Another normal Wednesday evening in the Providence College Slavin Center became a moment for respectful discourse surrounding abortion that is not often found in current American politics. With multiple Public Safety officers and crowds of students, one could feel the tension in the room. People generally struggle with listening to opposing viewpoints, especially given the prominence of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization Supreme Court decision.
Despite this, Anthony DiSpena ’24 is “interested to see the audience’s reactions to the discussion and the effect it will have on campus climate after.” Ultimately, the discussion is the first part of a long path towards a more accepting campus culture.
The College emphasizes that the new discussion forum is not a debate with a winner and loser. While community members might believe PC should boldly declare the Catholic viewpoint on the issue as “correct,” this strategy will not build an understanding and inclusionary community. The College should be proud of its Catholic and Dominican history, but as an institution that serves a variety of students in a country with freedom of religion, it should give students the space to comfortably speak about these issues as well. “With Mutual Respect” advances these goals by giving professors a voice surrounding sensitive topics.
The planning of “With Mutual Respect” demonstrates a necessary commitment to diversity of opinion on the College’s part. According to Dr. Morgan, “from the outset the entire group—whose perspectives on the abortion issue ran from strongly pro-life to strongly pro-choice—were committed to this being an event that was an invitation to listen eloquently,” as Professor Battisoni said in his opening remarks. Together, the PC community can overcome staunch ideological differences to collaborate in a meaningful way.
While Dr. Morgan emphasized the time commitment involving a meeting “every week for an hour starting in late May,” the effort is certainly not without reward. As students, each individual must realize that discourse takes energy and time, but it ultimately builds stronger thinkers, listeners, and community members. Nothing worthwhile is ever easy.
Dr. Morgan, Dr. Coolman, Dr. Brooks, and Dr. Keating set a strong example for students about respectfully disagreeing with colleagues on prominent political issues, which is an invaluable skill in America’s increasingly polarized two-party system. Simultaneously, the colleagues also identified common ground that students should highlight when discussing abortion.
Both sides acknowledged the challenging circumstances such as healthcare and economic inequality that impact the abortion issue, which is not always addressed in this type of conversation. Abortion cannot be examined in a vaccuum, separated from other parts of a person’s identity.
Society is not perfect. Any legislation aimed at regulating or legalizing abortion might not perform exactly as intended. Even when the mother’s life is threatened, doctors in particular regions wait to provide services because they fear the legal consequences, as Dr. Brooks noted. Even when abortion was legal in all fifty states, ninety percent of counties did not have an abortion provider as an indirect consequence of the Hyde Amendment.
On the pro-life side, Dr. Coolman also pointed out that many of the politicians that support abortion restrictions often do not support universal healthcare and welfare programs. She urges students to avoid contemplating complex legal and moral issues through a narrow two-party lense. Both perspectives, however, acknowledge the limits of the legislative system to fully address the issue.
After the event, Dr. Coolman emphasized that the “most important goal of this event was real disagreement that was also respectful and [she] think[s] it succeeded beyond expectation.” In the end, as members of a community, disagreement is not always an obstacle.
Dr. Keating echoed similar sentiments, while adding that she has “been good friends with Dr. Morgan for many years and [they] were able to discuss a difficult topic while providing different perspectives.” Each student should start to see past ideological differences and view disagreement as an opportunity to grow as a person. Politics should not define relationships with others, but in some cases, it does.
Does the abortion issue itself divide us? Is this another indirect manifestation of the two-party system’s shortcomings?
After the event, Dr. Brooks is “hopeful that last Wednesday evening’s panel edged [the College] closer to becoming a vibrant community that truly welcomes and strongly supports the flourishing of every human being in all of their diversity, inclusive of race, gender, gender identity, sexuality, ability, and age.”
While the discussion shed light on a critical issue within the nation, students must put these ideals into practice. Whether it be in the form of a student-led discussion series, classroom conversations, or advocacy, it is time for students to take an active role in facilitating respectful discourse.
Students have genuine interests in politics, which is imperative in a representative government. Now, one must use the discussion as an example. The time has come to civilly bring opinions into the classroom to build a more inclusive PC for future generations of Friars.