Dozens of University of Michigan medical students walked out of their white coat ceremony Sunday as a keynote speaker began to talk. A Twitter video of the walkout has gone viral. By press time, the video had garnered more than 9.5 million views.
The walkout comes days after more than 340 medical students at the school had signed a petition opposing the selection of Michigan assistant professor Kristin Collier, MD, for the ceremony because of her anti-abortion views, according to The Michigan Daily.
In response to the incident, a medical school spokeswoman told Medscape Medical News that Collier was chosen to be speaker “based on nominations and voting by members of the U-M Medical School Gold Humanism Honor Society, which is comprised of medical students, house officers, and faculty.”
The press statement continued, “The White Coat Ceremony is not a platform for discussion of controversial issues. Its focus will always be on welcoming students into the profession of medicine. 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.”
The university further stated that it remains committed to providing reproductive care for patients, including abortion care, which remains legal in Michigan following the recent US Supreme Court ruling overturning abortion rights, according to the statement by Mary Masson, director of Michigan Medicine public relations.
The state has an abortion ban, but a recent court order temporarily blocked enforcement of it, according to the statement.
In her speech, Collier recognized the divisiveness of the issue. “I want to acknowledge the deep wounds our community has suffered over the past several weeks. We have a great deal of work to do for healing to occur. And I hope for today, for this time, we can focus on what matters the most, coming together with a goal to support our newly accepted students and their families.”
Following applause from the remaining audience, she continued to offer advice for the incoming students about how to thrive in their chosen profession.
Collier, a graduate of the med school and director of its Health, Spirituality and Religion program, has 15.2K Twitter followers. She has been known to post anti-abortion sentiments, including those cited in the students’ petition.
“While we support the rights of freedom of speech and religion, 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,” the petition reads, in part.
The petition states that the disagreement is not over personal opinions. “We demand that UM stands in solidarity with us and selects a speaker whose values align with institutional policies, students, and the broader medical community. This speaker should inspire the next generation of healthcare providers to be courageous advocates for patient autonomy and our communities.”