Op-Ed: Silently Catholic, Pro-Life and a Stanford Outcast

I have never tried to convert anyone in my life. I am one of the most open-minded people you will ever meet. I rarely even tell people that I’m Catholic.

But I have felt isolated for being Catholic and pro-life since the first week I came to Stanford. I vividly remember my first few days here, how I had gone to MemChu a few times because I was a little lost and lonely. The news of where I had gone on my walk was met with odd glances and uncomfortable silences. Later that night in the Lag dining hall, some kid made the mistake of revealing that he had signed up on the pro-life e-mail list. And at least 10 people went at him for being so conservative, so close-minded.

I learned quickly that I was in the minority, to keep my mouth shut about a lot of my views unless I wanted to be verbally attacked. So I stayed silent.

It is at times like the Roe v. Wade memorial when I feel the deepest sense of isolation. I am not fiery enough to stand out there on the White Plaza grass on the pro-life side. I don’t like creating conflict or focusing on doctrine when it comes to religion; that’s just not what it means to me. For me, religion was always more about love and bringing people together than it was about driving them apart.

Three weeks ago, I sat on a cement block in front of the post office watching those Roe v. Wade protests for hours. I was angry for a variety of reasons. At myself for being too weak to put myself out there. For the flak that the pro-life people get every year campus-wide for what they believe in. At myself for being so upset.

But anger is a second-degree emotion, so as it cooled, I paid attention to the emotions that came next. And what I found underneath that anger was an intense hurt. I was hurt that people felt like it was okay to attack a background I loved and am proud of when I never do that to anyone else. I was sick of feeling attacked and lonely, of feeling like no one understood where I came from and thus can’t fully understand who I am now.

Although this feeling isn’t new, it’s one I’ve only recently identified. One my good friends, Yvorn “Doc” Thomas unknowingly identified the causes of it best when he spoke recently at a Black House program. He talked about living in Ujamaa and his need to be a part of the Stanford black community. He said that in high school, there was no BSU because the entire school was the BSU. He never felt hyper-aware of being black until he stepped onto the Stanford campus.

I stayed silent in the back row, thinking that without realizing it, he perfectly summed up my Stanford struggles. Back at home, there was no Catholic community because everyone was the Catholic community. Coming to Stanford, I was in the minority. And I didn’t really know how to handle it.

I ended up choosing to exist in two worlds. In one world, I had wonderful friends and sorority sisters who weren’t Catholic and didn’t really understand how key it was in my life, while in the other, I went to church every Sunday by myself. In one world, I was an incredibly active Stanford student; in the other, I felt lonely and misunderstood.

It’s been an okay system for three years. But then at times like this, when I am sitting on a cold cement block, wanting to cry and not entirely sure why, who do I have to talk about it with? When I am in the history building and a professor cracks a joke about Catholic sexual frustration, I don’t know what to do. I am scared of revealing my other isolated world when I feel like no one will support me in doing so.

I write this not to complain, but to share my story in hopes that it might reach someone feeling like I do, even if a different reason is the cause. Be blessed.

 

Courtney Crisp ‘11

About Op Ed

  • Joe

    Wow, that’s almost as bad as your friends finding out that you’ve had an abortion.

  • Colette Posse

    I’m not Catholic, but I am pro-life. You’re completely right, for a campus that values diversity and tolerance so much, there sure isn’t any tolerance for diversity of thought and belief. I have kept my views quiet my entire time here as well because there’s just no point in voicing your opinion to just get attacked, and in some cases, made fun of. You’re not allowed to be conservative at Stanford.

