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University of Michigan medical students walk out of anti-abortion speaker's keynote address

The protest reportedly comes after a petition opposing the selection of Dr. Kristin Collier as the keynote speaker for the July 24 event.

University of Michigan medical students walk out of anti-abortion speaker's keynote address
Cover Image Source: Twitter/PEScorpiio

Incoming students at the University of Michigan Medical School (UMMS) staged a walkout during the keynote speaker's address at the school's White Coat Ceremony on Sunday. The protest reportedly comes after a petition opposing the selection of Dr. Kristin Collier, who has anti-abortion views, as the keynote speaker for the July 24 event was denied by the school's dean, Dr. Marschall Runge. A video shared by Twitter user @PEScorpiio shows several dozen people—including white coat-wearing students and some parents—getting up from their seats and heading for the auditorium doors as soon as Collier begins her speech. The video has been viewed more than 7.1 million times.


"Incoming medical students walk out at University of Michigan’s white coat ceremony as the keynote speaker is openly anti-abortion," @PEScorpiio captioned the short clip. According to The Michigan Daily, more than 340 incoming and current University of Michigan medical students and 72 community members—including graduate students, alumni and Michigan Medicine residents and physicians—signed the petition calling on the University to select an alternative speaker for the ceremony. The petitioners pointed out that Collier has shared a number of anti-abortion posts on social media and made comments expressing her opposition to abortion in interviews.


Collier, an assistant professor of medicine at UMMS, has been quite vocal about her strong anti-abortion beliefs, reports MSN. This includes a May 2022 tweet that reads: "Holding on to a view of feminism where one fights for the rights of all women and girls, especially those who are most vulnerable. I can't not lament the violence directed at my prenatal sisters in the act of abortion, done in the name of autonomy." Collier, who is also the director of the UM Medical School Program on Health Spirituality & Religion, has reportedly even gone as far as to comparer abortion to "oppression."


Many believed the decision to have Collier as this year's White Coat Ceremony's keynote speaker is a betrayal of the University of Michigan's commitment to stand by abortion rights and continue providing abortion care in the aftermath of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade in June. "While we support the rights of freedom of speech and religion, an anti-choice speaker as a representative of the University of Michigan undermines the University's position on abortion and supports the non-universal, theology-rooted platform to restrict abortion access, an essential part of medical care," the petition reads. "This is not simply a disagreement on personal opinion; through our demand, we are standing up in solidarity against groups who are trying to take away human rights and restrict medical care." 


"We demand that [the university] stands in solidarity with us and selects a speaker whose values align with institutional policies, students, and the broader medical community. This speaker should inspire the next generation of healthcare providers to be courageous advocates for patient autonomy and our communities," the petition urged. However, in a statement to reporters, Michigan Medicine spokeswoman Mary Masson claimed Collier was selected by the Gold Humanism Honor Society for her medical qualifications, and that the University will not retract this decision solely based on Collier's views on abortion.


"The University of Michigan does not revoke an invitation to a speaker based on their personal beliefs," Masson stated. "However, the White Coat Ceremony will not be used as a forum to air personal political or religious beliefs; it will focus on welcoming students into the profession of medicine." An incoming medical student (who prefers to remain anonymous to protect her from potential repercussions from her school) said that the selection of Collier as the keynote speaker at the White Coat Ceremony—a traditional event during which incoming students receive their first white coat, marking their entry into medicine—is particularly upsetting for incoming students. 


"You've got these incoming (medical students) who voted and organized and demonstrated very clearly that they don't want Dr. Collier speaking there," they said. "They don't want this representative of the medical school welcoming them into a medical profession that is supposed to be respecting patient autonomy." Another incoming medical student, who also requested to remain anonymous, noted that the fact that the coalition of incoming students signed this petition even before meeting one another or arriving at the university reflects the importance of this issue to the student body.


"More than half of matriculants to (medical) school now are assigned female at birth. These are people who are directly affected by her being given a platform," they said. "(Our class is) almost entirely strangers to one another, and yet, we have collectively banded together. More than half of us responded to a survey from someone that we don't even know to say, 'This is a human rights issue and we have a voice in this.'"

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