Celebrating Diversity Through Cultural Competency: Miss America Comes to PC

defaultDavid Pinsonneault ‘ 14

Meet Miss America 2014.  Her name is Nina Davuluri. She came to campus this past Tuesday night to share her story and what she hopes to accomplish during her one-year tour. Nina grew up in a small, conservative town in Oklahoma.  There, she dealt with many common stereotypes about her stemming from her Indian heritage.  People around her often wondered if she had an arranged marriage lined up or if she worshiped cows. At a very young age, she was confronted by labels that were often not malicious but simply ignorant of her culture.  She eventually moved to Michigan and began to compete in pageants.

Miss America is a non-profit organization that has four pillars: style, service, scholarship and success.  Nina sees her service, as a business woman, to be one of the most important pillars.  The Miss America Organization has also given out over forty-five million dollars in scholarship money, ninety-two thousand of which has gone to Nina.  When it came time for college, Nina took a break from competition and studied at Michigan State before transferring to the University of Michigan after one year.  While at the University of Michigan, she was exposed to an Indian community that she identified with for the first time. She immersed herself in “Brown Town,” a group a students who shared similar struggles in everyday life.  Nina shared a story, however, that reflected on how some of the different college organizations did not always hang out with one another.  A friend called her to ask what she was doing on a particular night and she responded that she was hanging out with “Brown Town.”  She did not invite the other student to join or ask to meet up later.  The other student confronted her about this the following day and Nina was glad she did.  It is important to be inclusive to all people.  This is what she says drove her to introduce a cultural day for student organizations where they could engage in different communities.  It was Nina’s hope to engage students through their senses.  She wanted them to see, touch, and feel as others would from different cultures.  This is something that drove her to get back into Miss America competitions after college.

In order to compete in the Miss America competition, one must first win at the local and state levels. After college Nina was living in New York and won Miss Syracuse.  She then won Miss New York before winning the title of Miss America.  The odds were not in her favor to do this, as the previous Miss America winner was also from New York. Before entering competition she had to ask herself two questions: Why do you want to win and what change can you make?  Nina honestly believed that in three to five years, Miss America would have to be someone with a diverse background in order to represent an image of what young America is today.  For this reason, she set her platform as celebrating diversity through cultural competency, something she had seemingly been working on her entire life.  Nina’s talent in the competitions was Bollywood, an Indian dance she shared from her culture.  She graduated with a B.S. in Brain, Behavior & Cognitive Science, and will now use her platform to understand patients’ background and beliefs to give them the best healthcare possible.  Nina hopes to attend medical school after her one year tour as Miss America.

Nina has faced criticisms as Miss America.  She has been called a “terrorist” and told that she “does not look American enough” for the title.  Nina, however, has taken this in stride.  She knows her job right now is to be Miss America and not Miss India.  She presents herself as an academic type, able to relate to people of all backgrounds; people should know better than to be intolerable.  The truth is that for every negative comment she hears, she receives much more encouragement and support.  She says that this reality is reflective of the demographics of America.  It is not easy to change the way people think.  Nina believes racism is taught.

Gender roles have also come up during Nina’s time as Miss America.  She has, at times, felt objectified.  She knows that when she walks into a room all eyes are on her, especially from men.  She uses this as an advantage and presents herself as an academic and uses her voice.  She has had meetings with people who are considered ‘high-up’ who have joked with her asking her if she can cook.  Nina says that you have to welcome all questions openly as a way to respond to any ignorance you may face.

This is why Nina is truly making big changes as Miss America 2014.  She has changed the idea of what beautiful is.  Miss America no longer has blond hair and blue eyes.  Nina explained that lighter skin is considered more beautiful in India, but in America tan is often seen as beautiful.  Beauty is subjective.  Anyone reading this should simply have confidence in themselves.  Have a support system around you that recognizes you for who you are on the inside and how you care for others around you.  Miss America no longer looks like Barbie. Miss America now looks like Nina Davuluri.  She succeeded despite her race and socioeconomic background, and encourages others that they can do the same no matter what career path they choose.

This is what Nina hopes to accomplish as Miss America.  She hopes to help others celebrate diversity through cultural competency and by sharing a little bit of herself with others.  She allows us to learn more about her culture, and more about the world. This is a new perspective that Miss America can bring to us in 2014.

miss america

Weathering the Storm of Realignment

mhagandefaultMichael Hagan ’15

We’re only a matter of hours away from the Friars’ first appearance in the Big East title game in twenty years. An automatic bid to NCAA tournament is on the line. The original Big East’s architect’s program seeks to upset the new Big East’s newest team to beat. The championship game is the culmination of a Big East season ripe with what we love most about college basketball. It is a high-energy game in which momentum is key and nothing can be taken for granted. It is the ultimate spectator sport in which the atmosphere of an arena both lends and steals momentum. Schools of every size can build, have built, and will build successful programs. A school’s size and resources matter far less than the commitment and ability of its athletes and coaches. Cinderella stories happen in college basketball, and no powerhouse program can purchase invulnerability.

Conference realignment based on football interests have threatened Providence College and schools like ours in recent years. Concerned by reforms in the NCAA football postseason and fixated on the almighty dollar, larger institutions able to support football programs suddenly decided that there was no room in the college athletics landscape for smaller institutions that could not. Football interests drove a wedge into Dave Gavitt’s basketball focused Big East; it was clear that the Big East was no conference to be in for teams hopeful for a berth in an impending playoff system.

College football’s ability to trump all other athletic interests is simply a reality. One can feel nostalgic for simpler days when conference titles and high profile bowl games were enough for everybody but Notre Dame (and the Fighting Irish could be appeased with an AP or Coaches’ trophy), but there is no going back nor real sense in complaining.