  • Learn to be challenged

    I’m staunchly pro-choice, but my best Stanford friend is a bapist who is pro-life, we have had many, reasonable, kind but frank, serious and sometimes heated discussions about our positions, and we are still extremely close. I respect her position, but I am not going to back down from disagreeing with her. I am getting really sick of people complaining about facing opposition to their views, any views. If you are in the minority (I’m a low-income white student from an urban area, so I am always in the minority on this campus) you need to learn to fiercely, but respectfully stand up for yourself. It is not your classmate’s jobs to kiss you a** and refrain from disagreeing with you. We didn’t come to Stanford for our views to remain unchallenged. Being pro-life is a position, not an identity marker, unlike race, you need to learn to defend yourself, you need to learn to be challenged. If you can’t have that conversation that is your problem, not your classmates. My conservative bapist friend always stands her ground, and I respect her tremendously for it, and it is the main reason that we have remained friends despite being on completely opposite sides of the political spectrum. At the end of the day, political views are fluid, every changing, complicated but they are not identities, and the constant attempt to turn them into identities is what is making our politics so divisive and silly. Maybe the next time you are in a conversation about abortion you can actually do the intellectually helpful thing and ask your classmates why they maintain their positions, and maybe you can explain (beyond “I’m catholic”) why you have yours. Catholic’s aren’t a monolithic group defined by common political views, there is a lot of variation, I grew up with catholics, there are a lot of pro-choice catholics.

  • hmmm

    Thoughtful op-ed piece.

    I sometimes wonder where the idea that one can’t share one’s conservative views on campus comes from. Does it arise simply from hearing too much from a vocal minority of discourteous liberals? I know a lot of people — perhaps they are all quiet and unassuming? — who like to have thoughtful debates with others having different viewpoints. I guess one has to seek such people out since they may not be rally goers; or, for that matter, the first to speak in a group debate.

  • Robin Thomas

    I find the use of the term “close-minded” so interesting. The people who assign that label to those with conservative viewpoints I often find to be just as close-minded, if not more so, than those they’re accusing. My understanding is that close-minded means “being unwilling to listen to alternative viewpoints”. My Christian and Republican friends tend to be much more open to debate and disagreement than my Agnostic/Atheist and Democratic and “open-minded” friends.

    I wish there was more of a forum for debate on this campus. It all seems so decentralized. Wouldn’t it be cool if we had a debate society like that at Oxford Union, in the UK? Imagine a bunch of students and professors showing up in some classroom on a weekly basis, someone saying, “The topic for this week is abortion. Abortion is never justified. Discuss!” and the room turning into one big conversation. Mm, makes me feel warm and fuzzy all over just thinking about it.

  • Lewis Marshall

    I would like to concur with the wise comments made by “Learn to Be Challenged.” This article is ridiculous, and I couldn’t have said it any better myself.

    I would only add a couple of points:
    The first amendment, the Stanford non-discrimination policy, and morality prevent anyone from committing acts of violence against you, threatening you, or preventing the exercise of your religion. They do not protect you from criticism, nor do they entitle you to the endorsement of your ideas by your colleagues.

    I think that hiding behind your religion is a tremendous copout in this case. There is a pro-life movement in this country trying to use the force of government to restrict the medical decisions of women. If you want to make decisions for yourself based on religion, that’s your private matter. If you attempt to restrict other people’s decisions through the force of law, you explicitly invite criticism.

  • @Lewis Marshall

    “If you attempt to restrict other people’s decisions through the force of law, you explicitly invite criticism.”

    Well, pro-lifers believe this too, but about a mother making medical decisions for her baby. i.e. killing the child. Who are we to say that a baby is not alive before it leaves the womb?

  • Suggestion to the author

    next time someone cracks a joke about your religion, call them out on it and stick up for yourself! That kind of offensive talk has no place in a classroom discussion. You should have said “I’m Catholic and I am quite offended by your rude comment” or something like that. Guilt would have put that person in his/her place.

  • @@Lewis Marshall

    “Well, pro-lifers believe this too, but about a mother making medical decisions for her baby. i.e. killing the child.”

    So instead of making a decision on behalf of another person, you’re making a decision on behalf of two other people?

    “Who are we to say that a baby is not alive before it leaves the womb?”

    We are citizens who vote. Who should we be? Priests? Also, “alive” is not the issue here and you know it.

