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?


18 thoughts on “Choose.

  1. The fact NARTH exists bothers me. The fact PC is allowing…encouraging students to attend a lecture about a polarized topic that has no legitimacy to their cause is absurd. Love PC but in this moment.

  2. Someone in the sciences needs to step up and say that this speaker is not simply representing a differing opinion. Healthy debate is wonderful, but debate is based on the premise that the two sides are presenting actual FACTS. What this speaker is offering is hoodoo and contrary to all of the current science regarding why a certain portion of the human population is gay. Would PC entertain giving a speaker a forum for telling the audience that the world is flat? No, because that is scientifically incorrect and patently untrue, as is the theory that this speaker is advocating.

    • Several science (and other) professors have written eloquently in the last 24 hours saying pretty much just what you hoped for. This was done on the faculty listserve, and I don’t know if students get to read that. You can be assurred that things like this do not go unnoticed by the faculty.

  3. Some faculty did indeed step up for science. I posted this to the Professor and Faculty servers.

    From: [] On Behalf Of Toth, Charles
    Sent: Wednesday, February 12, 2014 12:57 PM
    To: Faculty Senate discussion list
    Cc: Cuddeback, Matthew;; Lena, Hugh
    Subject: Re: PC-SENATE: Philosophy Lecture

    Thank you Joe for the perfect segue for my post relating to the science at hand. You mention “great scientists” in your response. This point is exactly why those of us who are scientists are objecting to this talk. The supposition is that Dr. Cretella is speaking from a scientific viewpoint. However, if I may actually use science on this forum, the current scientific community views reparative therapy as potentially harmful and prejudiced against homosexuals (…Therefore, the American Psychiatric Association opposes any psychiatric treatment, such as reparative or conversion therapy which is based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or based upon the a priori assumption that the patient should change his/her sexual homosexual orientation…”:

    Thus, the scientific community based on research has determined that the “great science” of NARTH is in fact:

    “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.”

    Many on this forum are using the guise of the Mission Statement to facilitate that alternative voices such as Cretella are heard (although not Corvino…) I agree with this, but the Mission of the College isn’t just to preach the gospel of Jesus. In its own words the Mission “welcomes qualified men and women of every background and affirms the God-given dignity, freedom, and equality of each person. Providence College promotes the common good, the human flourishing of each member of the campus community…”

    Thus, for argument sake, are we welcoming men and women of every background if we invite a speaker that promotes the use of reparative therapy for “curing” homosexuals? What will LBGTQ faculty, staff and students think of the College/Department of Philosophy if a counterpoint isn’t provided for such a divisive viewpoint? What will prospective students, faculty, and alumni think of us after reading another article in the New York Times or Huffington Post?

  4. As a an alum and past president of SHEPARD – I am appalled by the retrogression of Providence College in the realm of social justice, acceptance, and love. I wholeheartedly agree with your eloquently composed post – PC chose me as well. I experienced and witnessed incredible acts of hate and ignorance as a student over a decade ago. It’s disheartening to me that I am still paying off student loans to an institution that is continuing to move backwards in time. As I’ve told the many PC solicitors, they won’t see a dime in donations from me until their policies change. Perhaps they need to sit down with Pope Francis – “We have to find a new balance,otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”

  5. Your love for PC is clear. Proud of and grateful to you and all who voice questions and calls to action to make our campus, not only safe but, loving for all. Diverse perspectives and engaged dialogue are key components of higher education. However, to fully participate one must feel able to be authentic. My hope, prayer, and commitment is that we be a place where authentic expression is the norm. Then and only then, do I believe, we will be able to debate issues without hurting each other.

  6. Nicely put… I graduated in 2006. I was a member of Friars Club and Shepard. It was not easy to be the ‘lesbian’ on campus but I loved my time at PC and was able to find a supportive group of friends. In fact, a lot of my friends in congress, BOP and Friars came out after college! It is not easy to do so while attending PC but you should know you are not alone! Thanks for sharing

  7. We are lucky to have an intelligent and eloquent person like Matt at Providence College to defend the LGBT community. But should he have to?

    There are LGBT students on this campus. I am one of them. I may stay under the radar, but I am here. I hear what people say. It effects me. But I keep on keeping on because there are so many good people at PC that make it worth it.

    Personally, my opinion on the whole lecture matter is that I spent far too much time in my life thinking that I was somehow defective. But now I know better. I don’t need to be cured. Because there is nothing wrong with me. Not everyone my age is fortunate enough to have realized that about themselves though. That is why hosting “ex-gay” speakers basically betrays the LGBT students of Providence College. We have the right to not have quack medicine presented to us as legitimate.

    There are professors on the PC Faculty Senate listserv (which I highly encourage you to sign up for here: who are belittling Matt and attacking him personally. Shame on them. Shame on those who choose to hide behind their doctorate while waxing philosophic about some old white guy or another who died thousands of years ago.

    As the internet meme says Jesus was an advocate for social justice who hung out with prostitutes and had two fathers.

    So WWJD?
    He probably wouldn’t be a bully, that’s for sure.

  8. Dear Matt,

    First and foremost, I want to thank you for continuing to keep us up-to-date on what’s happening at PC. I too love this school and am heartsick at the vile and unjust behavior they are showing towards the student body, staff and faculty. And after all of the uproar surrounding the canceling of Dr. Corvino’s lecture, they have the audacity to sponsor such a program. They will certainly never see another cent from myself or my family.

    I know it must not be easy to be the standard bearer in this fight. Always remember that an enormous network of support is standing directly behind you. We may not be on campus anymore, but we will do everything in our power to make sure programs like these are stopped.

    Colleen Rosati McCormack ’07

    P.S. I was at school with Emily and remember you from the days of the theatre program at St. Pius. You were a great student then and have clearly turned into an incredible adult. Keep it up!!

  9. I really thought my alma mater was better than this. What bilge. I will never donate another cent to any of their causes. Promoting “pray the gay away”? Really? This makes the school I went to look no better than one of those stupid Southern Baptist diploma mills down south.

  10. Pingback: This Is Why We Write. | Friarside Chats

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