Providence College student and resident assistant Michael Smalanskas became the subject of vicious criticism and harassment after he adorned a bulletin board in his dorm hall with messages and photos promoting the biblical definition of marriage. His story gained national attention after students at the historically Catholic college vandalized the board, staged a protest and posted a grotesque drawing in a school restroom of Smalanskas being raped.
In an interview with Faithwire, Smalanskas discussed the controversy and what he believes it means for Providence College and schools like it.
Smalanskas told Faithwire that when he set up the bulletin board display on March 1, he expected some negative reactions. Though Providence is a Catholic college that encourages diversity and inclusivity, conservative students who defend Church teaching on social issues like marriage are an increasingly persecuted minority, he explained.
“Part of the intention was to expose the double-standard on campus,” Smalanskas said. “So I imagined there’d be some reaction, but I didn’t expect to make national news.”
Despite the openly hostile and threatening responses his bulletin board received, Smalanskas told Faithwire that the administration did little to condemn students’ behavior and defend his right to free speech.
Even after the horrific rape drawing was posted in a men’s bathroom on campus, it took almost two weeks for Providence College President Fr. Brian Shanley to email students regarding the issue. After widespread news coverage of the story prompted angry phone calls and emails from concerned donors and alumni, Fr. Shanley sent another email in which he spent more time condemning the “angry, accusatory” and “uncharitable” defenders of Smalanskas than the pro-LGBT vandals and bullies.
Smalanskas said that he wrote a “very nice letter” to Fr. Shanley requesting to meet with him and “work collaboratively on these issues,” but he has yet to receive a response.
“He won’t meet with me,” he told Faithwire, adding that he believes the president views conservative Catholics like himself as “troublemakers, creating a mess that he just doesn’t want to have to clean up.”
He believes college leaders are “very worried” about “how the LGBTQ/progressive group is going to feel,” and that as a result, “they’ve alienated their faithful Catholic base because they’re just afraid to take a stand.”
He added that “it’s highly unlikely that anybody will face consequences for any of this,” aside from perhaps the drawing, which is now the subject of a Title IX investigation.
Smalanskas said that some faculty members have accused him of not being open to dialogue with his critics on campus. The college senior pointed out that he is more than willing to discuss sensitive issues with fellow students, but it’s impossible to “dialogue” with people who are threatening your physical safety over a simple bulletin board.
Even with all that has happened in recent weeks, Smalanskas doesn’t believe that all hope is lost for Providence College as a Christian institution. He explained that one of the college’s biggest challenges has been its failure to vet faculty members to ensure that their values align with the school’s mission.
“I think that if there were some sweeping administrative changes that the [college] could turn around very quickly,” he said.
“The bishop said that the school is at a crossroad,” he added, referring to a letter Bishop Thomas Tobin wrote in support of Smalanskas. “I don’t think he’s wrong necessarily, but I think we’ve gone down one of the roads and we need to go back to the crossroads.”