Georgetown University students who attended last week’s March for Life in Washington, D.C., recently told The Cardinal Newman Society that student groups at the University are finding success in driving pro-life outreach and discussion on campus despite the University’s lack of support for their events and activities, or for Church teaching on life issues.
“I think that given a campus culture that's often hostile to pro-life views, it's extremely helpful that there exists organizations like Georgetown Right to Life,” Michael Khan, president of the student-run Right to Life group, told the Newman Society. “With contraceptives allowed in dorms and faculty members who hold views diametrically opposed to Church teaching, I can totally understand why many students on campus feel exiled for their pro-life views.”
More than 40 Georgetown University students braved the incoming blizzard to attend this year’s March for Life, even though the University refused to give students an excused absence for the nation’s largest pro-life event of the year held in its own backyard. Unfortunately, this is just one example of the University’s lack of support, and nothing new to pro-life students at the nation’s oldest Catholic university.
In recent years, students involved in pro-life projects and groups have found it increasingly difficult to elicit support from the University, which has promoted groups and events contrary to the Catholic faith on a number of occasions. The Newman Society’s reports on Catholic identity abuses at Georgetown include the University’s connection to abortion-supportive groups like Planned Parenthood and Amnesty International, and a canon law petition against the University submitted to the Vatican that “documented 23 years of scandals and dissidence.”
As the Newman Society reported in October, Georgetown University disregarded Respect Life Month and instead celebrated with six weeks of events and speakers for their annual LGBTQ “OUTober.”
“I am very disappointed with Georgetown,” Khan told the Newman Society in October. “We celebrate LGBT History Month and so-called ‘OUTober’ with a variety of events, panels and speakers … but for [recognizing] Respect Life Month [we have] absolutely nothing. No events. No emails. Nothing.”
The Newman Society reached out to Georgetown President John DeGioia’s office regarding this inconsistency, the March for Life and the importance of supporting pro-life students at a Catholic university, but no response was received by time of publication.
“[T]he school does not emphasize our Catholic pro-life beliefs to a significant extent, and we often have a campus culture that is secular and unsympathetic to traditional Catholic or pro-life views,” Khan told the Newman Society last week. “And if you look at Georgetown's social media accounts or website, you'll see nothing about our going to the March for Life and the cause for human dignity on this important day. The school seems not to want to engage too heavily in what they probably deem as too much of a ‘controversial’ and ‘divisive’ issue.”
Campus Culture Split on Pro-Life Views
It is not only the administration that avoids or even opposes pro-life views at Georgetown, but the overall campus and classroom atmosphere seems to be split when it comes to the most important pro-life issues.
“The campus is pretty divided on the topics and many people are staunchly in favor of one side or the other,” March for Life attendee Hunter Estes, a freshman and member of Georgetown Right to Life, told the Newman Society. “Within class, teachers seem to make all efforts to avoid discussion of the matter or other divisive issues. However, outside of class I have found students are very willing to discuss the topic.”
When Khan wrote a pro-life article for the University newspaper The Hoya last September, he experienced similar reactions from faculty, the most vocal of which came from a Catholic religious sister.
“The biggest pushback from faculty that I received for that article came from a Catholic sister — I kid you not — who argued against abolishing abortion by law and objected to aspects of Church teaching on abortion,” he said. “While the dissent was totally respectful, the episode reminded me of the work that still needs to be done, even at Catholic universities like Georgetown, to fully convey the importance of a consistent life ethic.”
The faculty pushback is disappointing, Khan noted, because theology classes should be excellent ways to gain knowledge about Church teaching. “Unfortunately, in some classes with certain professors, I know that many students feel too intimidated to share their pro-life views for fear of repercussion by professors who are not at all sympathetic to either the pro-life or Catholic message,” Khan explained.
But the faculty is not all bad, he continued. A select number of professors have become great resources for pro-life students and even serve as mentors, but they certainly seem to be outnumbered. “There are numerous professors here who could not be more supportive of Right to Life and events like the Cardinal O'Connor Conference on Life that we host annually,” he continued.
“I wish Georgetown as a whole focused more on emphasizing human dignity and the importance of protecting innocent life,” said Khan.
Student Groups Have Become Places of Refuge, Service
With a generally unsupportive faculty and campus atmosphere, Khan suggested that students who want to learn about the Church’s teachings on life issues and find support for their pro-life views should look to existing student groups.
“For new students, I would recommend actively seeking out this information from fellow students or select student organizations,” Khan told the Newman Society, pointing out that Right to Life and the Knights of Columbus are two such groups that support pro-life students at Georgetown. “Theology classes are always a sufficient way to gain more knowledge about Church teaching in general, but often times at Georgetown they fall short on issues related to human life, especially as it relates to controversial issues like abortion.”
“The [pro-life] community is very close and it definitely strengthens my confidence in my positions, especially knowing that I have support on campus,” Estes, who first met Right to Life while they were tabling on campus, told the Newman Society. “Especially on such a liberal campus, it is very nice to know there are so many good people who share your beliefs and support you.”
The Georgetown Right to Life student group, also known as Vita Saxa (“life rocks”) is currently made up of more than 400 students, a small but still influential percentage given the University’s undergraduate enrollment of approximately 7,595 students. The group, one of the oldest clubs at Georgetown, also serves the local community, Khan explained.
“Much of our group's activities involve mobilizing students for means of serving pregnant women not only here at Georgetown but in our local community,” he added, noting how students collect donation, diapers and supplies for crisis pregnancy centers. “I think part of the reason Right to Life is so important as a student organization at Georgetown is that we believe the pro-life movement is also a service-oriented movement.”
In fact, the University has a long tradition of pro-life initiatives. In 1988, several students formed American Collegians for Life, a group that would later become Students for Life of America (SFLA), one of the nation’s most active pro-life organizations working with college, high school and medical students, SFLA confirmed to the Newman Society.
The University has also played host to the Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life since 2000. The annual event is the largest student-run pro-life conference in the United States and is named after former New York Cardinal John O’Connor, a Georgetown alumnus and outspoken champion of the unborn. With this storied history as their foundation and in the face of the University’s lack of support, Georgetown Right to Life hopes to carry on this pro-life tradition, Khan added.
“I think groups like Right to Life are working not only to promote life but also to change the culture so that we as a society would never consider something as violent as abortion as a solution to our problems,” he said. “The numbers of dedicated freshmen who join our club each year is a constant reminder to me that this fight is one worth waging.”
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