Peter Houston-Hencken | News Editor
Whitworth University will no longer offer credit-bearing internships or service-learning opportunities with Planned Parenthood, severing all formal ties with the organization, beginning in fall of 2017. This information came in a campus-wide email from President Beck Taylor, Tuesday afternoon.
Currently, Whitworth is connected with Planned Parenthood through the Dornsife Center for Community Engagement where students can up for credit-based internships with the organization. In recent years a small number of students have participated in internships with Planned Parenthood.
This move comes six months after The Whitworthian published a controversial opinion piece that urged the university to cut all ties with Planned Parenthood.
Taylor expressed in his email that his decision was not easy. Additionally, Taylor believes that this move does not mean Whitworth is changing its stance on gender equality.
“I have decided that Whitworth’s relationship with the organization, even as limited and tangential as it currently is and has been, sends a confusing signal to many of our constituencies,” Taylor wrote in the email.
This decision comes at a time when a pro-choice club is beginning to form on campus, according to the statement.
“Although this new club won’t have an affiliation with Planned Parenthood, my hope is that it will contribute to the important campus conversations we are having about these issues,” Taylor wrote.
Taylor ended the statement by informing readers that Vice President Rhosetta Rhodes will convene a task force to examine students’ concerns about this issue.
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Below is Taylor's email to the campus in full.
Dear campus community,
Whitworth’s commitment to be a community informed by ideas and faith is a difficult one to navigate at times. Faithful, thoughtful people will often disagree on how best to navigate the tensions embedded within the university’s mind-and-heart mission. That healthy disagreement is an important indicator of Whitworth’s commitment to diversity and to our enduring mission. Those are just some of the reasons why it has been difficult for me to make a decision regarding Whitworth’s very limited partnership with Planned Parenthood.
I recently instructed the Dornsife Center for Community Engagement not to renew that relationship. This is the only formal partnership the university currently has with Planned Parenthood. At the end of the current academic year, Whitworth will no longer offer credit-bearing service-learning placements or internships with the organization.
For some, this will be a welcome decision. The idea that a Christian university would partner with an organization that provides, among other things, abortion-related services is understandably difficult for some to reconcile. For others, this decision will be seen as a discouraging statement on Whitworth’s willingness to support an organization that provides important access to many health-related services to women and communities.
Given the prominent place that Planned Parenthood holds in our nation’s discourse on issues of freedom of choice and sanctity of life, I have decided that Whitworth’s relationship with the organization, even as limited and tangential as it currently is and has been, sends a confusing signal to many of our constituencies. My hope is that Whitworth will always support both women and gender-related issues and affirm God’s love for all life. Being connected to an organization like Planned Parenthood sends the unintended message to many that Whitworth has taken a side in this social and political debate.
Although the university is ending its relationship with Planned Parenthood, this move does not signal a departure from Whitworth’s commitment to promote gender equity and inclusion. This decision should not be seen as a referendum on Whitworth’s support for women. Nor is this decision meant to quash academic freedom or the desire to convene and engage diverse voices from multiple perspectives to address difficult and complex issues. Faculty members will continue to have the freedom to introduce ideas and perspectives in their courses that contribute to Whitworth’s commitment to open and faithful dialogue on issues concerning society and the church. Speakers and artists who hold differing opinions on this important issue will still be invited to campus. People on all sides of the debate will continue to be able to advocate for and discuss their perspectives and viewpoints.
For example, a group of students is currently working with ASWU and Rhosetta Rhodes, Whitworth’s vice president of student life, to form a club that will focus, among other things, on the pro-choice perspective. Although this new club won’t have an affiliation with Planned Parenthood, my hope is that it will contribute to the important campus conversations we are having about these issues. Another student organization was chartered several years ago to serve as an affinity group for students who support the pro-life perspective. The fact that both of these student organizations exist and contribute to intellectual discourse on Whitworth’s campus is an example of our university’s commitment to free expression.
This announcement also understandably raises issues of equity concerning how student clubs and organizations are chartered and sponsored, particularly among any existing relationships with other national organizations. Indeed, I think this decision highlights some potential inconsistencies with respect to how the university’s values are reflected in the chartering of organizations on campus. To this end, I’ve asked Rhosetta Rhodes to convene a representative task force to examine these concerns and to help the university and ASWU chart a better course forward, one that empowers students and also equitably administers the chartering of student clubs and organizations.
The fact that we might disagree on how best to live out Whitworth’s values has never discouraged us from promoting and serving our noble mission. May God grant us the wisdom, humility, and charity to support and nurture the community we’ve built together as we seek to honor God, follow Christ and serve humanity.
Beck A. Taylor