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This Is What Every Anti-Abortion Monster Deserves
Hail! Hail! to the Michigan students who are showing us how to fight back.
On Sunday, dozens of University of Michigan medical students staged a walkout during the school’s annual white coat ceremony in protest of the event’s keynote speaker, Dr. Kristin Collier. Collier is a primary care physician and university faculty member (mhmm, go on) who has publicly posted about both her Christianity and anti-abortion views (christ almighty, indeed).
Video of the walkout went viral on Twitter. As of this writing, it’s been viewed more than 16.5 million times.
The walkout happened just days after Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh appeared at an anti-abortion fundraiser and told the crowd, “In God’s plan, each unborn human truly has a future filled with potential, talent, dreams and love,” and, “To me, the right choice is to have the courage to let the unborn be born.” The event raised around $140,000, with attendees paying thousands of dollars to attend.
As a human being and an alumnus of the University of Michigan, where I got a good and overpriced education, I took an interest in both of these things—and I am both furious on these students’ behalf, and grateful that some of them are providing an example of how to stand up to this kind of nonsense in the wake of the end of Roe v. Wade. They are giving anti-abortion zealots exactly the kind of treatment they deserve.
Harbaugh was undoubtedly emboldened by the anti-abortion movement’s recent triumphs, and by his seemingly unimpeachable status at the university. He is one of the highest-paid coaches in college football, and his annual base salary from the University of Michigan is upwards of $7 million. On the flip side, the tuition for medical students attending the school can be as high as $110,000 for 12 months. It’s not news that professional coaches are nauseatingly overpaid and students are absolutely robbed blind, but why speak in abstractions when we have cold, hard numbers to tear our hair out over?
Anyway, the hell didn’t end there. Harbaugh then told ESPN that he encourages his own children and players to go through with unwanted pregnancies, saying, “Let that unborn child be born, and if at that time, you don't feel like you can care for it, you don't have the means or the wherewithal, then Sarah [Harbaugh’s wife] and I will take that baby." Yeah, he literally said, we will adopt your baby. Meanwhile:
I’m not here to tell you whether Harbaugh is good at his football job (I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter!), but I am here to tell you that he is a grossly overpaid idiot who will likely get paid a lot more in the future, and that he and the institutional protections that surround him are emblematic of nearly everything that’s wrong with how higher education functions. When the news about Harbaugh’s fundraiser appearance came out last week, I was bummed that I didn’t hear more about outrage from students, even at a school where football is a religion. I’m positive it was there, but it just didn’t reach me beyond a few angry social media posts.
I subsequently arrived at the conclusion that perhaps students were wisely putting their efforts elsewhere and were perhaps already well aware that Harbaugh’s head is full of air. Still, I’m mad that nothing will happen to Harbaugh, and mad that you can be out here minding your own business when yet another man with obscene money and power and a psychotic fixation on the uteruses of strangers materializes to make you feel even more unsafe. And, to their great credit, students then showed that they were standing up—and walking out—where they could, especially in the case of Collier’s address at the white coat ceremony.
Hundreds of students (and a few dozen community members) petitioned to have Collier removed as the ceremony’s keynote speaker ahead of Sunday’s event, arguing in part that her anti-abortion views were not just offensive to them, but fundamentally at odds with the school’s pro-choice policy.
“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 reads.
Here, for the record, is what the university said in a statement about keeping Collier in the role of keynote speaker. It’s exactly the kind of statement a large, ostensibly liberal school would issue: “As with all Michigan Medicine White Coat ceremonies, the focus of the speaker is to welcome students into the medical profession, recognizing their achievements and the new journey they will undertake. The ceremony is not a forum to express personal political or religious beliefs.”
And in a statement to The Daily Beast, a spokesperson for the school also said that Collier “was chosen as the keynote speaker for the 2022 White Coat Ceremony based on nominations and voting by members of the U-M Medical School Gold Humanism Honor Society,” and that “Dr. Collier never planned to address a divisive topic as part of her remarks. However, the University of Michigan does not revoke an invitation to a speaker based on their personal beliefs.”
I’ve thought a lot about where my head and heart would be on all this if I was still a student at U of M. There’s a chance that if it were happening back then—the Obama Years, lmao—I probably would have found this infuriating, but may have passed it off as part and parcel of the bureaucratic bullshit of a large institution eager to please the many hands that feed it. Offensive, frustrating, and worth shouting about, but perhaps not more than run-of-the-mill both-sides behavior. Now, in 2022, with the last six years behind us, immersed in the horrifying aftermath of the Dobbs decision, the school’s bland or non-response to what undoubtedly felt something akin to institutional violence to many students whose primary goal in attending the university is to administer care to very people the government wants to kill? That’s inexcusable.
People have a right to “believe” what they “believe,” whatever. They have the right to say what they believe, whatever. But these are people in positions of extreme power who are handed microphones and podiums and platforms by the school. They are representatives. And as for the university, there’s no such thing as abstaining from choosing sides—everyone has to choose. And they have! Now it seems they’re talking out of both sides of their mouth, or talking quietly while the other side talks to ESPN. I guess if they’re trying to radicalize the students, they’re doing a damn fine job. If they’re trying to protect them, they’re failing miserably. As the case for higher education in this country gets weaker and weaker, and as universities continue to make mistakes that look a lot like those of the United States government, it makes sense that some students are choosing to push back, even just from a speaker at an event.
I’m not saying I want these students to quit school. As cool as that would be, I do want aspiring doctors to go to medical school. I want them to get a formal education and unfortunately endure what I assume is the hefty amount of bullshit that comes with it. But I’d also like those individuals to actually possess the moral code they swear to uphold in that white coat ceremony. I’d like them to feel the kind of conviction that causes them to don that garb and then wield a symbolic middle finger when asked to politely listen to a public anti-abortionist, even if those views aren’t being directly put on display. It’s energizing to see my future fellow alums continuing the fight. I knew they would—and have been, and will continue to at schools across the country—but it’s nice to see it showcased in all its rowdy, viral glory. Small acts of resistance matter.
You may have gleaned by now that I’m not a big “school spirit” gal, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a certain degree of personal interest in the place where I spent four formative years. I’ll never give them money, never attend a reunion, and will probably never again cheer on the Wolverines at The Big House (yikes!), but there’s a lot I love about the place. I’m happy that students there are not just accepting this. I’m happy they’re standing up. They are yet another shining example that institutions won’t save or protect us or fight for us, but our community will.