face of violent threats made to a student who tried to uphold Catholic teaching in a totally non-judgmental way. Anyone who thinks this was taunting people needs a reality check. This is a Catholic school, people, in the United States. He had every right to do what he did. No one had the right to threaten him with assault. (The Cowl firewall rejected the r-word that Smalanskas was threatened with, ironically). I consider Shanley’s spineless obsequiousness to be an invitation to anyone who doesn’t care for Catholic traditions to express their violent fantasies against those who do. Here I thought Providence was a safe space. That’s a joke. I’m sure Smalanskas’ reputation, livelihood, and safety are all under threat right now. This is sickening.
Is Smalanskas’ reputation, livelihood, and safety are under threat it is because he is actively working to keep this going. In the past two days I have read three articles that he has been interviewed for in three different publications and watched a video tape of him. Who knows what adults are compelling him to go forward with this crusade, if any, but if they are encouraging this then it is them who are helping to damage his reputation, livelihood and safety. All of the publicity seeking that he is engaged in raises doubt about his motives in this entire affair. Or, perhaps he is simply an opportunist who used these events to advance a cause. Either way, he is the one that elevated the visibility of this.
You are completely right that no one has a right to threaten him with assault. There is no justification for that at all. In the interest of keeping him safe in every way, perhaps some well meaning adult in his life might suggest that he stop engaging with the press and that he refrain from sharing the dirty picture unless he wants every google search done on his name to yield this result. He has reported to news outlets that he desires to be a teacher. Why would someone who wants to work with youth put out a picture like that? Does he want every future employer or parent of his student to associate him with this forever?
As Chesterton said, “We do not want, as the newspapers say, a Church that will move with the world. We want a Church that will move the world.”
I am a Catholic from Minnesota. I have a family and thoughts on life and death. I want my family in heaven. I also know — KNOW THIS mind you — that purgatory is real. Purgatory is where God’s justice and mercy are made perfect. Purgatory is also for many a place of severe punishment or purification. It can last for centuries. It is not pleasant by any means but everyone in purgatory is eternally grateful and happy because they know that heaven awaits them.
What am I saying? I am saying every sin draws us further away from God and closer to the darkness. Even if some things seem fun they may be of great danger to our souls. So I take sexuality very seriously because it can become a driving force in one’s life and God and eternity become a distant thought. Maybe some people are destined to become homosexuals, I do not know that. But I do know that many others are not destined for that lifestyle. So I strongly, strongly object to public schools promoting the “Gay is Ok” kind of themes. And all the worse that abortion is ok or transgenderism is a fine option and all related matters. These are moral matters with spiritual ramifications. These are not matters of the govt or educators, but the responsibility and authority of parents. This is govt intervention to which I strongly object and I already explained why.
Now as to college, well, students can make their own choices. But the spiritual matters remain. As a Catholic College I would hope their would be a stronger message about all sin. But I can see our culture has been bull-dozed and overwhelmed by the sexual revolution where anything goes and clergy and institutions are very afraid to alienate this new world order. Well don’t be. Explain to them two things: One, all sex outside of marriage is sinful, so no need to pretend only gay sex is an issue. All sexual matters have consequences. Two, gay sex is not THEE unforgivable sin and we Christians are EVERYBODY, do not abandon the Church or prayer or God because you may have sin on your souls. We all do and my sin is just as wrong as anyone else’s. If you cannot stop your sin do not let that stop you from asking God for forgiveness, grace and guidance. Every soul in heaven was a sinner.
I do not like us singling out sexuality as some “unpardonable” sin, but neither do I appreciate governments or institutions telling us it is all good and so on. That is not welcome or wise, in my opinion.
Jim Valentini St. Paul, Minnesota
Something got mucked up in my post and lines omitted making the message read poorly. Here is the paragraph beginning with “Now as to college….” reprinted >>>
Now as to college, well, students can make their own choices. But the spiritual matters remain. As a Catholic College I would hope their would be a stronger message about all sin. But I can see our culture has been bull-dozed and overwhelmed by the sexual revolution where anything goes and clergy and institutions are very afraid to alienate this new world order. Well don’t be.
Explain to them two things: One, all sex outside of marriage is sinful, so no need to pretend only gay sex is an issue. All sexual matters have consequences. Two, gay sex is not THEE unforgivable sin and we Christians are to judge no one! I like what Pope Francis said on this issue, i.e., “who am I to judge?” So please, EVERYBODY, do not abandon the Church or prayer or God because you may have sin on your souls. We all do and my sin is just as wrong as anyone else’s. If you cannot stop your sin do not let that stop you from asking God for forgiveness, grace and guidance. Every soul in heaven was a sinner.
As a former Vice President for Student Affairs of a Catholic College who is also a lesbian and PC alum, I’m concerned that there isn’t more discussion about freedom of expression. In my experience, RA’s bulletin boards were typically for announcements, not proselytizing. There is an argument to be made for the way the board was used. The bigger issue, it seems to me, is that allegedly the RA was threatened, forced to be relocated and that (again, allegedly) res hall master keys were misused. This is so clearly unacceptable to me, and the students who did that should be dealt with seriously. Anyone counseling those students should remind them that while their anger was justified, they are not entitled to break the law in an attempt to rectify the situation. I’m not sure why the administration seems to have difficulty clearly saying that in their communications.
Having said all that, the church is clearly on the wrong side of history and love when it condemns same sex unions. Their attempt to cloak it in pastoral terms doesn’t make it less so. In fact, calling the LGBT group “Shepherd” wreaks of condescension. I hope the students who are representing the LGBT position are successful. But to succeed at the expense of free speech and the rule of law (i.e. misusing keys, threatening harm to another students) is a shallow and regrettable victory and does more harm to the LGBT cause than good.
I appreciate the above post but disagree with the statement.
Having said all that, the church is clearly on the wrong side of history and love when it condemns same sex unions.
The Bible (living word of God)is clear that homosexuality is sinful. If the Church turned Her back on this, they would promote risking someone’s eternal soul. The greatest love is to lay down your life for another. By accepting and approving sinful behavior we are showing a total lack of love for one another.
The church has been on the wrong side of history before.l I’d rather err on the side of love and grace towards others any day.
Jim, let’s not get into a debate over what the Bible says or doesn’t say, lest we condone slavery, stone women who have their period, and condemn those who enjoy shrimp. My soul is saved not by what the church or the Bible says is right or wrong, but by how I, with good conscience, manifest Christ’s teaching. Christ – who said nothing about same sex relationships. To take the Bible literally is not only NOT Catholic it is the putting forth of an argument that’s is at once lazy and child-like.
As you know the Bible contains various types of writing some literal some not. As Catholics we use the Bible and Sacred Tradition both of which we believe is divinely inspired. Through prayer, the Sacraments and service I have allowed my mind and heart to be formed which is why I now know (believe if you like) the Catholic Church was started by Jesus 2,000 years ago and contains the fullness of truth. Although not offended I’m a bit surprised you would resort to name calling but as you eluded to this isn’t the type of communication to discuss and debate. I love you. Happy early Easter. feel free to make any last comments as this is my last. God Bless.
Love you too, Jim. Happy Easter.
If an RA was worried about the mortal souls of his college aged residents I think a bulletin board with Catholic teaching on pre-marital sex would have been a better idea.
I am a former PC student and I am gay. Homophobia doesn’t need to be up on a bulletin board for students to understand that it is all around. The kid who posted this did the LBGTQ+ community a favor by shining a spotlight on the abusive institutional homophobia that permeates PC culture. To any queer students currently matriculated: I promise life is better on the other side. You are not alone.