  • Sarah

    There’s a difference between respecting someone’s political beliefs – especially when they strongly affect others – and respecting diversity. I respect diversity and I’m glad we don’t have as homogenous a community here as we could. But I think it’s a stretch to be expected to personally make a pro-life person feel comfortable when I am staunchly pro-choice myself; and I expect about the same in return (although I always hope people with certain views will come to their senses). I can respect an individual person like you, Courtney, but that doesn’t mean I will never counter-protest or challenge your views. That’s the point; that’s why we’re here – or at least, that’s why I’m here (you can take it or leave it, but the fact of the matter is that Stanford has a bigger conservative sect than a lot of schools these days).

    But learning to stick up for yourself is key – and we all have to learn how to do it. My race and socioeconomic status are attacked almost daily, and honestly, so are many of my political views. But the two are different: you have to learn to recognize the difference between when someone is going after you and when someone is challenging your social positions. And we all have to learn what do to about. Debate when you can; if someone is attacking you personally, do something about it. It’s a well known fact that when we are physically threatened we automatically assume the “prey” posutre – but we take self-defense classes and learn how to stand up for ourselves. We have to do the same emotionally – Republicans, democrats, Catholics, Baptists, Atheists, black, white, men, women, gay, straight, rich, poor, or any combination of the above.

    “If you want to make decisions for yourself based on religion, that’s your private matter. If you attempt to restrict other people’s decisions through the force of law, you explicitly invite criticism.”

    I couldn’t have said it better myself. A personal decision is just that: it can’t be right or wrong. But when personal decisions start hurting other people, then I do not believe that there should be protection from criticism.

  • Emma

    Lewis states, “We are citizens who vote. Who should we be? Priests? Also, “alive” is not the issue here and you know it.”

    Actually citizenship is not the issue either. An immigrant to this country who cannot vote has just as much (or as little) right to choose an abortion (or to choose to continue her pregnancy with its risks) as a fifth generation US citizen, other circumstances being equal. Aliens have rights too.

  • Lewis Marshall

    (Just a note, @@Lewis Marshall is not me.)

  • Ted Rudow III

    Pro-abortion is because they’re in it for the money. Some doctors make a fortune on abortions!–There are so many & it’s easier! In the U.S. alone, where some 1.5 million abortions take place every year, at an average cost of $300 each, abortions are an annual $500 million industry!
    The anti-abortion demonstrators can now be prosecuted under the “Anti-Racketeering Law,” RICO, placing them in the same category as gangs & criminals! It was a unanimous Supreme Court decision, think of it! A spokeswoman for Operation Rescue called the decision “a complete travesty of justice. The Supreme Court justices obviously do not understand how far-reaching this case is. This opens the floodgates for RICO to be used against anybody who uses free speech in a way that offends somebody else, or freedom of religion or freedom of assembly,” she said.

  • Jordan

    Agree 100% with “Learn to be challenged” and Sarah.

    @Ted Rudow III: I’m sick of people like you cleverly trying to frame the debate with rhetoric like “pro-abortion.” I am not “pro-abortion,” which suggests that I somehow want abortions to occur. I do not. But I realize they are a necessity in many cases. Further, I’m in strong support of a woman making her own choices. How about I say people with your views are anti-choice or anti-freedom? And by the way, money has nothing to do with it–your assertion about the $500m industry sounds like a crackpot conspiracy theory.

    “Who are we to say that a baby is not alive before it leaves the womb?”

    Well for one, scientists are, though we are the ones who make the judgment. Research shows that a fetus does not gain cognitive abilities until the last few weeks of pregnancy. Would you consider a being with no cognitive function “alive”? As people who experience what life is, we are qualified to say what life isn’t.

  • Lewis Marshall

    I actually don’t doubt that $500m or so is spent on abortions each year (although I didn’t look into it myself.) However, putting that in some context would help.

    1. Currently, the US spends $2.2 trillion on healthcare each year. That is more than 40,000 times what is allegedly spent on abortions. The idea that people are supporting this one tiny area for massive profit is laughable. People are providing this service because it is a service that people want, and are legally allowed to receive in the US.