But under threat of being left out in the cold by realignment, we found out who our friends really are. In 1979 when the Big East was founded, intercollegiate friendship was not dictated by likeness in size, budget, or market. In the age of football hegemony, these have become many D1 schools’ only grounds for cooperation. But Providence College and the rest of the Catholic seven (plus honorary Catholic college, Butler University) have weathered the storm. It is a shame that a climate has developed in which the mid-sized private and large public schools that made up the old Big East cannot coexist in a conference, but interscholastic solidarity between those of us that UConn, Pitt, Syracuse, and the like decided they couldn’t be bothered with has brought an exciting new beginning out of what could have easily spiraled into catastrophe.

For tonight (and hopefully for the coming weeks), the Big East is all about basketball. But I am hopeful that the new Big East will offer opportunities for great athletic rivalry coupled with constructive interscholastic cohesion. We are a misfit conference out to prove the worth of mid-sized and small schools on the court, on the fields, and on our campuses. Competitive spirit between athletic rivals can be a powerful motivator and bond when harnessed properly. Following the example of the late Dave Gavitt, Providence College can be a leader in this new conference athletically and otherwise. Competitive rivalries between athletic programs and fruitful relationships conducive for mutual enrichment and collaboration between other campus leaders stand to be developed between these schools that share so much in mission and seek most faithfully to preserve the tradition of Big East basketball unadulterated by destructive football-centric interests. This is one more thing to celebrate as we cheer on the Friars in tonight’s Big East championship game. The novelty of this new conference is solidarity between schools and with tradition. Go Friars!

An ESPN 30 for 30 documentary, “Requiem for the Big East,” will air Sunday, March 16 at 9 PM. Read a Friar fan’s perspective on the documentary here.

A Niche Discussion of Reproductive Rights and Reproductive Responsibilities

IMG_497604574877~2Matthew Henry Smith, ’16

There is a part of the abortion debate about which you may be unaware. It’s one I hold a queer stake in, and one that you should be talking about.

I was reading the Providence Journal this morning while enjoying a big bowl of Raisin Bran when I came across an article by Randal Edgar profiling four pieces of legislation in Rhode Island that have to do with abortion. The last proposal Edgar noted was about sex selection, “Yet another [bill] would ban abortions in cases where ‘the decision is based on the sex of the unborn child.’”

To preface, those close to me know that I have a pragmatic opinion about abortion legislation. I dream of a world without abortion, but I know the way to get there isn’t to legislate against it. I understand some of the reasons why people pursue abortion and also understand the reasons why people abhor the practice.

Inasmuch as I want to see the end of abortion, I know that abortion won’t end before poverty and misogyny end. I know that abortion decreases when pregnancy decreases and that pregnancy decreases when women in every country are educated. My life-respecting philosophy in regards to reproduction involves an approach that is a multi-faceted combination of abstinence and safe-sex education. And I know that a view this moderate might appear a cop-out for some of my friends on the polar ends of this issue, (some of whom might think that, as a man, I have not right to have an opinion at all). I’ll tell you that I have arrived here after years of deliberation. It is also a position that will call me to shout, not at right-to-life marches, but in support of women’s groups who fight for equal access to education and resources. What’s more, my view on this is just one element of many in my philosophy on environmentalism and human population, (you should know I am not a speciestist).

Further, if you believe as I do that there is an enormous difference between abortion and contraception then you should consider that the institutions we think of as the abortion industry provide many service to prevent abortion (by preventing pregnancy). They offer sexual health and wellness amenities for men and women in need, educating on safe sex and pregnancy prevention, etc.  For more on this I recommend that you watch Aljazeera America’s fabulous documentary The Abortion War.

But while the majority of this issue – and the solution – centers around equity there is a part of it that does not.

And I have a queer stake in some legislation rising in Rhode Island.

America critiques other cultures for post-birth sex-selection. We look at China’s preference for males and we shake our heads. But our prejudice, inconsistent as it might be, is rooted in a far greater hubris. It is quieter, cloaked in the laurels of scientific achievement and discussed in thin-lipped, even tones. In America we terminate pregnancies when we don’t prefer the sex of the baby.

That is if it even gets that far. Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis, (or PGD) is the practice of fertilizing multiple eggs and then determining the traits of each. This often results in a person choosing only to implant the fertilized eggs with the traits they prefer. Often, this means that parents are choosing only to implant eggs of the desired sex. I’m not opening up the “where does life begin” argument. But I’m saying we need to talk about what we allow ourselves to expect from our kids and where we think we get the authority to have a sex preference in the first place.

There are two queer reasons why sex selection in preimplantation and pregnancy termination is unjust. The first is that it is another way our culture promotes the sex binary. We choose to believe that people are either males or females and, when a person is born with XXY chromosomes or ambiguous genitalia, we take away their sex identity and make them either male or female surgically. According to ISNA.org, incidents of “intersex condition” are 1 in 2000. This means that there are more people who are intersex than there are people with cystic fibrosis. This means that there are more people who are intersex in the world than there are Jews.

You can see how many people are degraded by the sex binary. When they are born we often assign them a sex surgically. I have spoken with people who defend parents in this case saying; “they thought they were doing the best thing for their child.” The argument is that parents just want their kids to grow up and have normal sexual relationships. But when we “fix” our intersex children to fit our sex binary, (or never allow them to be born), we reaffirm a dysphoric cultural paradigm that says the following: Happiness and achievement in its highest form is sexual and procreative. I believe this to be patently false. And so there is a great risk of intersex discrimination with PGD and sex-selective pregnancy termination.

The second queer reason to reject the practice of sex selection is that it reaffirms a cultural ignorance of the differences between sex and gender. While someone might choose to implant or terminate a zygote based on the knowledge that it is male or female, there is just no telling whether or not that male or female will (or would have) go up (or grown up) to be a boy or girl. We default to the cisgender  “rule” and in much the same way that we default to heterosexism. When we partake in sex selection we promote cisgender privilege and reject the dignity of trans people. When we choose not to carry a female fetus to term because we want a boy we are fooling ourselves into think we can choose gender.

We cannot.

