Having a daughter attending Purdue University, I was concerned to read the news headlines and Facebook feeds about a controversial incident that took place this past week. To the best of my understanding, here is what occurred.
With Black History Month as its backdrop, earlier this month Purdue Students for Life put up pro-life posters around campus warning about the higher rate of abortion that occurs among African Americans than other races. The posters wove together a collation of themes, from Planned Parenthood’s founder’s genocidal motives to the Black Lives Matter movement to the Ferguson shooting.
A non-faculty staff person in the Visual and Performing Arts Department, Jamie Newman, took issue with the posters. On the Purdue Students for Life Facebook page, he minced no words when he called them, “vile, racist idiots who richly deserve all the opprobrium that will be heaped on them as a result of this unbelievably thoughtless, stupid escapade.”
Later that week, when the national pro-life site Life Action News picked up this story and called for action by Purdue, Newman began an argument with another person on a comment thread. The context shows that in trying to make the point that pro-lifers would think differently about abortion if one of their own family members were raped, Newman then “offered to rape” the man’s family members to see.
Purdue University has publicly demanded an apology from Newman, but claims it cannot take any further disciplinary action. As their spokesman said, “Mr. Newman’s obnoxious rhetoric is an embarrassment for Purdue, but our special obligations as a public institution impose a much higher threshold before condemnation can be extended to punishment.”
Rather than apologize, Newman is doubling down, claiming the pro-life groups have spread misinformation about him and demanding that the university instead apologize to him.
As a concerned parent whose daughter has been involved in the pro-life movement at Purdue, I wanted to offer the following reflections to those involved.
To the pro-life students – I admire your boldness and willingness to take a stand for the unborn. Thank you for being passionate and creative in this fight to defend the the defenseless. As you are attacked and vilified, remember that it is to your honor not to respond in like kind. Answer with patience and persuasiveness, not surprise and outrage. As many of you are Christians, remember that the Lord said that the world will hate us. What this man has done is proof of the truthfulness of Jesus’ teaching and your faithful witness.
However, also be willing to learn from this situation and grow in maturity in your efforts. Zeal needs wisdom to guide it. One look at your Facebook page appears to show you to be an all-white group. May I ask if you engaged any in the African American community there before placing these posters as to whether they would be an effective means of communication or not? For instance, on your posters you show a black silhouette representing an African American woman who is pregnant, yet the baby in her womb holding its hands up and saying “Don’t abort!” is white. Though unintentional I am sure, your symbolic message could be lost on the very people you are trying to influence by an insensitive design. Do not be afraid to interact personally with people with different backgrounds or ideologies so as to communicate truth more effectively.
To Mr. Newman – Let me set the rape statement matter aside for a moment and say this to you. As both a father and one who has taught on college campuses including Purdue, I believe students should never be the target of ridicule and vitriol from their teachers and mentors. No matter how outlandish their behavior or speech may be, the adults in the room should never openly mock them, revert to name calling, or encourage others to do likewise as you have done. You have complained openly about the university not speaking to you personally before reprimanding you publicly. Have you considered how hypocritical this is in light of your own actions? Did you ever think about asking to speak to some of these young people and calmly explaining your concerns to them?
Now, regarding the rape statements. I can read them in the best possible light in their context, see them as hyperbole, and perhaps even agree you were not directly threatening to rape others as the police have concluded. Yet your statements are still reprehensible and illogical at best. You accuse others of outrage while you angrily use one of the worst crimes imaginable to try to win a debate point. Your argumentation ignores the fact that the vast majority of abortions are done for personal convenience, not rape. You show a complete lack of awareness and sensitivity to the stories of many women who have been raped and yet have chosen to bear, raise, and love their children. As a father and also alumnus of Purdue, these statements must be withdrawn. I am also calling on you to apologize sincerely for what you have said.
To President Daniels and the Purdue Administration – Though the days of practicing in loco parentis by universities have long since passed, still you have made promises that Purdue will be a place where we can send our children to be trained, respected, and protected. Indeed, President Daniels, my daughter looks up to you and the leadership you are providing there. She and a few other students even traveled with you out west on one occasion last year to represent Purdue. As you consider this matter, please remember students like her. For this incident is truly sullying the reputation of Purdue that you and others have worked hard to promote.
I do hope I am seeing a course of wisdom set by you in the university’s actions. Perhaps you did not have legal recourse to fire Mr. Newman, but I trust if he does not apologize you will regard this as insubordination and take proper disciplinary matters. Furthermore, given my knowledge of other situations involving faculty mocking or taking advantage of students, I would ask you to take the opportunity this situation affords. Please review and set clear policy about appropriate faculty and staff behavior toward, and relationships with, students. You seek the support and tuition help from parents for their children attending there. Why not also ask some parents to give counsel in this area? Our children may be young adults, but they still need our guidance and protection.
To Other Concerned Parents and Friends of Purdue – The Scriptures tell us that in times of conflict we need to be patient, long-suffering, and not to sin in our anger. With reason and calm, let us apply gentle yet ongoing pressure to this situation until a satisfactory outcome is reached.