This past Wednesday, Father Kenneth Sicard, O.P., started the President’s Office series “With Mutual Respect: Discussions on Contemporary Challenges.” In the email sent out to the campus community, the event was advertised as a space to discuss issues that polarize the nation and our community via respectful academic discourse. The discourse is encouraged by the liberal arts and Dominican tradition of truth-seeking and being uncomfortable in order to be thoughtful. The idea of practicing a liberal arts tradition of expanding thoughts and communication is admirable. Recognizing the hard work and time that went into this event is essential. However, as with all first-runs, some critiques should be brought forward and addressed.
The first critique to address falls in line with the event’s advertisement to the campus community. Students, faculty, and staff received the email stating that this was a presidential series meant to enact respectful conversations. However, PC for Life used the event as a focal point of their “Respect Life” week, which gives the false impression that the event is only meant to affirm pro-life ideology. It was jarring to see our campus take an opportunity at equal discourse on a contentious topic such as abortion and turn it into propaganda for one side of the issue. It was in poor taste to allow Campus Ministry to use the event as the highlight of their week.
Misrepresenting how the College advertised the event leads to certain community members treating this event as a debate. Debate means that one side must come out of the event victorious. One side of the issue “winning” is far from the purpose of discussing Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Those entering with the misconstrued approach of this event being a debate were not open to listening instead of speaking. The disadvantage is that they did not enter the event with an open mind for discussion and trying to find common ground. We were supposed to highlight differences in factual information and logical reasoning to find common ground between pro-life and pro-choice views. We were not meant to decide on a winning side of this discussion.
Another suggestion would be to add a warning about sensitive topics along with mental health resources. This past Wednesday’s discussion brought up the serious issues of sexual assault, rape, incest, lack of bodily autonomy, and force over another person. Therefore, it would be in the series’ best interest to add a trigger warning with appropriate resources for those in the audience who may have experience with one or more of these acts in their lives. Further, a warning about sensitive topics would be appropriate for the people in the crowd who may have had an abortion or had a family member affected by abortion. How each side discussed the issue could evoke strong reactions such that outside care may need to be sought.
For the next “With Mutual Respect” event, all advertisements should explicitly state that the series is not a debate to avoid more misrepresentation. Further, it should be ensured that the event’s promotion comes from a non-biased and strictly academic source. For final consideration, a trigger warning statement should be read at the beginning of these events. One must understand that having these conversations is difficult and not easy. So, these critiques are offered not in a negative light but in a positive manner to further our ability to have productive conversations on this campus. This past event curated many conversations about abortion in classrooms as well as conversations that occurred in private lives and between both sides. Therefore, some good is being done because we can discuss and find common ground.