So this is my queer stake in this issue. I’d like you to care about it. But even if you don’t, even if you are so far to the left that I appear to you some misplaced queer zealot, you still have a stake in this. Because this isn’t a faith argument about the origin of personhood: it’s a rallying cry for the unmasking of the illusion of human control.  And whether this law comes to pass or not, Friars, consider the assumptions you might hold about your future kids. Would you love your intersex child if love meant loving their birth body? Do you dream of one day having a “boy” OR a “girl?” Do you buy into this illusionary market of control?

It’s time to think about these tough questions.

The Communication Challenge

Guest submission by Maria Costa, PC ’16.

It’s Friday (thank God). Finally done with class for the day, I’m sitting in front of my computer. My thumbs skate across the glassy 4 ½ inch screen of my phone as I take breaks in between my rounds of Candy Crush to text my friends from home and check what’s going on in the Twittersphere. I have about 5 windows open all at once on the computer screen, listening to Spotify, occasionally glancing at Facebook and doing some online shopping, texting my PC friends through iMessage to make plans for the night, and keeping a blank Word document up just so I can reassure myself that I thought about getting a head-start on homework for the weekend. As I’m flipping back and forth between each of my little windows, it strikes me. This is kind of excessive, isn’t it? Naaah. It’s Friday, I deserve a break, and this is fun. But it’s not just Friday. It’s every day. I constantly have my phone on me, and I can never stop checking it. I need to know if I have any new emails, new texts, new tweets, or likes on Facebook or Instagram. My phone is always safe and snug in a pocket where I can feel it vibrate to tell me someone is trying to talk to me or is affirming my words or photos. It’s become a habit, a bad one, and it interrupts daily interactions. I’ve realized that it is excessive – perhaps it’s just me, but I sense that this is a fairly common scenario, and it’s time for us to take on a new challenge.

Our heads are down.

Walking across campus, before classes, in dining halls, and even in small social gatherings with friends, our heads are constantly bowed, as if in reverence, but instead, in a relentless trance of technology. Our ears are always perked for the sound of our phones buzzing, offering some new slice of information. No one can wait; there is always a sense of urgency to whatever lies in the colorful world behind the glass (or plastic) screen, and no one can stop checking again and again what you could be missing out on if you ignore the incessant updates. We cannot help ourselves. Every text, tweet, Facebook post, and like on Instagram is essential. The virtual universe offers us an escape from the demands of our lives and a window into the lives and thoughts of others.

We are a generation of extreme multi-taskers; we are alerted by every slight illumination of our smartphones, and of course, would not dream of depriving them of attention. Our attentiveness to any task is always shared with our focus on the wired world, so that our homework and readings are supplied with all-too-easy reasons to procrastinate, and texting one person while talking to another characterizes many of our conversations. This techno-savvy world demands us to keep up with each small detail that occurs throughout the day; otherwise we will be left in a dark, unknowing state. So this is why we sit across the table from family members and friends with our hands gripped tightly around the slender bodies of our smartphones, half tuned out from what they are saying – because society dictates that face-to-face communication is an unnecessary waste of time. But our personal electronic interactions are unnatural for our social need for human contact. If we keep looking down at our phones and ignore the world, not only will we continue to walk into those weird, hip-height poles that are in the middle of sidewalks all over campus, but we will condemn ourselves to walk down a path of human isolation.

True effective communication involves talking to someone face to face. While texting someone, reading their tweets, looking at their pictures on Facebook and Instagrams, and even just talking on the phone is fun, convenient, and easy, none of these methods of communication allow you to see their face and their body language, and therefore get a true sense of how the person you’re talking to is feeling or reacting. As we rely on virtual communication and favor it over more personal interactions, we have begun to lose our social skills and our appreciation for taking the time to communicate – to just chat for no reason, share funny stories without a 140-character limit, and appreciate a beautiful sunset without looking at it through a filtered lens.

The technological revolution has presented us with countless benefits that make life easier to capture memorable moments, connect with old friends and acquaintances, and communicate with others in quick, easy ways. We have fully embraced the advances that technology has offered us, and they absolutely are a tremendous aid in our fast-paced, stressful society of appointments and deadlines. However, the problem arises when we begin to take advantage of the comfort of technology and take its simplicity to an extreme. We look down at our phones to in fact avoid eye contact and interaction with others, we play silly app games just to waste time when we could be spending it more meaningfully otherwise, and lose the appreciation and happiness found in moments surrounded by the beauty of nature or the warmth of loved ones. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is essential to have down time to just relax, I know how easy it is to get wrapped up in finding solace in the humor of my Twitter timeline, getting lost in the artsy photos and “tbt”s of Instagram, and “trying just one more time” on Flappy Bird. It’s addictive.

This is the problem. The constant checking of our texts and social media have become our habits, our phones an extension of ourselves. It is much too easy to fall into the habit of picking up our phones the second that we have nothing to do in order to check our news feeds and notifications and block out the stresses and tasks of the day. But when we do this, there is an abundance of real life and experiences that we are missing out on.  The virtual world can wait – it’s not going anywhere.

So the challenge is to put down the phone. Turn it off. Put it in your backpack, your purse, or somewhere it won’t bother you. Use this as a potential Lenten sacrifice. Test yourself and reward yourself, for every half hour to fifteen minutes you spend on your phone looking at social media or just texting, make sure you spend an equal amount of time calling someone and having a real conversation, reading something that isn’t for school, or meeting friends for a quick lunch or coffee. Or if you’re a Twitter addict, discipline yourself so that after you’ve written 3 tweets in a day, you have to stay off of twitter for (at least) the next 3 hours. Challenge yourself to always keep your phone off the table at meals, and hold a real conversation with the people you’re sitting across from, one where you respect the people you’re with by paying attention to them instead of what’s happening on your phone. I know it might be tough, it is a true challenge to leave that virtual universe behind – especially when you are already in the habit of keeping it as a daily part of your life. But I challenge you to try it. Get together with your friends instead of just talking on a group text. Read a book or a newspaper instead of your Twitter feed. Sit and look at the snow falling or the beautiful colors of the sky and write about it or just simply appreciate it instead of Intagramming it. Take pictures for the memories instead of for your profile picture on Facebook. Enjoy what life has to offer, because each moment is fleeting and precious, but the internet is forever.

