Letter to the Editor

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Seattle University is currently working through the distress caused by a Jesuit English professor who removed the student run newspaper The Spectator from stands across campus. Professor Father Leigh claimed that he removed the newspapers because, “he was offended by a recent edition of The Spectator, whose cover contained what he [I] considered an inappropriate risqué photograph.” The photograph was of the recent drag show on campus which celebrates those in the LGBTQ community.

On a public campus, this would be a direct violation of free speech. But, because Seattle University is a private university, the administration can set the parameters and precedents for its campus and its newspaper.

Father Leigh’s actions have hurt the hard-working journalists of The Spectator. His actions have also caused the LGBTQ identifying community members to feel threatened, unwelcomed, and fearful of the university they chose to attend.

But to be clear, actions similar to this occur too often on campuses and in various public forums throughout the United States. Students at Middlebury, Lewis & Clark University, University of Washington, Cambridge, and UC Berkeley among others have been a part of a growing group of campuses where students have protested and condemned organized speakers. As a result, violence has broken out, speakers have been cut short of time, and in other cases speakers have been cancelled and disinvited.

We cannot continue down this road of letting students, professors, or universities ridicule to the point of restricting, limiting, or harming individuals simply based on their ideas and expressions, lack of political correctness, or minor indiscretions.

This is a concerted effort of individuals (in our case the Jesuit’s), to redefine the codes of free thought, free expression, and free speech.

And, frankly it is dangerous.

I grew up Catholic, attending Catholic school, and visiting the church every Sunday when I was young. However, due to the events that were covered in the movie Spotlight and other discrepancies occurring in the Catholic church my mom stopped us from participating in the Catholic church in 5th grade.

Coming to Seattle University I rekindled the flame with the church and regularly attend Sunday evening student mass at the beautiful chapel on campus. Sunday nights offer community and a space for reflection. At the same time, I have also found great solace in Pope Francis and in people like James Martin SJ based in Manhattan, for his progressive and transformative thoughts in Catholicism.

Father James Martin argues that there is a way to build a “two-way bridge between LGBT Catholics and the institutional church – that is, the church’s hierarchy and decision-makers.” A ‘two-way bridge’ doesn’t mean that the history of the Catholic church’s teachings on sex and sexuality will reverse. But it does mean that there is a way to include all people into the religion through dialogue and prayer. This is exactly what needs to happen at SU.

Yet Father Sundborg and Father Leigh are turning their heads away from the progressive and evolving times. They are trying to be so Catholic on this campus that they are forgetting how to be Christian.

St. Ignatius of Loyola describes the “evil spirit” as something that does not want to be revealed and it will try to conceal its work. But the evil spirit has been revealed here. Homophobia and transphobia exists on this campus, and it is glaringly coming from the dark corners of the Catholic Church and the Jesuits who are at the head of this school.

We will not all find a common ground tomorrow. We won’t. But what we can do as a university, is work together to show empathy, respect, compassion, and consideration. After all, the Jesuits do teach values like reaching out to the “peripheries,” meaning people who are unloved, or who are experiencing life on the margins.

And to this, it will call for changing the way our private university protects and supports its students. Just as Georgetown and Johns Hopkins, two leading Catholic institutions have done, we need gender inclusive housing, resources for those who are marginalized, and opportunities for students to feel free to explore their sexuality and identities.

Essential to this, is the Jesuit’s cannot restrict speech only because it offends. The United States government cannot, and we must adhere to similar laws as a private university.

For as long as we live, there will be speech and expression that makes us uncomfortable. It should. There will be speech and expression that challenges our mind and our hearts. It should. There will speech and expression that will hurt us and make us cringe. It should.

It can be stubbornly hard to lean in and listen, and to try and understand another side. But at this stage in society, where there is a milieu of political and social movements, there are important conversations to have. The very words that call people to protest, write letters, and dismantle certain individuals should be what people are sitting at a table, in a circle, or in a forum intentionally discussing.

We do not need to always understand or accept people’s arguments as right. That would be morally unsound. Nonetheless in due time letting a person engage in their free speech right and listening, will improve our arguments against our ‘opponent’ or it could even change our minds. I saw firsthand working in the Washington State Legislature how our democracy and all of society can thrive when two opposing parties listen and work together.

Instead of stomping on the voices that aren’t our own, or the views that are anathema to ours, we must call for support for the voices that aren’t being heard in general.

We need to listen to the controversial and offensive topics –let the thoughts travel through the brain instead of out the other ear. To check our privilege – acknowledging where we each stand 3 in our communities, what our role and voice should be, and how we can hear everyone in our community. We need to talk – shut out the noise and reflect and analyze with another person.

This last one will be sappy. But in my defense, unapologetically sappy.

We need to open our hearts – to put ourselves in other people’s shoes, to show compassion, and consideration. We must not bully, torment, or threaten others but if nothing else, show basic civility and respect. In the end, this something all people including Jesuit’s can get behind.

Anna Trombetta, Senior, Department of Communications