President's Message on Removal of SLU Students for Life Display
Dear members of our SLU community,
Every October I have witnessed the display of crosses on the quad to call attention to a specific issue threatening life. Part of the SLU Students for Life chapter’s celebration of national Respect Life Month, some of the crosses represented the number of abortions in the U.S. Others symbolized the homicides perpetrated in St. Louis in 2016 and 2017. Another set represented Missouri residents who live in poverty. And others represented states where capital punishment is legal.
Earlier this week, while I was at a conference in Boston with Bishops and Catholic university presidents, I learned that all the crosses were removed from the quad by individuals who opposed their presence. That was a distressing violation of our University’s values.
The eradication of any University-sanctioned display that expresses the religious and political beliefs of one of our student groups is at best an act of suppressing free speech and at worst an act of unacceptable intimidation. Unfortunately, this is not particular to the Students for Life as we have had incidents of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism — to name two examples.
The fundamental intolerance underlying each of these incidents threatens human dignity, as is also true for racism, sexism, homophobia, violence and other human evils.
Catholic teaching is clear that defending the dignity of every human person throughout the entirety of life is a primary tenant of the faith. As a university, we also value, uphold, and promote the free exploration and exchange of ideas. This is central to who we are as a Catholic university.
In moments of stark difference, some of us seek to expand discussion while others of us attempt to quell it. This pains me.
It is intellectually disturbing and ethically problematic that having a larger, more robust conversation about the value of life and finding common purpose is thwarted by ideological divides. These divides are real and significant. I have no doubt, however, that despite our differing perspectives, we all care deeply about lending a voice for the voiceless.
I am not suggesting that we ignore our differences, but I am asking that we be willing to go to places that are uncomfortable, to spot the hurt in the world and in each other and to hold space for that pain.
If we can demonstrate the ability to heal wounds and find common ground on our own campuses, it is possible that we may be able to expand that healing to our world.
Fred P. Pestello, Ph.D.