Miller: WBA International Community Engagement and the Power of a Name

During the last week of winter break, along with twelve other trips spread throughout the country, 14 participants traveled to Puerto Rico for a week of service and solidarity. Having the privilege of being one of 12 students embarking to Puerto Rico, I learned and reflected a lot about the way we, as a country, as a school, and as individuals think about Puerto Rico. We can all agree that any place ravaged by natural disaster is undeserving of such tragedy and deserving of support in the aftermath. What became clear to me during our week in Puerto Rico is that the United States government should have been the agent providing such support.

For participants on the trip, the status of Puerto Rico was a common discussion, before, during, and after. From the time that the location was changed, we knew that we would no longer be travelling internationally, as originally planned. We didn’t get passports, our parents worried a little less, and some of us were careful with how we referred to our plans for the last week of winter break.

But what became increasingly clear as the office of Campus Ministry sent schoolwide emails and posted blogs for the world to see is that not everyone was quite as careful. Originally holding plans of travel to Ecuador, WBA International Community Engagement retained its name when the destination changed to Puerto Rico.

Though I was frustrated by the misrepresentation beforehand, the people I met in Puerto Rico crystalized this frustration. We heard stories of houses destroyed and the ways in which communities banded together in the aftermath of the hurricane. One man shared his story of driving around his coastal neighborhood with his chainsaw to ensure that everyone could leave. We heard of the fear families felt in the days immediately following Hurricane Maria, unable to communicate with their loved ones and unsure of their safety. Not once did I hear of any support from the federal government, nor did I hear of the intervention of FEMA.

As conversations continued throughout the week, some people we met shared the nuance of their name. Though referred to by English speakers as a commonwealth, in Spanish, Puerto Rico is considered a free and associated state. However, Puerto Rico is not a state, it is not free, and the US response to Hurricane Maria suggests that the association is weak at best, even in times when this association is crucial. The personal anecdotes of the aftermath of Maria seem to be representative of the experiences of the island as a whole.

The weakness of the association between the United States and Puerto Rico becomes evident when comparing the federal government’s response in the wake of Maria to the federal response to Harvey. Though FEMA was not completely absent from the island, a closer look at the varied responses reveals great disparities.

President Donald Trump traveled to Texas four days after Harvey hit, whereas it was thirteen days after Maria before he made his way to Puerto Rico. Nine days after Harvey, victims in Texas had received 5.1 million meals, 4.5 million liters of water, and 20,000 tarps which could be used for covering homes and preventing further damage. In contrast, nine days after Maria, victims in Puerto Rico had received just 1.6 million meals, 2.8 million liters of water, and 5,000 tarps. At the same time, 30,000 federal workers were deployed to Texas in comparison to the 10,000 sent to Puerto Rico.

Though some disparity can be accounted for due to the differing population of those affected by each storm, it cannot be ignored that the estimated death toll in Puerto Rico was approximately 34 times higher than that of Texas, despite the fact that the population affected in Texas is only approximately four times greater than that of Puerto Rico.

In learning these statistics and hearing personal stories, I had to wonder why these disparities exist. One can speak to the logistical challenges of providing aid to an island, but if you have visited Puerto Rico you know the flight from Florida to San Juan is relatively short. Others may argue of the financial burden, but a look at the Department of Defense budget or even the GoFundMe for Trump’s border wall suggests that there is always money available–if people care enough.

In recognizing these disparities, we must consider a few things. Does Puerto Rico’s status as a commonwealth disqualify them from equitable humanitarian aid in the wake of a particularly devastating natural disaster? How would this response have been different if Hurricane Maria occurred during the previous administration? What role did we play in allowing complicitness in the federal government?

After the powerful week on the island of enchantment, I was increasingly bothered at the schoolwide emails and blog posts referring to our week as a week of international community engagement. Confused, upset, and planning to share my opinion, I sought answers from Dr. Susan Gabert, Director of Campus Ministry.