The PC Monologues

AbbyDefaultAbby Hevert ’15

If I had to count on my hands the number of time I have heard: “But this is a CATHOLIC school” in response to different socially liberal initiatives at PC, I would have to grow five new sets of hands. Many students often get upset when the typical Catholic status quo is questioned at PC and I, being a fully disclosed social liberal, even have to say that this is warranted. PC is a Catholic school and I have to accept and respect the fact that it has the right to refuse certain events on campus. However, even though I am a practicing Catholic, I also believe in the institution of gay marriage, the freedom to divorce, and even the opportunity for women to become priests. Yet, I also am a sister, a daughter, a friend, a student, an employee, a Modern Family fan, a traveler, a Mid-Atlantic enthusiast, and a lover of Adele’s music. So yes, even though I am a faith-filled Catholic, I am also many other things. Just as I chose PC because I loved that I could actively practice my faith, I also chose it for its Social Work program, its sense of community, and even its fabulous gym. People often claim that PC is too homogenous and then some of us get upset with each other when we try to break the mold, perhaps even cause some controversy. And so, I am afraid that too many students are afraid to pursue avenues that are perhaps too different from the norm.

Nevertheless, this past week, a group of PC students did actually succeed in breaking the PC mold. These students put on the annual production of the “Vagina Monologues.” Although the show is not supported or funded by the college, it has become a tradition for students to put the show on and raise money for “V-Day,” a catalyst movement that encourages donations for women’s organizations as well as awareness about the realities of sexual violence. This year, the PC students donated the proceeds from the performances, held at the Avon Theatre, to the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island as well as the V-Day Organization. The actual performance comprises various stories that women experience with their vaginas. These stories range in context from childbirth, to sexual pleasure, to rape. In essence, the performance explores all facets of female sexuality as well as female biological capacities. It investigates the entire scope of the female reproductive system in a way that validates and sympathizes with the characters as well as educates the audience about the realities that cannot be silenced, concerning the positive and negative experiences that women have with their vaginas. Of course, the title alone, as well as some of the stories in the performance, do inspire some controversy, but that is to expected with any kind of work at the intersection of social activism and art.

And, no, this article is not a plea for PC to change its rule and host the Monologues. It is instead intended to praise the sheer courage of the students who focused on a part of their identities that does not exactly coincide with the conservatism that accompanies the identity of being students of a Catholic institution. Instead of waiting for approval from the school or simply giving up because of the difficulty involved in hosting a production that is not sponsored by PC, these young women decided to do something different: they rolled up their sleeves and made their own rules. Too often, PC students forget that the college does not have to be their only avenue for personal fulfillment or change. Although it is more convenient and, perhaps, more comforting to attend an institution that jives with all of our personal beliefs, it is unfortunately impossible for any organization to completely understand the wholes of any of our identities. So, although I believe it is our place to challenge our school to be better, it is also our responsibility to develop parts of ourselves that are outside of the PC mold. I am very proud to be a friar, but it is not my only identity. Being a PC student is not my only interest. This is why the organizers and performers of the Vagina Monologues deserve a huge “kudos” for their work on a piece of art that is not part of PC. They are fulfilling themselves as people and, perhaps most importantly, seeking to educate and raise money for a cause that speaks to them. They set an excellent example of putting the motto of PC into work: “transform yourself, transform society.”

You may never agree with the production of the Vagina Monologues. You may never believe in anything that challenges the social Catholic constructs of our school. This is just fine. I respect you, just as I expect that you should respect me. We are all different and we all can learn from each other: I fully believe that. However, no matter what you believe, it may be prudent to look to the group of PC students who put on the Monologues as an example. They cared about something and put into action a plan that both fulfilled their interests and helped a cause in which they believe. And while they did it without the approval of their school, they did it with focused eyes, open hearts, and hands stretched out to vulnerability. They took a chance and stayed true to themselves. So, no matter what your interest, remember to stay true to yourself. Challenge when necessary, listen, learn, talk, do not wait, be courageous, and be you.

 

After all, your own monologue is still a work in progress. It is not going to write itself, you know.

Controversial Talk Postponed By Sponsor

Breaking News

Dr. Matthew Cuddeback, sponsor of the controversial “Who Am I?” talk by Dr. Michelle Cretella, has announced the postponement of the event due to concern that “Dr. Cretella may be the object of animus were she to present at PC next week.” Dr. Cuddeback alleges inconsistency in campus support for academic freedom. But, as has been pointed out, many contest not the event itself but rather the way in which it has been advertised. The announcement was made by email to to the PC faculty at about 9:40 Thursday morning. The full text of Dr. Cuddeback’s email is below:

Dear Colleagues,

I extend my appreciation to those who have defended my arrangement of the talk by Dr. Michelle Cretella, MD. I arranged this talk—as well two others still to come this semester—in response to the call by Dr. Nick Longo, Dr. Chris Arroyo and other signers of a November 3 email to department chairs, for faculty to initiate programming around the issue of homosexuality. I am struck that many of the indignant voices raised for academic freedom in the wake of the cancellation of Dr. Corvino’s talk have been absent or ambivalent in the discussion of Dr. Cretella’s talk. Where are those voices now? Some have been silent. Some are harrumphing about NARTH, science, and reparative therapy. Some, who proposed to advocate for a campus-wide discussion that would include all perspectives, are trying to shame faculty who invite a speaker holding one of those perspectives, as irresponsibly insensitive to LGBT students. Do they believe that the freedom to speak belongs only to those who agree with their position?

