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.