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  • Ashley Torkornoo & Joanna Kreke

LGBTQ Speaker's Talk Canceled

On April 6, Dr. Simone Kolysh, an assistant professor of sociology at Hood College, was scheduled to deliver a talk “Everyday Violence: The Public Harassment of Women and LGBTQ People” at Mount St. Mary’s University. Their talk would have been part of the sociology honors society, Alpha Kappa Delta, induction celebration. Queer guest speakers at the Mount are few and far between, thus many, including the members of the LGBTQ+ community, were excited for this lecture.

Last week, The Brownson Record, a recently-established independent publication on campus, dug up tweets from Kolysh’s Twitter account and conversations regarding the appropriateness of Kolysh’s presence at the Mount sparked. The Record aims to “promote the Catholic vision of the human person in the modern world,” according to its website.

On March 31, The Record published an article “Sociology Department, Alpha Kappa Delta Invite Self-Proclaimed ‘Pro-Abortion’ ‘Witch B*tch’ To Deliver University-Sponsored Lecture,” that featured cherry-picked tweets of Kolysh, implying their fit to speak at a Catholic university. This led the administration to cancel their talk and rescinded the invitation.

When asked how they felt about the cancelation, Kolysh replied, “[The tweets] should not be used to disqualify my credentials… the tweets were not about the actual topic of the event. I hoped to enlighten and educate people on terminology and the very real problem [of public harassment of women and LGBTQ people].”

Early last week, several Mount sociology students received emails from The Record’s editors asking for their reactions on the scheduled speaker. Though some did not think much of these emails, other students expressed that they felt uncomfortable, which escalated when they received follow-up emails after the event was canceled. A student who wishes to stay anonymous said that the emails “felt like they were tormenting us.”

When contacted by the Echo, the editors of The Record declined to comment. The advisors of the new publication have stated that they have never read Kolysh’s work.

The Mount’s LBGTQ+ community has expressed its disappointment in how the institution addressed the situation. One member of the community expressed their disappointment— “I am not speaking for the LGBTQ+ community on campus when I speak about the Dr. Kolysh’s canceled talk. But as an individual on this campus, I am hurt by how the university has treated LGBTQ+ students in the past and I am even more hurt about this incident. I do agree that the university has the right to cancel any event but I feel as though it should have publicly expressed that it was not because of the author’s sexuality or gender.”

Many faculty have also expressed their frustration with the outcome of the situation. One faculty member anonymously expressed that, “The Brownson Record went out of its way to create an unnecessary scandal that put the Mount in an awkward situation. In my opinion they were reckless and not well advised by faculty who already have a track record of causing the administration headaches.”

Concerns of the representation of the LGBTQ+ community were brought up by both students and Kolysh. “Sensationalizing the tweets of [someone like me] is a distraction from the very real issue of… the erasure of marginalized groups,” Kolysh asserted. Feelings of being unheard are a common theme throughout the student body.

President Timothy Trainer assured members of the Mount community who were hurt by the cancellation of the event by making the following statement: “The intellectual life of our university depends on stimulating and vigorous discussion, debate and inquiry that exposes students to diverse viewpoints. In that vein, I applaud an academic department and the Mount’s chapter of Alpha Kappa Delta for inviting a speaker to present on public harassment against women and LGBTQ people. Just days ago, it became clear that some of the speaker’s public messages demonstrated a considerable lack of respect for values we hold dear as a university, and therefore I directed the rescinding of the invitation to speak consistent with our speaker’s policy.”

The Mount’s policy states that speakers and topics that lead to “vigorous discussion, debate, and inquiry and other events that will expose students to diverse viewpoints and will help students to grapple with difficult questions facing modern society” fosters the intellectual life of a Catholic University. However, “[e]vents on campus that address areas where there could be confusion (especially controversial moral, political, or scientific issues) should represent ideas fairly, and should be an occasion for the university to remind students that the university upholds the authority of Catholic teachings, encourages inquiry and discovery, and trusts that any truths discovered by human intellect can in principle be reconciled with Catholic teaching.” Without knowing the content of Kolysh’s talk, several students and faculty think it was unfair for the talk to have been preemptively canceled. Some faculty members are concerned about academic freedom, scholars’ social media account and how Twitter posts can disqualify a published author and scholar.

Dr. Joshua Hochschild, the author of the policy, commented on the interpretation of the policy with regards to Kolysh’s tweets. “Our speaker policy formalizes some plain common sense—that the appropriateness of a speaking event depends not only on the topic but on the context. It seems to me that your questions kind of miss this point, and if you don’t see that I’m not sure where to begin explaining it.”

Though the policy does not explicitly consider online comments made by speakers as a reason to not allow them to talk at the university, the policy can be interpreted that way. “An established and well-understood speaker policy can eliminate the confusion often aroused by hosting events or speakers with diverse moral, political or scientific viewpoints,” Hochschild explained.

This incident has reminded the importance of broaching and facilitating difficult conversations. “We need to be uncomfortable,” Erica Rousseau, director of the Center for Student Diversity, stated. Dr. Tim Wolfe, director of Human Services echoed the same sentiment: “Seeking comfort is not how you grow.” Themes of growing pains were echoed during a discussion among students and faculty at the reading of Kolysh’s book by Dr. Kim Hansen in place of the canceled talk.

The First Amendment protects Kolysh’s tweets and that they stand by what they tweeted. Academic freedom and the protection of the First Amendment are aligned with Mount St. Mary’s core values. That is why when incidents like these are challenged, it can be seen as hypocritical by students and faculty at the Mount. “When you try to silence an outspoken person like me, you’re only going to prove me right that society is becoming as fascist as it is,” Kolysh affirmed.

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