Prof files restraining order against student who 'glared' at her
A Providence College student who posted a flyer about Catholic views on marriage has faced a staff-led protest, threats, and a restraining order from the vice provost.
Michael Smalanskas recently graduated the Catholic institution in Providence, Rhode Island, but he is now banned from campus after the college sided with an administrator who filed a restraining order against him.
"Will Catholic teaching on marriage as one man and one woman be considered hate speech at Providence College, or will its free expression be protected by the College?"
Smalanskas served as a resident advisor (RA) for a dormitory, and on March 1 he created a display on his floor defending the Catholic Church’s conception of marriage, according to The Ocean State Current.
The two-panel display read, “Marriage: The Way God Intended It / One Man One Woman” and contained various short messages, including a passage from the Book of Mark and a quotation from Pope Francis.
“After posting the board, I immediately became a target,” Smalanskas told the Current.
Not only did students vandalize the board, later removing it entirely, and target him on social media, but according to Smalanskas, “groups were congregating outside my room.”
Campus security temporarily moved him to another dormitory out of concern for his safety only a few short hours after he had finished the display.
When student return from their March 3-11 spring recess, the board had reappeared, accompanied by an official statement permitting the display from Vice President of Student Affairs Kristine Goodwin.
On March 14, Smalanskas received a call from campus security while working his job at the college bookstore, and was informed that a cartoon had appeared in his dormitory’s bathroom depicting another man raping him while saying, “Mike, what did I say about putting your sign up?” The figure intended to portray Smalanskas winces and begs, “Please! Sorry!”
“The beliefs I hold are those of the Catholic Church and are consistent with the mission of the College as a Catholic and Dominican school,” Smalanskas told The Cowl, PC’s student newspaper, asking, “will Catholic teaching on marriage as one man and one woman be considered hate speech at Providence College or will its free expression be protected by the College?”
According to The Cowl, the board was later taken down and reinstalled a third time.
Thirteen PC professors released a March 18 statement in support of Smalanskas, affirming the board’s understanding of Catholic doctrine, rejecting accusations of homophobia, and calling for the community to respect academic freedom.
Reverend Brian Shanley, president of PC, also penned a missive to the community calling for respectful dialogue concerning Church teachings about marriage. He denied that espousing the Church’s views on marriage was homophobic, simultaneously labeling homophobia a sin.
PC’s director of residential life subsequently suspended the use of all bulletin boards, though Smalanskas pointed out that a bulletin board celebrating lesbian marriage in an all-female freshmen dormitory stayed up throughout the month of November. The board depicted a lesbian coupe with the caption “Married 3 years” and the accompanying statement, “Love is love.” It also featured a series of homophobic statements in the background.
PC’s four Catholic chaplains published a statement criticizing the lesbian marriage display for allegedly equating all opposition to same-sex marriage with homophobia, and called on the community to respect both Catholic teachings and homosexuals.
In a letter to student leaders, Goodwin implicitly referenced both boards and stated that she is praying for “civil discourse and healing.”
In the letter, she also endorsed a March 23 “March Against Transphobia and Homophobia” hosted by SHEPARD (Stopping Homophobia, Eliminating Prejudice, and Restoring Dignity), “a support group for all members of the LGBTQQIAA community” that falls under the PC Dean of Students’ office. Goodwin called for inclusion, but affirmed that Catholic teachings are not homophobic in a speech at a follow-on event.
In response to a letter from Smalanskas, Bishop of Providence Thomas Tobin wrote a letter lamenting the attacks against Smalanskas and praising the professors and chaplains who stood up for him, but also warned that PC is at a crossroads.
“Will it continue to be P.C.—the Providence College we’ve come to know and love,” he asked, “or simply be p.c.—politically correct, the pathetic, ephemeral fashion that has, in recent years, taken such an ironclad grip on our culture?”
In late March, Shanley released another public statement, this time addressing the negative publicity surrounding the incident. He reaffirmed the college’s Catholic identity and condemned Smalanskas’s treatment while also advocating respect for the “LGBTQ+ community.”
The situation took a turn for the worse after Smalanskas graduated, when Goodwin, who had previously taken a neutral public stance save for her endorsement of the SHEPARD march, filed for a restraining order against Smalanskas.
A Providence judge granted her temporary restraining order against Smalanskas on May 21, with an expiration date of May 31, when a hearing will take place. Such temporary orders are typical in the interlude between a complaint and a hearing.
Goodwin alleged that Smalanskas had “demonstrated an escalation of animosity toward” her in the two months preceding graduation, describing two incidents during the commencement mass that led her to file a complaint.
In one instance, she alleges that Smalanskas “stopped approximately 10 feet away from me and glared at me for 5-8 seconds,” asserting that “he was visibly angry and stared at me causing me to feel surprised, uncomfortable, and afraid as to what he might do next.”
She also alleges that Smalanskas yelled at her following the ceremony, recounting that “He yelled something to the effect ‘You should be ashamed of yourself Kristine Goodwin, Kristine Goodwin—they threatened to rape and murder me and you did nothing Kristine Goodwin.'”
Goodwin acknowledged that “his words were not expressly threatening,” but insisted that “his actions toward me have escalated quickly,” adding that she is particularly concerned because Smalanskas’ father is a police officer.
“I am also afraid of Mr. Smalanskas’s parents, especially his father who has access to weapons,” she told the court.
“Any reasonable person must conclude that this constitutes retaliation by Kristine Goodwin and Providence College,” Smalanskas told the Current. “For months, her grave incompetence as Vice President for Student Affairs has been on display.”
In response to the temporary restraining order, PC issued Smalanskas a no-trespass order, barring him from campus and preventing him from working his summer job at the campus bookstore.
"A civil restraining order was issued by the court after Mr. Smalanskas’ unacceptable conduct toward a member of our community on campus this past weekend,” read a PC statement made available to Campus Reform. “Because of the serious nature of his actions, the College has restricted his access to campus."
“Now, in what appears to be revenge tactics, she and the College have acted shamefully and recklessly,” Smalanskas argued. “It’s high time the Dominicans regain control of their college or see it lost at the hands of a depraved administration.”
In conjunction with the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity, which runs The Ocean State Current, Smalanskas is now raising money for his legal defense.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @SFarkas48