Dr. Gabert explained that “the reason the name of the trip was an international trip was because originally the trip was meant to be to Ecuador,” and there was a change of plans due to circumstances beyond the control of the Service and Solidarity program. Dr. Gabert continued to take responsibility for “contribut[ing] to the misunderstanding of Puerto Rico” by “not changing the name to better reflect the relationship of Puerto Rico as a territory of the United States.”

While the naming of the trip is undoubtedly part of the ease with which many people disregard Puerto Rico, we also must be cognizant of the fact that we all could be doing more. We have all failed Puerto Rico, in one way or another. As a commonwealth of the United States with no voice in national elections, the Puerto Rican voice has been silenced. Those of us with voices and votes must constantly bear in mind those who have been denied this privilege. For me, this means electing officials that will govern with compassion on behalf of those who are silenced, and not electing officials who can be found in the aftermath of a tragic natural disaster throwing rolls of toilet paper into the crowd like t-shirts at a baseball game.

White Students Relieved by Whitewashed Syllabi

With syllabus week nearing its end, students are relieved to be met once again with multiple homogeneous syllabi. “I got concerned that I might have to listen to someone that doesn’t look like me,” a white male sophomore told The Hilltopper. “It puts me at ease to know that every class is filled with a slew of dead white men,” said another. Students in philosophy, theology, and English courses alike were comforted to know that their syllabi would remain representative of a single elite portion of the population.

A diverse syllabus can be harmful to systems of oppression that ensure the continuation of a white heteronormative patriarchal society, explained a white male professor from an undisclosed department. Male and female professors seem to agree with the assessment across disciplines – there simply isn’t room for anyone else.

The homogeneous syllabi are effective in reinforcing the systems of oppression with which many professors are comfortable. Said one student, “I thought that maybe there was even just one black or gay or Asian or Native American or Hispanic or female or transgender author in the past few centuries that had written something worth studying, but if my professor couldn’t find one, then I guess there isn’t! It’s honestly a relief to be reassured of my superiority.”

Other students seemed to agree, saying they didn’t sign up to read such trivial authors as Presidential Medal of Freedom winner Maya Angelou, Nobel prize winner Toni Morrison, or Pulitzer prize winner Alice Walker.

Select professors reported feeling pressure to update their syllabi due to the “changing times” and an increasingly liberal atmosphere in academia. Initially worried, professors have found innovative ways to satisfy these expectations without threatening the status of white men. “You simply put diverse scholars at the very end of the syllabus,” reported multiple professors. This way, they explained, you can still spend the majority of the class preserving the voices of dead white men. Backloading the syllabus allows professors to blame the exclusion of diverse voices on time. For example, one class simply “ran out of time for Dorothy Day.”

Among the other suggestions for skirting the demands for diversity? Some recommended using snow days as an excuse to skip classes that feature non-white authors, bemoaning ‘political correctness’ for the full 50-minute class time, and taking advantage of their tenured status to simply ignore any demands for inclusion.

Some professors blame the lack of inclusion on the demands of the core curriculum, which mandates they cover certain topics depending on the core learning outcome. With such rigorous expectations, it is nearly impossible to include voices beyond Aquinas and Bentham, explained theology and philosophy professors, respectively.

Other professors were simply confused by the request for more diverse perspectives. Said one, “I’m teaching a core course, not an elective. Why would I need to include someone who isn’t a straight white male? It’s literature, not African-American literature. I’m all for them being in a syllabus, but why can’t we just keep them separate but equal?”

Students Attempt to Study for Finals Without Being Morally Outraged

‘Twas the night before finals
when all through the Hilltop,
all students were studying,
until hate made them stop.

Early Sunday evening, The Hilltopper received word from multiple nameless sources that students naively believed they could endure finals week without facing discrimination. “We just assumed, you know, that people would stop attacking our identities for this one week,” a student reflected.