I must observe that while Dr. Cretella is identified on the flyer as a board member of NARTH, the subject of her talk is not reparative therapy. Rather, as the flyer reads: “in this presentation, Dr. Cretella will describe her journey to navigate the controversial issue of homosexuality as a physician and a Catholic.” Dr. Cretella is not a therapist, and had no intent to speak as one. Her intent was to speak of her journey, as a physician, from rejecter to appreciator of the Catholic and natural law traditions concerning homosexuality. Her account deserves to be listened to—in the way that, at a university, such an account should be listened to rather than shouted down or shamed before it is heard.

Because I sense that Dr. Cretella may be the object of animus were she to present at PC next week, I have advised her that we shall postpone her presentation.

I believe that open academic discussion of homosexuality, from different perspectives, can be fruitful for our campus. I would ask my faculty colleagues to support the two talks that I have scheduled for early March and early April (see below). Perhaps some of the department chairs and program directors who signed the November 3 email from Nick Longo, and who have sponsored other events surrounding the topic of homosexuality, might be willing to serve sponsors of these talks too.

Respectfully, with my best regards,

Matthew Cuddeback

Assistant Professor of Philosophy

 

THE TWO TALKS:

The Global AIDS Epidemic: Hope Through a Person-Centered Response

Dr. Timothy Flanigan, MD, Brown University Medical School

Tuesday, March 4

7:00pm

Moore III

 

The Catholic Church and Homosexuality:  Charity and Clarity

Fr. Paul Check, Executive Director of Courage International

   With a member of Courage International

Wednesday, April 9

4:00pm

Ruane LL 05

In Defense of Good Science

Megan Grammatico ’15

I have to preface this: the whole making waves and writing blog posts thing? Not me. I’ve always been a keep-your-opinion-to-yourself kind of girl, and I’m usually of the mind that there are plenty of people out there that know a lot more than me. But yesterday I checked my email, and I was horrified. Horrified enough to need to say something, and not just by texting my dad to vent. So here goes: 

By now, you’ve heard. PC is once again buzzing about a speaker invited to campus by the philosophy department—talking about what else? Homosexuality, of course. This speaker is Dr. Michelle Cretella, M.D.  Her talk has been billed as being “attentive to science and to faith,” but a quick googling of her name and credentials reveals a pretty big problem with the “science” part. I am not going to go into the academic freedom thing. I am also going to stay away from the fundamental lack of regard this shows for PC’s LGBTQ population, since others have already done that far more succinctly and eloquently that I could. But there is another angle here, and it is one worth considering.

Dr. Cretella is a board-certified pediatrician, as well as the vice president of the American College of Pediatricians. The American College of Pediatricians is a socially conservative organization that formed in 2002 as part of a protest regarding the American Academy of Pediatrics support of adoption by gay and lesbian couples. Among other things, it advocates support for selective parental use of corporal punishment in child discipline, support for abstinence-based sex education, and discouraging the adoption of children by same-sex couples or single parents. Many of the views it holds are in direct contradiction with the recommendations made by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which is

a professional membership organization of 60,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical sub-specialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety, and well being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults”.

For comparison purposes, the American College of Pediatricians does not disclose its membership statistics (trust me, I looked everywhere) but Wikipedia estimates its membership to be between 60 and 200 members. So herein lies the first problem. Dr. Cretella is already biased. She is the vice president of an organization that was formed originally to oppose adoption by gay and lesbian couples, and relies on bad science to do so. See the heavily criticized research of Mark Regnerus here.

I might be going out on a limb, but it seems to me that an organization founded to protest a sociopolitical issue cannot be very scientifically objective.

Dr. Cretella’s talk poster also advertises her position on the Board of Directors of that National Association for Research of Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH). NARTH’s stated mission is to provide service to those with “unwanted same-sex attraction”—a fancy way of saying that they support “conversion therapy,” a practice that has been denounced by the American Psychiatric Association as most certainly not beneficial and quite possibly harmful. The APA says this:

Psychotherapeutic modalities to convert or ‘repair’ homosexuality are based on developmental theories whose scientific validity is questionable. Furthermore, anecdotal reports of “cures” are counterbalanced by anecdotal claims of psychological harm. In the last four decades, “reparative” therapists have not produced any rigorous scientific research to substantiate their claims of cure. Until there is such research available, [the American Psychiatric Association] recommends that ethical practitioners refrain from attempts to change individuals’ sexual orientation, keeping in mind the medical dictum to first, do no harm.”

So let’s get this straight. The philosophy department invited a speaker who belongs to two organizations that expressly contradict the viewpoints of major, established, well-respected groups (the APA and the AAP). Furthermore, the groups that Dr. Cretella belongs to rely on misuse and misrepresentation of the work that other scientists have done. At Providence College, we have a name for misusing or misrepresenting the work of another author: we call that plagiarism.  For example, in 2010, the work of Dr. Gary Remafedi, a pediatrician at the University of Minnesota, was used by the organization in a pamphlet mailed out to superintendents across the country to advocate not supporting gay and lesbian students that come out in high school. This was most certainly not what the body of Remafedi’s research as a whole was saying. In fact, Dr. Remafedi wrote a letter to the American College of Pediatricians that reads in part:

“Dear colleagues,

I am deeply concerned about misstatements attributed to our research on the “Facts about Youth” website of the American College of Pediatricians (http://factsaboutyouth.com/ [accessed on April 12, 2010]), as they appear in the “Letter to School Officials” and “What You Should Know as a School Official.”

The first reference to our research in these documents deceptively states: “Rigorous studies demonstrate that most adolescents who initially experience same-sex attraction, or are sexually confused, no longer experience such attractions by age 25. In one study, as many as 26% of 12-year-olds reported being uncertain of their sexual orientation1…”

Although the finding (“26% of 12-year-olds…”) is accurately reported, the sentence preceding it invites misinterpretation. Our original interpretation, as presented in the discussion section of the paper, is: “Taken together, these data suggest that uncertainty about sexual orientation and perceptions of bisexuality gradually give way to heterosexual or homosexual identification with passage of time and/or with increasing sexual experience.” 

