Unity Day cancellation sparks frustration

By Kaitlyn McCormick 

Following concerns of violence and disruption, a Unity Day reproductive rights panel was canceled by Rider organizers. The panel, titled “The Dobbs Decision and You,” was scheduled for Oct. 11 as an installment in a series of events sponsored by Rider’s Multicultural Studies Program for its 24th annual Unity Day. 

The June 24 U.S. Supreme Court decision of Dobbs v. Jackson effectively overturned the previous long-standing precedent of Roe v. Wade, ruling that the U.S. Constitution does not grant the right to abortion. Since the landmark decision, reproductive rights have been at the forefront of national public discourse, especially following abortion bans and restrictions passed in multiple states.

In an Oct. 5 email obtained by The Rider News, College of Arts and Science Dean Kelly Bidle expressed concern about the event to Unity Day organizer Pearlie Peters, Rider’s director of Multicultural Studies (MCS).

“I read with dismay that you are planning to have a Dobbs panel regarding the revocation of abortion rights for women. … At this time, I am sure you are unwilling to consider changing this topic, but I would strongly encourage you to do so, as I don’t see how it fits the theme of Unity Day nor the MCS program for which the College [of] Arts and Sciences provides funding,” the message read in part. 

In an interview with The Rider News, Bidle expressed that a great deal of her concern was due to the duplicative nature of the event, because the Gender and Sexuality Studies (GSS) program had scheduled a reproductive rights panel for Oct. 19, sponsored by the college.

Bidle’s email also mentioned the potential reactions a reproductive rights panel would garner, asking, “Further, as a hot-button topic, are you prepared for the likely event of protests at the event?” 

Bidle said to The Rider News, “If you’re going to have something like this, you have to be prepared.”

While Bidle’s aforementioned communication with Peters raised no mention of safety concerns or potential violence, Peters cited these cautions as reasons that the panel was ultimately canceled in what was described as a collaborative decision by those involved with Unity Day.

Peters said, “It was a controversial topic that may have instigated or caused violence from some factions of campus and it was felt best to not present it to the Rider community because of the potential for violence and disruption by some political factions.” 

Junior English major Bridget Gum-Egan, who was the scheduled student panelist for the Dobbs discussion, said she was “very frustrated and upset” about the cancellation. 

“I think it’s really important to talk about all kinds of issues that affect every single minority group,” Gum-Egan said. 

Political science and multicultural professors Frank Rusciano and Roberta Fiske-Rusciano, who were scheduled to speak alongside Gum-Egan on the panel, shared the same grievance about the cancellation. 

Fiske-Rusciano said, “We were very disappointed and certainly wish that this very important topic could have been addressed at Unity Day. It’s a central issue, especially to our college generation, but for all of us.” She also mentioned  that the contexts of the cancellation were very “delicate.” 

Rusciano said, “It was not our position to tell people what to think,” rather to foster a collaborative environment for discussion, even trying to find students with varying viewpoints for the panel. 

While Peters, Rusciano and Fiske-Rusciano declined to name any specific organizations on Rider’s campus, they explained that the potential threats of disturbance were heard secondhand through “the Rider grapevine amongst faculty.” 

Erica Ryan, an organizer for the GSS panel scheduled for Oct. 19, called “Talking About Roe,” said that she is “not concerned” about distractions and is confident that there will be healthy discussion regardless of the varying opinions of students or attendees. 

Bridget Gum-Egan is a copy editor for The Rider News and was scheduled to be a student panelist on the Unity Day panel about the Dobbs case. Gum-Egan had no part in the writing or editing of this story. 

A previous version of this article had an incorrect cancellation date. The decision to cancel the panel was made last week.

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