    2. Most doctors don’t have to deal with death threats. Abortion providers have to deal with the very real possibility of assassination by terrorists (see George Tiller.) I doubt people would deal with that threat for a profit when doctors can make more money in specialties like, say, plastic surgery.

    3. I’m pro-choice, and I’m not a doctor, so your assertion that “Pro-abortion is because they’re in it for the money” is on it’s face incorrect.

  • Jordan

    Oh I don’t doubt that $500m or whatever amount is spent on abortions each year–but I doubt that there’s some grand scheme to get as many abortions as possible in order to reap significant profit, as the Ted was suggesting. Like I said, he sounds like he’s putting forth crackpot conspiracy theories.

  • gigglebox

    I’ve always been saddened that the people who claim to be the most loving are the first to defend violence toward an unborn baby. The mother is supposed to protect her child all of his life. Abortion denies that very instinct. You must not value your own life very much if you think abortion is okay for someone else. Pro-abortion thinking is upside down. It is not even kind or loving to the mother. The Democrats especially worship at the altar of abortion and then wonder why there is so much abuse of people in the world. There must be a pro-life continuum the entire time.

    “Thus, says the LORD, your Redeemer,
    who formed you in the womb,
    I am the LORD who made all things…” Isaiah 45:24

  • Don’t conflate issues with religion with issues of abortion

    You are conflating being pro-choice — a political position — with being Catholic — an identity marker, as “Learn to be challenged” suggests. This piece is confusing your religious identity and your stance on abortion: you are actually touching on two separate issues. One is the Stanford community’s attitudes towards religion. The other is the Stanford community’s attitudes towards people who are pro-life. It is important not to paint these issues as one.

    While the morals you learn in Church might inform your position on abortion, a self-professed open-minded person like you should know that your pro-choice stance is based on real, well-considered reasons beyond “Because the Vatican says so.” If you are pro-life and are willing to back it up with the same sensitivity and thoughtfulness you wish pro-choice people would afford you, you might find the conversations less antagonistic than you would expect. Both sides of the aisle resent the other for being “close-minded” — if both sides engage with one another openly, you might find that you can civilly agree to disagree. When you conflate the pro-choice argument with Catholicism, you totally feed into the argument that you are not, in fact, open-minded — that you just align your views based on an institution. I imagine you’ve thought about it more than that — so that’s what you need to share!

    The second, separate issue you address is that of the perception of religion on campus. That is actually a topic that interests me very much, and I was disappointed to see that your treatment of this topic was totally derailed and off on a tangent when conflated with the abortion argument.

  • Get it right

    This line really bothers me: “I am one of the most open-minded people you will ever meet. I rarely even tell people that I’m Catholic.”

    We need to take a good hard look at how we treat religious stigma here, I agree. Everybody seems to assume everybody else’s secularism, and people often seem to not know how to talk about others’ religions.

    By saying “I rarely even tell people that I’m Catholic,” and citing that as an example of your open-mindedness, you are actually ADDING to the problem. You are saying that by staying silent, you are being open-minded. You are limiting conversation; you are avoiding opportunities to educate Stanford students about religious diversity.

    Kudos to you for finally speaking up about it — but maybe you should reconsider your approach and your assumptions. This article is more about your problems with your identity than about the Stanford community’s problems with grappling with religious diversity on campus. That’s not terribly productive.

  • Lauren

    I’m not a Stanford student, but I am a student in this situation at my university. You are not alone. There is nothing wrong with being Catholic and Pro Life. I find that very often the people who call others “close minded” and “ignorant” are actually just describing themselves. I have not lived in a Catholic community since I was a young girl. You do get used to it…sort of. But there is something to be said for living in a community of people with similar values. It can be a lot easier to feel accepted. Even so, there are good people everywhere who will accept you for who you are. I realize it can be challenging to find those people. They ARE out there. You need to be yourself and not be ashamed just because some people are jerks.