The letter goes on to ask that all reference to his work be removed from the website, a request with which the American College of Pediatricians did not comply. On top of totally misrepresenting his work by taking several statements completely out of context, in all the citations of Remafedi’s work by the American College of Pediatricians, his name was spelled wrong. That makes me doubtful those at the American College of Pediatricians even read Remafedi’s work in its totality; it certainly does not increase my confidence in the scientific accuracy of what ACP claims.

I came to Providence College to get an education. I have spent the last almost-three years studying biology and neuroscience at PC, and I have been lucky to have incredible professors. But my professors are not just good teachers—they are excellent scientists. And through my biology, chemistry, physics, and psychology classes and lab work, I have learned a lot about the way good science is done. It relies on a special methodology, a certain “way of knowing” that insists that hypotheses must be made, tested, challenged, supported, challenged again, tested again, and only “accepted” until evidence to the contrary presents itself. So, if Dr. Cretella is going to bill her talk as being “attentive to science,” I would hope that she was going to discuss the myriad of studies done by the APA, the AAP, the American Sociological Association (ASA) and other reputable pediatric scientists—but it doesn’t sound like that’s the case at all. And that’s a problem. It’s a problem for the reputation of the school, particularly in a year when negative publicity by the New York Times was discussed ad nauseum. In a very short time, myself and many other science students will apply to graduate school or medical school. When institutions we apply to see the name of our school, we need it to be synonymous with the well-respected, Catholic institution that provided an excellent education in both liberal arts and biology that it is. We just don’t need any media claims that Providence College cannot distinguish between science and pseudoscience—it does the reputation of our students, faculty, and institution great harm.

Let’s be clear: I have absolutely no problem with Dr. Cretella coming to talk about her moral, religious, and philosophical convictions regarding homosexuality. In keeping with academic freedom and my belief that good people, people of faith, can respectfully disagree about this while still upholding human dignity, she absolutely should come to campus and present her viewpoint—no respondent necessary. My issue lies solely with the way the talk has been advertised. It is not going to be “attentive to science” because the positions of the organizations Dr. Cretella is a part of are not attentive to science.

If she is going to put the fancy letters after her name, and call herself a doctor and scientist, she should probably keep in mind the first and most important part of the Hippocratic Oath: “First, do no harm.” Inviting a speaker to campus, and advertising her as a scientist, while she advocates for the “curing” of homosexuality, does great harm. I trust my doctor. I do not thoroughly vet every piece of advice that she gives me with my own research, because I truly believe she will live up to the highest standards of her profession, and give me only the most up to date, well-researched, evidence-based advice that she can. I do not think this is uncommon among most patients, and I shudder to think of the harm that might be caused if her position is taken as medically sound by LGBT students (because, well, she’s a DOCTOR). Furthermore, though I in no way downplay the message this sends to the LGBTQ students and faculty at PC, this false advertising is harmful to the college as whole. And you know what? That’s worth a totally-out-of-character, opinionated blog post about. 

CITATIONS: (Because good authors, like good scientists, cite their work)

Choose.

IMG_497604574877~2Matthew Henry Smith ’16

I have never been more confused. Someone give it to me straight. What is Providence College?

It chose me. Actually it chose us. Somewhere back in the Novembers of our high school days we chose to apply to PC and somewhere in the springtime it chose us right back. This is important. Let us not forget that PC chose us.

Why is this important? Because it means that PC chose every LGBT person on this campus – and out of an undergraduate body roughly 4000 conservative statistics would show us that means there are probably around 160 LGBT students on this campus. It did not choose them for this reason – it could not have known. But there we were: queer and accepted to Providence College.

And then it chose us a second time when you included sexual orientation and gender identity in its non-discrimination policy. So now when people point to folks like me and say, “why did you come here if you were gay” I say, “because PC chose me.” And there we were: queer and accepted at Providence College.

In these actions PC did not only choose the LGBT folks but all of our allies as well. It asserted that is a credible institution that deserves our time and diligence and dollars.

But then Providence College reversed. The Philosophy Department announced yesterday that it is hosting a speaker on February 18th. Her name is Dr. Michelle Cretella, MD and she represents NARTH: the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality. This group is a niche community of individuals who work to convert “homosexuals” with unwanted same sex attraction. The American Psychological Association has this to say:

“Lesbian, gay, and bisexual orientations are not disorders. Research has found no inherent association between any of these sexual orientations and psychopathology. Both heterosexual behavior and homosexual behavior are normal aspects of human sexuality. Both have been documented in many different cultures and historical eras. Despite the persistence of stereotypes that portray lesbian, gay, and bisexual people as disturbed, several decades of research and clinical experience have led all mainstream medical and mental health organizations in this country to conclude that these orientations represent normal forms of human experience. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual relationships are normal forms of human bonding. Therefore, these mainstream organizations long ago abandoned classifications of homosexuality as a mental disorder.

All major national mental health organizations have officially expressed concerns about therapies promoted to modify sexual orientation. To date, there has been no scientifically adequate research to show that therapy aimed at changing sexual orientation (sometimes called reparative or conversion therapy) is safe or effective. Furthermore, it seems likely that the promotion of change therapies reinforces stereotypes and contributes to a negative climate for lesbian, gay, and bisexual persons. This appears to be especially likely for lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals who grow up in more conservative religious settings.

Helpful responses of a therapist treating an individual who is troubled about her or his samesex attractions include helping that person actively cope with social prejudices against homosexuality, successfully resolve issues associated with and resulting from internal conflicts, and actively lead a happy and satisfying life.”

Let me go on the record as saying that I am not the spokesperson for the queer kids at PC: I just happen to be an outspoken queer kid at PC.