The library was buzzing at the hilarity that the institution would cease enabling discrimination simply because of the pressure of exams. “This is a challenging school. We knew what we were getting into when we decided to come here,” a pro-discrimination Anselmian shared, explaining that finals isn’t a sufficient reason to stop hate speech.

While many students struggled to focus given the eruption, others admit they’ve been desensitized. Said one gay student, “I totally get it, I’m not a fetus, why would they be pro-my-life?”

“You’re Literally Causing Massive Public Scandal to the Knights and the Church”

Andrew Keyes (center) was an altar server and Grand Knight of the Saint Anselm College chapter of the Knights of Columbus until his recent resignation.

In recent weeks there has been confusion and controversy surrounding the events that transpired following the Knights of Columbus formal. On March 16, Andrew Keyes, who was the Grand Knight of the Council at the time, brought his boyfriend to the organization’s formal, which is held on campus in a member’s apartment. Shortly after, Keyes was asked to resign from his position as Grand Knight by Father Benedict Guevin, O.S.B.

In reflecting on the night of formal itself, Keyes explains that he was under the impression that everything went well. He was very clear that prior to the formal and in the first few days after, he had not been given any reason to believe bringing a male date would be a problem. This changed, however, when Keyes received a text the following Wednesday from Knights member Andrew Cilento which read, “1) you’re off serving 2) resign now as Grand Knight or I’m going to motion to have you removed.” A later text read, “you’re literally causing massive public scandal to the Knights and the Church.”

When asked to comment on these messages, Cilento admitted that he should have approached Keyes in person and attested to the difficulty of holding the position as Grand Knight. Cilento believes, “It was inappropriate for Mr. Keyes to hold a leadership position for a Catholic organization while being in a relationship that is contrary to the teachings of Holy Mother Church.” Despite fundamentally disagreeing with Keyes, Cilento issued a written statement saying, “I have always had great respect for Mr. Keyes, and I will continue to do so, regardless of this incident.”

In the same week as Keyes’ interaction with Cilento, Father Benedict, whom Keyes describes as a friend, contacted Keyes and requested a meeting off campus. At the end of what Fr. Benedict describes as a “lovely lunch,” he asked for Keyes’ resignation from his position as Grand Knight. Keyes’ actions led Fr. Benedict to believe his “hands were tied.” This decision came after multiple conversations with the Supreme Council.

Denying allegations of discrimination, Fr. Benedict explains that he was forced to ask for Keyes’ resignation due to the public nature of his acts. Because Keyes held a public position in a distinctly Catholic organization, he was expected to uphold Catholic values in his public life.

While many have said that this is a case of discrimination based on Keyes’ sexuality, Fr. Benedict believes that this is not the case, and “to throw around the word discrimination is unwise and untrue.” Fr. Benedict, as chaplain of the Council, is responsible for holding members to Catholic teaching. Because the Grand Knight is in an exemplary position, it is especially important that he be held to the standards of Catholic teachings. When Keyes brought a male date to the formal, he was contradicting Catholic teaching, according to Fr. Benedict. The act caused much anger and confusion within the group’s membership, especially among the younger members of the Knights.

Fr. Benedict reports that he received word that younger members were confused about how Keyes’ relationship related to the teachings of the church, and this contributed to Fr. Benedict’s request for Keyes’ resignation. Fr. Benedict was clear that he and older members of the Knights “know Mr. Keyes, we know what he’s like, we know what his reputation is.” However, younger members of the Council were confused because of Keyes’ failure to uphold the values of the Catholic Church while being in a public position of authority. Fr. Benedict explained this further. “When the Grand Knight comes in with his boyfriend you can imagine people saying, ‘What the fuck is that all about?’”

Fr. Benedict, as chaplain, had an obligation to respond to this confusion and bring clarity to the younger members of the Knights. This anger and confusion, along with urging from the Supreme Council, ultimately led to his request for Keyes’ resignation. Both Keyes and Fr. Benedict acknowledge that Keyes understood this reasoning and gracefully resigned.

