Letter from the Student Body President
On April 6, there was supposed to be a lecture given by Hood College professor Dr. Simone Kolysh titled “Everyday Violence: The Public Harassment of Women and LGBTQ People.” The Brownson Record, a newly-organized, independent student journal, published an article last week publicizing Kolysh’s tweets regarding their personal views on abortion, religion and their LGBTQ+ identity.
This has led to the lecture, which was part of the Alpha Kappa Delta Sociology Honor Society induction celebration, being canceled and the invitation to speak has been rescinded by the university. As Student Body President, I write this letter to advocate for the truth (which The Brownson Record claims to stand so strongly for) and to recognize the wounds now inflicted upon many students that I have been charged with representing:
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4).
Like many students, I chose the Mount because it was a small university, roughly the same size as my public high school. Although it is small, it is not an identical set. We all arrive with diverse backgrounds and experiences, having lived in different parts of the world that have shaped us into who we are. Assimilating here, we face people who think, act and speak differently than anyone we’ve ever encountered before. This is an important moment of our development: how do we reconcile the world we’ve been raised in with the world we’re faced with today?
When we are presented with something new, something different, confusion results. This doesn’t come without discomfort. One of our many commonalities is the human desire for control and understanding, which is what makes surrendering to God all that more powerful and important. Unknowns are terrifying, but it is in the midst of unknowns and uncertainty that we strengthen and practice our faith. It is a sign of moral underdevelopment if we run from something that is different because we do not know how to reconcile it in our minds. The brave action, the strong action is to face it head on and try to understand it, with the reason and knowledge that God has entrusted to us.
It is natural to fear the unknown; it is not acceptable to turn that fear into hatred.
As a university, we would fail in our mission of developing strong, ethical leaders if we allowed students to remain in the bubbles they bring to our doorstep. Our faculty and administration must expose us to the truths of the world—the beautiful and the ugly—so that we know the reality we are graduating into. As a Catholic university, we must provide students with diverse experiences so we can face the most negative parts of the world without faltering in our faith. This involves encouraging dissenting arguments, allowing rigorous debate and representing the world beyond Emmitsburg. Jesus did not stay in one town. He did not stay where He was accepted and loved. In fact, He sought out those who believed differently. So should we.
We cannot avoid people unlike us because we are inherently social creatures. If we have little concern for those around us, we fail in our mission of human community. When one succeeds, we all succeed. Similarly, when one fails, we all fail.
As a Catholic, I am pro-life—radically. But this pro-life belief has never stopped at just anti-abortion for me. To be pro-life means to be against the death penalty, against warfare and against many more injustices contrary to the sanctity of human life.
Yet, life is not just about the physical state of being, but of living a fulfilling life. To me, pro-life means to strive for the good life: for all. Those who are marginalized, weighed down with burdens and afflicted are all individuals the Catholic faith urges us to fight for because they are not empowered to live the fulfilling lives we are called towards. I’ve often heard the Christian God described as the God of the oppressed, who stands with those who suffer injustice. This is the spirit that drives my advocacy and that I’ve tried to infuse into my administration. It is not because I love you that I am Catholic; it is because I am Catholic that I love you.
As Catholics, we are called to stand against mechanisms of human suffering and injustice. “Jesus wept” (John 11:35) is the shortest sentence in the Bible yet one of the most powerful, because it expresses an important human emotion that Our Lord shared with us when He witnessed the tyranny of death over humanity. Human empathy and compassion are some of our strongest and most powerful capabilities, ones that are necessary to fully engage with our social natures. We would be incomplete if we did not cry with those who suffer, if we did not feel joy at a friend’s happiness.
Today, I see students hurting due to the insensitivities of other students, no matter how honorable they perceive their intentions to be. Quite embarrassingly, I’ve spent multiple nights this week crying in the middle of the library’s main floor. Like in the Gospel of John, I was not crying for myself. I was overcome with the suffering and afflictions of every student, staff and faculty member at this university. No matter where we stand in this controversy, we are all hurt—and some of our pain has been self-inflicted.
Throughout my administration, I have tried to present SGA, the Mount and myself as welcoming. I hope I have succeeded in this. While we all come from various backgrounds and experiences, we all end up here. Once here, we are called to protect and love this community, and any community that we’re in. There is no place for hate at a Catholic university. There is no room for hate in our hearts.
One of my major points of interest in my academic research and my time as Student Body President has revolved around sexual violence, which stems from a more personal nature. During my sophomore year, I was raped on this campus that I am charged with leading today. I have been catcalled, harassed and demeaned by the same peers that I’m supposed to represent.
Do you have any idea how hard it is to fight for the best for the same students that have violated me… that have left physical and mental wounds on my body over the past three years? I promise you that it has taken much more strength than to publish an article, cower among anonymity and hide behind a computer screen.
The saddest part is that I know my story is not unique—faculty, staff and students have faced sexual violence both here and afar. It takes an incomprehensible amount of strength and resilience to continue after such suffering and to all survivors, I see you and I applaud you.
This issue, while personal for me, is of great importance to any member of any human community. Any individual with a shred of compassion for their neighbor should feel passionately about this issue, Catholics even more so. We cannot sit in silence, letting oppressors and perpetrators inflict pain upon themselves and the members of our human family. When we do so, we wound ourselves and unintentionally align ourselves with the side of the oppressor.
To those students passionate enough against this speaker to protest the lecture: if you spent an eighth of the energy towards combatting sexual violence that you did towards the speaker, I may not have been raped. Your friends, peers, professors and family members may not have become victims of senseless abuse and violence. Shoulder this burden like you shouldered the lecture. The Cross of victimhood has been placed upon the shoulders of survivors of sexual violence. Jesus did not carry His Cross alone; neither should these victims. Carry the Cross, instead of making it heavier.
I hope the one thing that has come across most during my administration is this: I love the Mount. Any critique, protest or inquisition I have towards the university is because I truly want what is best for her. I believe this is what it means to be a servant leader, and this is the goal I hope the next Student Body President works towards. As I said in my Convocation speech, I believe that the Mount is a special, unique and holy place because of our history and because of the people here today. If there were empty seats in empty classrooms, no pilgrims at the Grotto and no hum of intellectual debate, this place would cease to be as special. That is how I know it is the Mount community—the Mount family—that makes this university what it is.
This is also what causes strife and tension, as we are seeing now. The Apostles bickered and fought, looking down upon those who weren’t following their Master. But Our Lord always set them right. That is what I ask Him to do today: set us back on the right path where we see the humanity in each person and the special gifts they bring to the Mount. There is a hole that their absence would leave on this campus. Let us not be so blinded in our hatred and fear to overlook that.