No choice for Pro-Choice Panel


Illustration by Ariel Landry

This week, administrators pressured College Democrats to cancel the invitation for one of its planned speakers — leaving the organization feeling censored.

The event was in a response to a panel hosted last month by the Wolf Pack for Life club, which invited several speakers to campus from various shades of the pro-life spectrum.

The College Democrats sought to express their club values through a panel of their own.

With no funding from the university, the club planned the event for April 4 on campus in the Audubon Room. They arranged for three speakers to attend and present. Information about these speakers and the panel was provided to the university, and the university approved the event – but took issue with one speaker, Amy Irvin, who was ultimately asked not to speak at the event.

Amy Irvin is the executive director of the American Abortion Fund, something that conflicts with Jesuit and Catholic values.

Just two days before the panel, Dylan Ritter, president of the College Democrats club, received a phone call from Alicia Bourque, the executive director for student affairs at Loyola. Bourque expressed concern with Irvin’s presence on campus and at the panel, urging Ritter and his fellow club members to disinvite Irvin. According to Ritter, Bourque told them Irvin was too extreme and could potentially reflect badly on Loyola if outsiders were to believe Loyola had funded the event.

The College Democrats were upset and initially planned to keep Irvin on the schedule, but after a sit-down meeting with Bourque – in which they began to worry that refusing her request would negatively impact their club – they disinvited the speaker.

Loyola’s Student code of conduct states that university administrators shall “have the authority to cancel or reschedule a speaker in the event that there are reasonable concerns regarding the safety of the university community, or in the event a speaker will unreasonably impact the operations of the university.”

There is no apparent safety issue present, nor would Irvin’s presence have likely disrupted the operations of Loyola.

Although no member of the university directly cancelled Irvin’s attendance at the panel, it’s appears that they did strong-arm the club into doing it themselves. While this loophole does make the code of conduct inapplicable in the scenario, the university indirectly cancelled the speaker — there is no way the College Democrats would have done that on their own.

The Student code of conduct also states that “Sponsorship of speakers does not imply approval or endorsement of the views expressed, either by the sponsoring group or by Loyola,” which is counter to the exact reason given to Ritter and the College Democrats as to why they shouldn’t have Irvin speak.

Also present in the code is the assurance that “any segment of the academic community is free to invite and hear any personality and idea presented in the university forum.”

Although Bourque declined an interview with the Maroon Wednesday night, she did give a statement that recapped what happened and wrote that “As we got nearer to the event, I did a little more research on the backgrounds of the various speakers and I was concerned that inviting a representative from the New Orleans Abortion Fund, which raises money to pay for legal abortions, ran counter to our Jesuit, Catholic values and the university’s official pro-life stance. … Respectful civil discourse and navigating complicated issues is an important element of a university education and of daily life.”

It seems that Bourque intimidated the club into canceling the speaker for the image of the university. In doing so, it would appear that she has circumvented the student code of conduct relating to speakers by not directly canceling it herself.

The student rights and freedoms that state that any member of the academic community is invited to hear any idea presented in university forum were violated. Furthermore, the rationale provided as to why Irvin should not speak at the event was also counter to the spirit of the student code of conduct.

We do attend a Catholic school, and built within that are Catholic values that we cannot avoid on campus. Jesuit values are a key part of Jesuit identity, which pertains to student life here at Loyola. And there is no doubt that an abortion activist would be offensive to a significant portion of our community. But hurt feelings aren’t sufficient grounds to violate students’ rights.

In the past, there have been discrepancies in the way that the anti-abortion club and the College Democrats are treated on campus. Some of these discrepancies were to be expected and could even be justified. However, this particular instance has gone too far in suppressing free speech on campus.