Shortly after Keyes’ resignation, during Easter break, Fr. Benedict received word that many Knights were upset with the decision, claiming that Keyes was forced to resign and that this was an act of bigotry. Fr. Benedict cleared up these accusations by saying that Keyes was not forced to resign and that this is not an act of bigotry. When asked, however, what would have transpired if Keyes had not gracefully resigned, Fr. Benedict did not feel comfortable entering the realm of speculation, explaining that the Supreme Council had suggested something he was “not comfortable with.” Impeachment by a vote of the fellow knights, however, is not a specified procedure laid forth in their bylaws.

Many have claimed Keyes’ removal as Grand Knight is an attempt to avoid losing funding from the Supreme Council. The Financial Secretary of the Knights, Father Stephen Lawson, O.S.B., would like to make clear that, “The Saint Anselm College Knights of Columbus is entirely self-funded…  The notion that the Supreme Council (the national Knights organization) put financial pressure on the Saint Anselm Council is totally baseless and false because we do not receive money from our national organization.” Fr. Benedict echoes Fr. Stephen’s comments, explaining that if there is an exchange of funds, it is from the campus Council to the Supreme, not the other way around. The Knights also receive no funding from the College.

Thus, the reasoning for Keyes’ resignation is again brought back to the public display of his sexuality. Fr. Benedict maintains that “If Mr. Keyes were gay and private about it and kept his private life private, there would be no issue, but that’s not what Mr. Keyes chose to do.”

Amid questions about involvement from the ACLU, Fr. Benedict denies that he has had any contact with the ACLU. He further states that there is no reason for their involvement because this is not a case of discrimination.

Keyes, however, has received mixed reactions from members of the Knights. He expressed that the fact that he brought a male date, his boyfriend, to the Knights formal was “disgusting to a member or two.” Others have been supportive of Keyes, and Keyes says some knights have resigned in solidarity with him after the incident. Some members of the Knights have even gone as far as to suggest the Council should be dissolved, according to Keyes.

As the Catholic Church is forced to reconcile its teachings with the realities of the 21st century, questions about the Church’s beliefs and human sexuality continue to surface. The Saint Anselm community is especially susceptible to these debates because of its dual role as a monastery and place for scholarship. Keyes himself characterized the Catholicism at Saint Anselm as “traditionalist,” while reiterating Pope Francis’ question, “Who am I to judge?” It seems clear that, like the Church, Saint Anselm will be wrestling with these issues for years to come.

#WhyIWrite: Megan Miller

Female empowerment is at the core of who I am. Since my freshman year here at Saint A’s, I have been volunteering on a crisis line advocating for victims of sexual assault over the phone and in person. After over two years, I may know how to handle more situations, but the work itself never gets easier. I am reminded time and again of the prevalence of sexual assault, both on and off the Hilltop. So when an article was released by the campus newspaper denouncing the existence of rape culture, I’d had enough. I needed something different.

For a while now, I have dreamed of something modeled after Middlebury’s website It Happens Here, where survivors of sexual assault share their stories. But I also have been reminded time and again of the importance of meeting my community where it’s at. There is a reason why sexual assault on this campus is so underreported, and it is clear that in many instances survivors are not willing or ready to come forward—and I don’t blame them.

But after reading this article denying rape culture, I needed something different, because I have witnessed rape culture firsthand. I need survivors to know that they matter and that we believe them. I need survivors to know that any unwanted kissing or touching is sexual assault, and they have every right to label it as such. I need survivors to know that there are people who will stand with them no matter what.

In many ways, I have been disheartened this year with the extreme back-and-forth that exists on this campus. It is time for a source that fosters truth and dignity and allows all voices to be heard—especially those that are systematically silenced.

Our school consistently preaches the Benedictine values of love, hospitality, and community. We fall short of honoring these values when individuals are left outside of this supposed circle of compassion. I write so that we may include everyone in the circle of compassion and truly exhibit Benedictine values. Cornel West once said, “Justice is what love looks like in public.” I write because I intend to love people in public.