A large group of graduates at the University of Michigan weren’t impressed with their speaker’s keynote address. The attendees started filing out of the auditorium during the university’s white coat ceremony to protest the speaker’s stance on abortion. The event is a time-honored tradition for new graduates, marking their transition from students to healthcare professionals.
U of M invited Dr. Kristin Collier, a pro-life professor of medicine at the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS), to speak at the ceremony.
“I want to acknowledge the deep wounds our community has suffered over the past several weeks,” Collier stated in her speech. “We have a great deal of work to do for healing to occur. And I hope that for today, for this time, we can focus on what matters most: coming together to support our newly accepted students and their families with the goal of welcoming them into one of the greatest vocations that exist on this earth.”
But many graduates took issue with Collier’s views on abortion. The professor has made several anti-abortion comments in the past. In May, she wrote that feminism is about protecting “prenatal sisters” who had been subjected to “the violence in the act of abortion.”
“Holding on to a view of feminism where one fights for the rights of all women and girls, especially those who are most vulnerable. I can’t not lament the violence directed at my prenatal sisters in the act of abortion, done in the name of autonomy,” she tweeted, adding: “Liberation that costs innocent lives is just oppression that is redistributed.”
Around 340 graduate students signed a petition protesting Collier’s invitation in the weeks leading up to the ceremony.
“While we support the rights of freedom of speech and religion, an anti-choice speaker as a representative of the University of Michigan undermines the university’s position on abortion and supports the non-universal, theology-rooted platform to restrict abortion access, an essential part of medical care,” the petition read.
Michigan Medicine, the university’s medical school, doubled down on its support for reproductive healthcare after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. The organization said it would continue to provide reproductive health services, including abortion, as long as it remains legal in the state.
“U-M Health remains committed to providing high-quality, safe reproductive care for patients, across all their reproductive health needs,” the statement read. “This includes abortion care, which remains legal in Michigan while challenges to various state-law criminal statutes continue to proceed.”
The petition called on administrators to find a speaker who better embodies the beliefs outlined by the university.
“We demand that (the university) stands in solidarity with us and selects a speaker whose values align with institutional policies, students, and the broader medical community,” the petition reads. “This speaker should inspire the next generation of healthcare providers to be courageous advocates for patient autonomy and our communities.”
But the university refused to disinvite Collier because of her personal beliefs.
In an email to reporters, Michigan Medicine spokeswoman Mary Masson said Collier was selected by the Gold Humanism Honor Society based on her medical qualifications, and that the university will not retract this decision solely based on Collier’s views on abortion.
“The University of Michigan does not revoke an invitation to a speaker based on their personal beliefs,” Masson wrote. “However, the White Coat Ceremony will not be used as a forum to air personal political or religious beliefs; it will focus on welcoming students into the profession of medicine.”
An incoming medical student at U of M that wishes to remain anonymous said Collier’s invitation felt like a slap in the face.
“You’ve got these incoming (medical students) who voted and organized and demonstrated very clearly that they don’t want Dr. Collier speaking there,” the student said. “They don’t want this representative of the medical school welcoming them into a medical profession that is supposed to be respecting patient autonomy.”
Another incoming student at the university who also wishes to remain anonymous said many of the students signed the petition before they even got to campus, which shows how important the issue is to the student body.
“(Our class is) almost entirely strangers to one another, and yet, we have collectively banded together,” the second student said. “More than half of us responded to a survey from someone that we don’t even know to say, ‘This is a human rights issue, and we have a voice in this.’”
Anti-abortion activists blasted the students’ actions as disrespectful.
“They should be ashamed of their actions, and they need to take a moment to seriously reflect on whether they will be able to properly discharge their obligations when they finish medical school,” wrote the National Review.
Incoming medical students walk out at University of Michigan’s white coat ceremony as the keynote speaker is openly anti-abortion pic.twitter.com/Is7KmVV811
— Scorpiio (@PEScorpiio) July 24, 2022
A video of the students getting up and walking out during the ceremony has already garnered over 200,000 likes on Twitter.
However, Collier made no mention of abortion or Roe v. Wade during her commencement speech.