This comes with some things (not baggage but… things). While I have been harassed and harangued once or twice for my sexual orientation, I can always cry a little and then get over it. People know my politics and make assumptions about me before they meet me and I’m fine with that it comes with the territory. But many folks here have made one big mistake: they think I do not love my school. I have been accused of trying to figuratively burn the reputation of this institution, which I love so dearly, in effigy. This is incorrect. I chose PC.

The students at Providence College are not the problem because students can be put through workshops to increase sensitivity on issues like these. The problem is that so many students have stood up and identified themselves as LGBTQ, yet Providence College will not identify. It says one thing and does another. It says you are welcome then says you are sick.

The students of Providence College are not here to simply exchange money for room, board and degrees: we are active in the development of this institution’s reputation. But this is not a call to arms. I am not advocating for a protest. We should allow controversial speakers to come to campus. But I was told that we would be protected and I am looking for the other side of this. I am looking for the faculty member who is going to get up and present the contrary argument, the truth and the message that promotes respect for human dignity and rights. This is not an academic freedom issue but instead a mental health malpractice issue.

And mostly I worry for those I do not know. I declare that I am not sick and neither are my brothers and sisters (and those gender-nonconforming siblings of mine). But what about the students who are not connected to the resources I am. I am part of an organization that networks roughly 30 queer and allied folks to support, education and protection. When our house is rattled by this we will stand together and know love and truth.

But the students that we do not know – the ones who have not identified – won’t be connected to the same support system. Already isolated, they may feel diagnosed. And so the guy who hasn’t come out to his family or roommates yet is going to hear that PC hosted a speaker (again, an unopposed speaker) who believes his “condition” is treatable. What does this do to a person?

To close I will be explicitly honest: I shouldn’t have been made to feel by this institution like I had to put my identity on the line (time and again) to make this a safe place. I am not the only one who has been pushed by the inconsistent identity of this institution to do so. We dutifully do what we must, but we should no longer be responsible for teachable moments.

Not to mention that Providence College didn’t need this right now.

Providence College, you must choose: how do you identify?

In Defense of “The Biggest Loser”

NickDefaultNick Wallace ’14

The world has been buzzing about the results of Tuesday’s Finale of The Biggest Loser. Rachel Frederickson, a 24 year old from Minnesota, lost a total of 155lbs to win, weighing in at 105lbs. But Rachel’s success has become overshadowed by concerns over her appearance, and outcries that she is now “too skinny.” She has since been described as “gaunt,” “frail,” “skin and bones,” and “disgusting.” People have called her a bad role model, and have written negative things to her via social media. Her before and after photos can be found here.

This article will not attempt to delve into the controversial aspects of The Biggest Loser. While the show may inspire others to embark on weight-loss journeys, some argue that it exploits overweight individuals in the form of capitalistic reality television, conveying the idea that being overweight is a condition that in unacceptable. Instead, I wish to defend Rachel as a person, and illustrate the double standard that has emerged as a result of her “controversial” appearance.

Rachel has been universally described as “too skinny.” According to Body Mass Index (BMI), which is the universal standard used to assess obesity in the world, Rachel’s BMI is 18.0. Anyone with a BMI less than 18.5 is considered “underweight.” Therefore, technically speaking, Rachel is “underweight.” But there is an inherent problem with BMI as a measure of health and wellness. BMI was first developed by a nineteenth century astronomer who was trying to find the relationship between the “laws of the heavens” and the earth. In doing so, he sampled army conscripts from France and Scotland, and noticed that the “average” person’s weight in kilograms was proportional to his height in meters squared. BMI became popular among insurance companies in the early 20th century in order to assess risk; each standard deviation greater than the mean subsequently led to a “high-risk” consumer. So what’s the problem with BMI? It is simply a height-weight ratio. An astronomer who only sampled army men created it. It doesn’t take into account someone’s resting heart rate, their family history, their body fat percentage, their muscle mass, their cardiovascular health, their diet, or any other wellness factors. Rachel may technically be “underweight,” but it is foolish to speculate whether or not she is “healthy.” Knowing her blood pressure, her diet, and her exercise habits would give us a much better indicator, not simply her weight. Oh, and by the way: at 6’0 and 187 lbs, BMI tells me that I am overweight; I promise that I am not.

Furthermore, I’m willing to bet that Rachel isn’t actually 105 lbs. The contestants on The Biggest Loser compete in a weight-loss competition; the finalists had a chance to win $250,000. Thus, I am sure that the contestants use all of the tricks and tactics used by bodybuilders (or other athletes that are required to compete in a certain weight-class) in order to get the lowest possible number to appear on the scale. What does that mean? It means periods of hardcore dieting, carbohydrate cycling, sitting in saunas, manipulating your sodium intake, and drinking tons of water. My guess is that Rachel would normally weigh in around 110-115 lbs, which would put her BMI in the “normal weight” category.

Rachel’s story is actually quite touching. This young woman was once a world-class athlete. She was a three time state champion swimmer in Minnesota (including holding multiple state records), an All-American, and had full scholarships to Division I schools. Rachel, however, decided to quit swimming, and moved to Europe with her boyfriend following high school. After the break-up, she turned to food and gained over 100 lbs. What’s my point? Rachel is a fierce competitor. She’s a winner. And she was competing in an incentivized competition. So what did she do? She did everything in her power to win that quarter of a million dollars, and it worked. Perhaps she pushed the boundaries and her limits too far. Perhaps she went a bit “overboard.” But the bottom line is that she was trying to win the title of The Biggest Loser, and a quarter of a million dollars. Like most Biggest Loser winners, I’m sure Rachel will put on some weight now that the show is over.

I’m not saying that I was not shocked by Rachel’s appearance. In my opinion (which doesn’t really matter), she did look too skinny. However, our society is often too quick to associate “skinny looking people” with eating disorders. Although, anyone who describes Rachel as “gaunt” or “twigish” should take a look at her legs: they look pretty healthy and muscular to me. Too many people took a look at her arms and cried anorexia. While we are all entitled to our own opinions and preferences, we are not all physicians. Our bodies are all created differently. Rachel’s appearance may have shocked me, but besides from her arms, nothing concerned me.

