The Tyranny of Fr. Steve Will Fall in the Face of SU Students

Two weeks ago, around October 3rd, Seattle University students found out that Planned Parenthood had been taken off the website as a resource for students. Father Sundborg, president of Seattle University, has repeatedly stated that Seattle University being anti-Planned Parenthood is not a new policy; it was established in 2011. Whenever questioned, he either ignores it or references the Catholic Church and how Planned Parenthood doesn’t align with Seattle U’s Jesuit Catholic values (despite Seattle U’s mission being, “Seattle University is dedicated to educating the whole person, to professional formation, and to empowering leaders for a just and humane world”). The Spectator, Seattle University’s student run newspaper, has written many articles about the issue. That is not what I want this article to be about.

Monday, October 14, students came together for a silent, peaceful protest against Father Sundborg and his tyrannical decision. In my eyes, the protest was not only about Sundborg removing Planned Parenthood from our website without asking what anyone else thought about it. We were protesting Sundborg directly, and how inconsiderate he is when it comes to the wellbeing of students. In the past, Sundborg has supported homophobic and transphobic actions of other faculty, hiding behind his Jesuit Catholic values to justify his harmful actions. This protest was us telling him we have not forgotten and we will not forgive.

Let me set the scene: outside the Casey building, about thirty students stood with signs, a few reading “PP ≠ ABORTION,” “We love queer students,” “Healthcare is a human right,” “Students for Planned Parenthood,” and more. Students of all genders gathered together and were thanked and supported by many faculty members walking into the building. Some faculty and staff―especially professors without tenure―were worried about openly expressing their support of us or their opposition to Sundborg’s decision out of fear they might lose their jobs or face other serious consequences. So they smiled at us, waved their fists in solidarity, or quietly thanked us as they walked by.

Others stared straight ahead and were careful not to make eye contact with any of us as they entered the building. I must admit, I felt powerful staring down grown men who were obviously uncomfortable as they walked passed little old me, holding a “We love queer students” sign. After all, these are the men who support Sundborg’s decision. These are the men who make my peers feel unsafe on campus. We buzzed as we waited for Father Sundborg to enter the building―what would he say? Would he be angry? Would there be serious consequences for those who showed up?

No. Sundborg spoke to the writers of an open letter who expressed our concerns and demands. He then walked up the stairs, read every sign, and said, “Very good,” or, “Thank you,” to each one. It made us angry. We wanted to make him uncomfortable, the way he continues to make us uncomfortable, but instead, as Anna Petgrave said, “It felt like I was being graded on an art project.” After Father Sundborg entered the Casey building, about half of the protestors went to class, and the other half went inside to sit and wait for him to come out after his meeting. We wanted to remind him that his placating, “Very good, thank you”s would not satisfy us.

Dean Powers came out to talk to us and ask if there were any specific comments we wanted him to pass along. Emi Grant expressed how she came to this school because of the progressive and accepting ways marketed to prospective students, and how badly it hurt that Father Sundborg lied to us and continues to lie to prospective students. “If this school values Catholic values above all else, that’s fine. But if that’s the case, I wish I had known before I decided to come here,” Grant said. Many of us nodded or verbalized our agreement. I told Dean Powers that many students live on campus, and we have the right to feel safe and heard on campus.

We sat on the first floor of the Casey building for about an hour and a half, waiting for Father Sundborg to come back out. What else is there to do while you sit and wait for the tyrant of Seattle University? We talked. We shared our stories and our fears, and we built connections. What I learned is that our community is strong―much stronger than Father Sundborg and his lies. We stand up for each other and we stand together. The problem is not Seattle University, it’s Father Sundborg. Recently, it has been pointed out to me that everyone at Seattle University is somehow connected. Even if it’s as simple as you knowing someone who knows the person you’re looking at, this is a small school, and we’re bound to run into each other at some point or another. In class a few weeks ago, someone expressed how frustrating and difficult it is to get students at Seattle University to care. They said we don’t show up for events, we don’t show up at fundraisers, and if we don’t support organizations on campus, how can we expect to round up enough students to protest against Father Sundborg?

I’m glad they were wrong. Sure, we may not show up to every trivia night a club hosts, but as Grant said, this school is marketed as a social justice school. We came here with the intent of cultivating our activism, and as devastating as it is to have to use these skills on campus, where we’re supposed to feel safe, I’m not surprised that so many of us have decided to rise up. With every person that appeared to join us at Casey on Monday, my heart grew. Maybe we can’t rely on Father Sundborg, but we can rely on each other.

Another major thing I learned is that protesting is a privilege. I got many texts profusely apologizing for not being able to attend the protest, and it broke my heart. Sometimes you can’t skip class or work. Sometimes you can’t openly align yourself with a cause (this wasn’t the case in any of the texts I got, but it’s still an important thing to point out). Sometimes there’s an emergency, sometimes your sick, sometimes you just can’t show up. Protesting is an excellent way of quickly and openly telling someone how you feel, but there are so many other ways of supporting a cause. In this case, keep talking about it. Don’t let it be pushed to the backburner. Sign the open letter. Believe in the cause.