Acceptance, Honesty, and SVC

No person is entitled to shun another based on the opinions they hold, the love life they live, or the sexual decisions they do/do not make. Since coming to college, I’ve encountered an atmosphere more tolerant than any I was exposed to before... but my small campus in Southwest Pennsylvania still has a lot of work to do. SVC, let’s have a chat.

We need to talk about opinions; specifically, we need to talk about differing opinions and how to approach them, because this current technique of ignoring those who don’t conform is getting old. I’ll be the first person to admit that I have an abundance of strong thoughts about issues, and I’m willing to be that I’m not the only one. Strong beliefs are not the problem at hand, being intolerant of other beliefs is. Saint Vincent College aligns very strongly with the Benedictine, Catholic values it was founded upon. It has a right to uphold these, but I’ve noticed that the campus struggles to invite other thoughts to be heard. They have no problem bringing a lecturer to tell students “Why Contraception is Anti-Life,” but no speakers on sexual health itself.

A member of the College Democrats club confided that the organization often has difficulty finding an acceptable speaker to come talk to their members, as the college blocks anyone who does not align with the school’s core values. College is a time to grow, and it is an injustice that SVC feels it can shelter students this way. We do not bring politicians onto campus during elections, conservative or liberal, but it has been deemed acceptable to chalk phrases such as “pro-choice = no choice” on the sidewalks outside our student center. These students should never be denied the right to share their opinions, but the opinions expressed cannot be from only one side. If one side is given such a large campus platform to express itself, why would another not be given the same opportunities? This campus cannot afford to be afraid to let another side speak on the divisive issues we’re all facing today.

I’ll admit that I came to a school where the core values of the institution do not align closely with my own beliefs. I’m not afraid of disagreeing, I’m afraid of students being denied the right to express themselves on a campus that boasts about being a “family” and “home away from home.” Is hospitality not a core component of Benedictine life? This college owes this hospitality to every student who enrolls, regardless of their sexual orientation, religious beliefs, or political alignments. Saint Vincent College’s LGBT students recently organized a movement that was in no way affiliated with the campus as a way to make sure their presence was recognized. More students chose to “stand with love” than I would have given the institution credit for, but t-shirts should not have had to say that these students deserve to be accepted here. They should have been accepted because they are people, and they deserve respect.

I’ve also observed a tendency for the campus to shy away from uncomfortable issues. You guessed it, we’re talking about our Title IX program next! Title IX (and its director, Eileen Flynn) are a fantastic, understanding resource for students... if they know it exists. Title IX is mentioned briefly at freshman orientation and then barely ever acknowledged again. Sexual assault occurs on this campus, just as it does on any other. Glossing over the issue to avoid discomfort or fear is doing NO ONE a favor. Students need to know what resources are available to them in the event of sexual harassment and sexual assault.

While we’re talking about it, I’m just going to come right out and say it: students on this campus are likely to be having sex. Get all your gasps out now, because I said it. This may be a religious campus, and there may be curfews in place to try to promote abstinence, but students here are adults in control of their own lives. It shouldn’t be a radical concept to accept that students here behave as students anywhere else would. It is not any other student’s job to shame students who choose to/choose not to engage in sexual activity. For this campus to truly become the “family” we all believe it can be, we all need to employ the “live and let live” philosophy. We don’t have to agree with everyone around us. It doesn’t matter what choices someone else is making; make your choices for you and allow them to do the same. For our campus to move forward, we need less judgement and more affirmation.

This kind of unconditional acceptance is where our amazing institution is lacking. This is where we still have work to do, and acknowledging that we still have steps to take is essential. I have an immense amount of love for Saint Vincent College, but it breaks my heart to see important issues and opinions be swept aside due to discomfort. This honest conversation could be a great place to start; share this article, and let your own opinions show.