Outrage and Confusion after Canceled NSSRH Event

Raise an issue. Witness uproar. Repeat.

Seattle University members are familiar with the incessant cycle of groups clashing and—instead of finding solutions—unintentionally furthering divides in our community. The recent cancellation of a Nursing Students for Sexual and Reproductive Health (NSSRH) event, for example, has caused much offense and controversy, with no clear answers on how to proceed.

Last Monday, NSSRH posted a flier to various bulletins at Seattle U that depicted a rosary with an IUD instead of a crucifix.

“Right away I was offended by it because I myself am Catholic and the rosary is something we hold to be sacred,” said Students for Life member and junior Theology major, Gabriela Johnson.

The image was meant to promote the NSSRH event planned for last Thursday—Catholicism and Full Spectrum Reproductive Healthcare: One Provider’s Perspective. But despite acknowledging their mistake and taking down the fliers quickly, the group received an “avalanche” of negative response from Catholic communities at Seattle U, the Cardinal Newman Society and Students for Life America for the flier, the event and hosting a Planned Parenthood physician. According to the group, the event was postponed because they could not meet Administration’s request to include more perspectives within a few hours.

“[Administration] was getting calls from around the country for us to be expelled, for our group to be disbanded, to prohibit us from having events ever again,” said Erin Delsol. Delsol, Amanda Cushing, Emelia Udd and Becca Fino-Fugate, are the leadership of NSSRH and are all first-year Advance Practice Nursing Immersion (APNI) students.

Various organizations wrote articles about the event that had a number of inaccuracies. One article called NSSRH an unofficial group even though it is an official club. Another article urged President Fr. Stephen Sundborg, S.J. to publicly state that the university does not agree with the event’s message, despite common knowledge that club views do not reflect the position of Seattle U.

“I wish that people would engage more intellectually, emotionally with the topic rather than just the image,” Udd said.

Dr. Sara Pentlicky, the planned speaker for the event, was going to discuss her personal experience and values as a person who was raised Catholic and is now a full-spectrum reproductive health care provider. Pentlicky was not going to speak as a representative for Planned Parenthood and the club does not identify as pro-choice.

Gabriela Johnson, and other SFL members Melissa Guzman and Brinkley Johnson, wanted to attend the event and discuss the topics, similarly to how NSSRH members have attended SFL events in the past to promote dialogue.

“We have stated that they are welcome to respectfully attend any event that we put on,” Fino-Fugate said.

Although some SFL members expressed disappointment at first about the event cancellation, Gabriela Johnson said she is now glad it was cancelled.

“They were trying to push [reproductive justice and Catholicism] together and saying ‘look, they really fit,’” Gabriela said. “They obviously stand in contradiction to one another.”

Guzman and Brinkley agreed that these two concepts were clearly in contradiction, that it would be a misrepresentation of Catholicism and that it was problematic to have Pentlicky claim authority on contraceptives and Catholicism.

But Pentlicky was not going to claim authority on any subject, nor was the event pushing any agenda. It was only meant to illustrate one person’s personal experience.

“It was…for us to be able to reflect and look within ourselves and think about how that [story] resonates or doesn’t resonate with us,” Fino-Fugate said.

APNI students are taught that those planning to work in women’s reproductive health need to decide how they feel about abortion care before hand. Although the Catholic Church has a clear stance on abortion and contraceptives, NSSRH believes that does not negate the need to explore certain values in healthcare.

“We saw this [event] as a way to introduce people into that process of values exploration…given their religious background or lack thereof,” Delsol said.

The NSSRH students know and accept certain topics will not be explored in the classroom because Seattle U is a Catholic Jesuit University. Still, they think it is important to hear from perspectives outside of what is provided in curriculum. They want to explore many topics including sexuality and disabilities, trans* health and infertility—but now they may need to jump through extra hoops.

Since the postponement of the event, hundreds have expressed outrage. NSSRH said the Associate Dean for Graduate Education in the College of Nursing, Anne Hirsch, and College of Nursing, Dean Kristen Swanson, required the group to include more perspectives. They were also asked to work closer with the Mission and Ministry Office on all topics and speakers, moving forward, and that an event planned for this Friday unrelated to abortion would now require two faith-based speakers.

Contrary to these requests, in an e-mail statement to the Spectator, Sundborg said that the group would not be required to include more perspectives. Hirsch also said that those requests were merely recommendations. NSSRH attributes this confusion to a miscommunication, but the event planned for this Friday will remain cancelled in light of the outcry surrounding last Thursday’s event.

Although technically NSSRH decided to cancel this and last week’s events, many, including senior political science major, Izzy Gardon, believe it was due to unfair pressure.

“If you get multiple calls from high level administrators…I ask myself what I would do in that situation—and I would absolutely cancel that event,” Gardon said.

The confusion about the intent of the event, its cancellation and why outside organizations got involved are all symptoms of a community that cannot engage with its members on difficult issues.

Director for Center of Student Involvement, Bernie Liang, relates this issue back to the Campus climate study done last year.

“Students sort of feel shuttered in with the ways that they think about things, whether they’re pro this or against that,” Liang said. “When do we find common ground or search to understand?”

Despite how different groups felt about the event, there is a clear common ground between all.

First, most were disappointed that the event was cancelled.

“That was surprising that [SFLA] wanted a shutdown, because I personally was not expecting that and did not want that to happen,” Brinkley said.

Most regret more dialogue didn’t occur between Seattle U groups before outside groups got involved—only one student contacted NSSRH before the public outcry occurred. Most also think that asking NSSRH to include more perspectives is an unfair double standard.

“To have someone that disagrees with them at every event, that doesn’t make any sense,” Gabriela said.

At this point, NSSRH is happy that administration has supported them throughout this highly publicized, stressful experience. There are no easy answers to high-tier issues such as these, but Sundborg plans to meet with Student Government at Seattle U President, Mallory Barnes-Ohlson and other student leaders to move forward.

Melissa may be reached at editor@su-spectator.com

Melissa is a senior journalism major. She uses the word “Scare-cited” when describing her feeling about being this year’s Editor in Chief. She likes alternating her hair color between purple, blue and "faded out," snuggling with fuzzy animals, and making boozy, baked treats.


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  • Steve

    Given that there exist organizations such as Catholics for choice, and the advent of Womanist theology, i would argue that events such as this are clearly necessary. The Catholic church has such a strong stance on both birth control and abortion, and these tend to be in conflict.

    I would have like to have heard the perspective of the speaker of this event, and I hope in the future, the school will fully support events like this.

    I would like to point out (as a student of SU) to the many people from out of state who harassed the administration, that this is a jesuit university. You should be aware that there are many classes on campus in the University Core curriculum (required courses for all undergrads) which cover and encourage students to discuss topics such as womanist theology, and equality. Inevitably one finds that you cannot be serious about social justice unless you consider reproductive rights. These conversations are already being had on campus, and they will continue to be had. This is what a Jesuit school looks like.

  • Astaroth

    It is so lovely to hear that President Sundborg disagrees with the Dean of Nursing, and has stated that religious perspectives will not be forced upon discussions and presentations held by this student group. I wonder if this is a requirement for any other student groups on campus?

    I also wonder if the Dean of Nursing realizes that by demanding religious perspectives be represented at an institution who’s nondiscrimination policy includes religion, that they open this dialogue to religious groups such as the Satanic Temple?

    I would be very happy to make our perspective known if this door was open to us.

    Ave Satanas!