However, the main point I wish to make is that even after this woman worked hard to “take her life back,” she is still be scrutinized by everyone else around her. At 260lbs, people were calling her lazy, fat, and ugly. Now at 105 lbs (remember that its really closer to 115), she is being demonized for being too skinny. There is no difference between calling someone grotesquely skinny or grotesquely fat. In either case, doing so is judging the person by his/her appearance, and it is immoral and wicked.

Everyone is entitled to an opinion. You are allowed to think Rachel looks too skinny. You are allowed to think that she would look better if she gained some weight. But you cannot judge the type of person she is, or her health, by her appearance.

Ironically, my last article touched upon this subject a bit. I questioned the need to label a model as “Plus-Sized,” simply because of the fact that she not below a size 8. Well my message remains the same. To those of you who are judging Rachel for her appearance at the Finale, realize you are no different than those who judge people for being over-weight.  At the end of the day, Rachel is Rachel. This whole article is presuming that Rachel lost the weight without harming her body. If she did not, we have an obvious problem. But we cannot assume such actions, and therefore, I am going to give Rachel the benefit of the doubt. As long as she is healthy, likes the way she looks in the mirror, and feels confident about the person she has become, none of us are in any place to judge.

So congratulations, Rachel. Let the haters hate. Don’t spend the money all in one place.

What Are You Looking For?

IMG_497604574877~2Matthew Henry Smith ’16

It would seem that our generation has brought with it the culmination of a cultural romance narrative that is utterly exclusionary and totally tragic. This manifests itself in apps like Grindr, Tinder, and OkCupid.

I won’t say I don’t use these apps. In fact I wont swear off this narrative totally, as after personal evaluation I see it as something that might perhaps work for me. Apps like these have allowed me to form relationships for which I am grateful.

But while the side effects of these apps can be pleasant and beneficial the purpose of them is to perpetuate the urgency of our desperation and to provide a false-cure for omnipresent loneliness.

This editorial functions under the assumption that when we hookup up or pursue hookups we are not exclusively seeking sex but more profoundly we are seeking a moment of closeness or intimacy that comes from holding someone close through a night on singular orb of life in a vast and quiet universe. Currently we are looking to fill one-another’s voids.

“This is worth earning my empathy. I’m saying I love you.” -NGE

A few days ago someone casually came out to me as asexual and my world was totally rocked.

Even as a gay man (a socially acceptable term I use to inaccurately describe the whole of my identity) I have privilege in this culture over someone who identifies as asexual. Unlike celibacy, which is a choice, asexuality is a sexual orientation. Asexual people have the same emotional needs as everybody else and are just as capable of forming intimate relationships. [1]

Being gay can be hard, but I can only imagine the unique challenge of being asexual. More than the battle against heterosexism, the experience of the asexual individual is thoroughly misunderstood by those of us who are more conventionally sexually oriented. Our culture provides a framework of widely acceptable opportunities for our self-actualization through romantic relationships, and by over-emphasizing marriage as a means of ordering our valued relationships we end up excluding folks. Our culture’s most celebrated method for individual fulfillment is not one that gives everyone a chance.

I have spent a great deal of time in dialogue with queer folks who don’t support marriage equality for this reason.

Someone whom I hold in utmost esteem is nearly 60 years old and has never been married. She is not opposed to marriage. She has had romantic relationships. But she not lonely, because she knows the value of being alone and has relationships of varying forms which she treasures and invests in heavily.

We tend to look at people like person this as folks who failed. They didn’t find someone to love them and isn’t that a shame? But maybe they’re better off than folks who are chronic daters who move from romance to romance in order to create their own identities.

But even beyond the reality of marriage and long-term romantic companionship’s cultural exclusivity, we are failing with the concept of marriage for an even bigger reason. We make marital relationships the most import relationship a person can achieve in their life and in doing so discredit all other relationships. Marriage isn’t the right choice for many of the people who choose it, but folks feel obligated by our culture to fulfill their “duty” to get hitched (and for women, to produce children). Further, because we are directed towards this end and function under the assumption that marriage is our destiny we declare that the state of not being in a relationship is inherently a state of loneliness.

There is nothing wrong with seeking romance and companionship, but when this becomes the primary motivation for seeking out a relationship it reveals in the seeker emptiness and perhaps even a lack of identity. Because our culture is on board with this approach to relationships we reveal in our culture a broad emptiness. We propagated our own loneliness. And now we use the extraordinary means of romance applications to remedy it.

What can you do?

Well, our culture needs to ask itself the question that we are asked on Grindr, Tinder and OkCupid at the beginning of almost every interaction:

“What are you looking for?”

As well as these subsequent, telling questions:

Do you think of yourself as lonely or as alone? Do you know why you want what you want? Do you know how to be alone?

This all may sound disparagingly pessimistic, but it isn’t. Loneliness is the state of not knowing how to be alone, and it is not corrected by filling the void with another person. We stop being lonely when we can be alone with ourselves. The second step is deciding to value relationships other than those romantic – for instance our relationship with God, our parents, our close friends. In this we do our part to increase the health of our species by promoting a diversity of relationships. We invite all people to feel authentically connected. When folks we loved leave this life, we know how to continue living because we know our relationships were valid in and of themselves. We would do well not to wait for a romance to affirm us, but to affirm and be affirmed by our friends.

“I am me. I want to be myself. I want to continue existing in this world. My life is worth living here.” -NGE

If you determine that the current cultural narrative is the one for you, know that it only works when you have become comfortable being alone. Don’t fill a void: find a companion. But even if it is the narrative that was written for you, allow for others to write their own relationship narratives. For when our culture, (and yes you, Friartown) can value diverse relationships and decide to be alone instead of being lonely, the communion of our human race will there be there to say “Congratulations.” After all this, too, is love


[1] The Asexuality Visibility and Education Network