University of Michigan medical students walk out on pro-life speaker

Pro-abortion medical students staged a walkout at the University of Michigan’s white coat ceremony Sunday in order to protest the keynote speaker, who is pro-life.

In a video of the ceremony, dozens of students in white coats can be seen standing up and walking out as Dr. Kristin Collier, a clinical assistant professor at the Ann Arbor-based university, takes the podium. Other people, not clothed in white coats, can be seen leaving the ceremony as well.

The university had nominated Collier to give the keynote address to incoming medical students for their entrance to the medical field.

But prior to the ceremony, some students and alumni protested her selection with a petition. The petition, which asked the school to choose a different speaker, took aim at some tweets and interviews in which Collier made comments affirming the dignity of life.

“These comments are antithetical to the tenets of reproductive justice as restrictions on abortion affect women of color, other marginalized women, and trans people disproportionately,” the petition says.

However, the school refused to cancel Collier’s speech. 

A July 13 post from the University of Notre Dame’s “Mirror of Justice” blog showed a purported copy of the letter from Dr. Marschall Runge, dean of the University of Michigan Medical School.

The letter from Runge acknowledged that there had been “both positive and negative feedback” on the university’s choice for keynote speaker. However, he said, Collier did not plan to speak on “a divisive topic” in her remarks. 

“We would not revoke a speaker because they have different personal ideas than others,” he wrote. 

In her beginning remarks, Collier said: “I want to acknowledge the deep wounds that our community has suffered over the past several weeks. We have a great deal of work to do for healing to occur. And I hope that for today, for this time, we can focus on what matters most, coming together to support our newly accepted students and their families with the goal of welcoming them into one of the greatest vocations that exists on this earth: the vocation of medicine.”

Collier’s speech included three pieces of advice to assist the students in their careers. First, she told the crowd that “you are not a machine and neither is your patient,” emphasizing that “machines and robots can’t care for anyone.” 

“Task completion is not care,” she added.

In her second piece of advice, she encouraged the students to ask “big questions,” such as “What does it mean to be human?”, “Why do human beings matter?”, “What is health?”, and “What is medicine and what is it for?”

She noted that philosophical questions “are largely absent in the practice of medicine” and added that medicine “needs a philosophical lens to be able to see why medicine knows what it knows and does what it does.” 

Her third piece of advice was to practice gratitude. She said the medical profession will provide the students many occasions “to be acquainted with grief.”

“But in becoming acquainted with grief, you will hopefully develop an appreciation for what truly matters and what doesn’t,” she said. 

“Not infrequently at this hospital there are cars in our parking garages left behind from when someone has walked into this place and never walked back out,” she said. 

She also shared a story of her residency, when a fellow resident became ill. The efforts of the institution could not save his life, she said. 

“Collectively, we lost the deeply held belief that medicine could be our savior,” she said. “What had happened, in part, is that many of us had made medicine into what theologians call an idol. We had placed unrealistic hope onto something that medicine didn’t deserve and couldn’t live up to. When our idols come crashing down, pain ensues.”

She shared that she has since grown to understand the limits of medicine.

“The suffering can either harden you and make you into a burned-out machine,” she said, “or you can allow the vocation to soften you, to cultivate compassion, love, justice, and mercy. Let medicine do the latter of the two.”