Med Students Walk Out During Ceremony As Protest Against Anti-Abortion Speaker

Mason Joseph Zimmer
Michigan medical students walking out of White Coast Ceremony in protest
twitter | @PEScorpiio

At least 70 medical students walked out of their White Coat Ceremony as an abortion rights protest against their controversial keynote speaker.

In recent years, we've seen a renewed sense of activism from students who see the issues of the day reflected in the policies and decisions made around them. And whether they're protesting the gender inequality they see in school dress codes or tackling their college's homophobic policies by handing their school's president pride flags during graduation, they're not afraid to lead with their principles.

And in the weeks since the reversal of Roe V. Wade, outrage has built over the consequences for healthcare among children and adults that have resulted from leaving what was once a federally protected right to abortion up to the states.

Those considerations were firmly in the minds of one beginning class of Michigan medical students when they learned their White Coat Ceremony would feature a keynote speaker with a history of being anti-abortion. And they found a big way to show their disapproval.

In an introduction for her keynote speech at the University of Michigan's latest White Coat Ceremony for its new medical students, a dean described Dr. Kristin Collier as an "enormously popular" teacher and physician.

Dr. Kristin Collier looking down in selfie
twitter | @KristinCollie20

But while NPR noted that the faculty member of 17 years has railed against ableism, racism, and ageism in medicine and advocated for expanded access to healthcare among rural communities and prisons, her views on abortion can't really be described as "enormously popular."

As she once tweeted, "I can't not lament the violence directed at my prenatal sisters in the act of abortion, done in the name of autonomy."

So when she was named the speaker ahead of the ceremony, the decision inspired a petition from the university's medical students to replace her.

Michigan medical students walking out of White Coat Ceremony in protest
twitter | @PEScorpiio

Although their petition noted that they did not begrudge Collier's freedom to express her opinions, they felt it was irresponsible of the university to choose her a representative.

As their statement said, "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."

This was particularly worrying for the students in light of abortion's uncertain future in Michigan, given that NBC News reported it only remains legal because of a judge's decision to suspend a state law banning abortion that predates Roe V. Wade.

As the petition further stated, "We demand that the University of Michigan support reproductive justice!!"

Although the petition received over 400 signatures from current and incoming students, faculty, and alumni, the university nonetheless went ahead with their planned speaker.

two men standing on stage in front of empty auditorium before Michigan White Coat ceremony
twitter | @KristinCollie20

As their representative told NBC News, "The White Coat Ceremony is not a platform for discussion of controversial issues. Dr. Collier never planned to address a divisive topic as part of her remarks. However, the University of Michigan does not revoke an invitation to a speaker based on their personal beliefs."

This person also noted that the university's Michigan Medicine institution is affirming its commitment to safe reproductive care, which includes abortion care.

As a result, a significant number of the students in attendance walked out of the ceremony en masse after taking their traditional oaths and receiving their white coats.

Michigan medical students walking out of White Coat Ceremony in protest
twitter | @PEScorpiio

According to NPR, the Twitter video capturing the protest has been seen over 11 million times and its uploader estimated that about 70 of the 170 incoming med students in attendance participated along with some friends and family who left "in solidarity."

The uploader's name is Brendan Scorpio and in total, he figured that between 35% and 40% of the audience was gone by the time Collier finished her speech.

In the petition, about 91.7% of the 96 incoming med students polled said they strongly opposed Collier's presence and 57% of 89 surveyed students said they considered not attending the ceremony at all.

In Scorpio's words, "The overall message that the students wanted to push was that reproductive rights, abortion, is health care. Reproductive rights for anyone who is able to give birth are incredibly important and should be something that's allowed to everyone in the country."

h/t: NPR, NBC News