Seat of Wisdom College responds

Editor’s note: The Current publishes the following letter from Dr. Christine Schintgen, interim president of Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College. In it, she refers to “calls … to expel students for having participated in the demonstration.” We point out that no such call has come from either The Current or our writers. Dr. Schintgen is referring to readers’ comments and comments on social media.

10 February 2021

Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College has been receiving bad press both in the Madawaska Valley Current and in subsequent Facebook discussions because of student participation in a recent demonstration against certain COVID-19 regulations. I would like a chance to respond as interim president of the college.

First, I would like to say that the vast majority of our students are law-abiding citizens who do wear masks when they go grocery shopping or otherwise give their custom to the local establishments. They are the quiet ones who go about their business without attracting attention, and so they go unnoticed and unmentioned. I would like to thank those students for being good ambassadors in our community.

Second, I have, as interim president, on numerous occasions, urged all of our students to be law-abiding and respectful of the protocols in our community. That is our official message both inside and out, and as an administration we uphold this in word and in deed. Of our approximately 25 staff and faculty, I can only think of one who does not wear a face covering when he goes grocery shopping. (That person does in fact have a serious medical exemption, though I admit that he is also ideologically opposed to having to cover his face.) The rest of us comply with the face-covering requirement in shops without a fuss, no matter how the various members of staff and faculty might feel about it as individuals—and I want to point out that we are a diverse community with a wide range of opinions on all sorts of subjects.

Third, I would like to respond to calls from certain parties for me to expel students for having participated in the demonstration. To this I respond, “On what basis would I expel them?” I look at the photos in the press, and I only see three actual Seat of Wisdom College students. One of them is alone in the photo, and two of them (Gabriel O’Brien and Viktor Lemke, as identified by The Eganville Leader) are housemates, and so in the same social bubble, so the fact that they are standing fairly close together is fine. As far as I can tell from the photos, they have not violated any law, as masking is only required outdoors if social distancing is not possible.

Should I expel them for the views they express on their signs? Gabriel O’Brien’s sign says, “End the lockdown: stop the spread of depression.” Is this view so threatening that we cannot tolerate it in a free society? Perhaps one could argue that it was pointless, as we were all fairly certain that Premier Ford was going to announce the end of the lockdown in our area the following day. But worthy of expulsion from a liberal arts college? I think we are getting into troublesome territory here.

I’d also like to commend the protestors for keeping the protest peaceful.

In closing, to the students I say, obey the laws. Let your views be known through proper, legal channels, but respect the laws and protocols while you do so. Wear your masks in the shops, and in all other indoor public places. But to critics of the College I say, let’s all try to keep the conversation fair, rational, and civilized. The future of our society, I would argue, depends on it.

Christine Schintgen, D.Phil.

Interim President and Associate Professor, Department of Literature

Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College, Barry’s Bay

photo Facebook/OurLadySeatOfWisdomCollege

12 Comments

  1. Peter Shoemaker

    I agree with Dr Schintgen that the recent demonstrations are not grounds to expel students. However it is perhaps a good time for the school to do a review of their curriculum. It is clear that when it comes to mathematics the students lacked an understanding of exponential growth that we have seen with this virus. There seems to be a lack as well when it comes to biology. The curriculum could use a dose of epidemiology. History is the next problem. Here there could have been learnings from past pandemics, epidemics and plagues and how they were fought. And finally and most troubling for an institution supposedly based on Christian teachings is a total lack of appreciation for Compassion, a key tenet of the Catholic faith. One should never miss an opportunity to improve.

  2. Mandy Kutchcoskie

    100% respect for Christine & all the faculty members & students at OLSWA! Shame to the community members promoting cancel culture towards the college. May common sense triumph over conditioned fear.

  3. Adam Rok

    I am a retired registered nurse and nurse educator. I cannot believe that students plus a faculty member of the OLSW college would protest mask wearing in Barry’s Bay in view of the deadly world wide pandemic. The purpose of education is to learn the truth about all aspects of health, arts, science and culture. Politicizing science and health has led to hundreds of thousands of deaths worldwide. I have seen many patients suffocate to death due to lung diseases and infections. Frontline workers including nurses, doctors, plus paramedics are constantly pleading with the public to wear masks and yet many of them are loosing their lives because of the resistance of the public to follow basic health guidelines. Nurses, doctors are not permitted to treat patients in the operating room without wearing masks. During the 1918 pandemic mask wearing plus socially distancing helped eliminate the Spanish flu. We are socially responsible to each other and we cannot have freedom without responsibility otherwise anarchy will ensue. The students who object to wearing masks will have a very hard time wearing a ventilator if they become infected. The college has a social responsibility to protect the health of the public and to promote and expect safe behavior just as it has to expect avoidance of drug and sexual abuse of its students on and off campus. Please don’t ignore or excuse oppositional behavior because the variant strains of COVID-19 will affect all members of our community. This is not a hoax.

  4. Ben van Wesenbeeck

    In answer to Dave Maher:

    Well this was too easy. Before my toast had a chance to pop, I found the article you clipped your little snippet from. Readers should be aware that you conveniently left off the second, and for your opinion more inconvenient part of Dr. Clase’s quote:

    “Our review suggests that cloth can block particles, even aerosol-sized particles, and this supports Canadian public health policy on the issue.” (To read the whole article: https://brighterworld.mcmaster.ca/articles/evidence-shows-cloth-masks-may-help-against-covid-19/). First sentence: “Evidence shows that cloth masks, particularly those with several layers of cotton cloth, block droplet and aerosol contamination of the environment, which may reduce transmission of COVID-19.“. I think you ignored the fact that Dr. Clase is only recognizing that more data needs to be collected, not that it’s unnecessary. Naturally, she goes on to say in this same article that masks are indeed effective.

    So, before you go spouting about intellectual ‘honesty’, you might be well served to take a dose yourself (vaccine pun not intended.. but perhaps apt). Anyone with 5 free minutes to Google, and the know-how to Cut and Paste can very easily track down an argument they want to support. In your case, 5 minutes would be enough to even create one.

    But keep looking for the truth. I’ll feel safer when you finally locate it. In the meantime, I don’t recommend looking with your head in the sand, though, if you think about it, that would likely be even better than a mask!

    • Dave Maher

      Hey Ben, I hope your Saturday is going well,

      By my comment, I did not intend to prove that masks were ineffective. I was simply responding to your comment, “having an opinion about a scientific fact is a contradiction in terms. The science behind the safety measures is irrefutable.” I also did not take a snippet of the article to prove my point, while leaving out comments against my opinion. I was fully aware that the article was pro-mask. In fact, that is the precious reason why I picked it: to prove that many pro-mask establishments do not themselves say that these measures are a “scientific fact” or that the “safety measures is irrefutable”. People in society can have opinions. Laws should only be for the common good of the people in so far as they protect someone from hurting somebody else. Now many would say that masks and lockdowns do exactly this, but many also say that they do not. There are good reasons on both sides of the equation and the way one solves the problem is by addressing all aspects of the problem. We cannot irrationally dictate to others that they must wear masks and stay home because that is how we save lives. It might have been convincing the first time around, but this time more questions are being asked. We cannot shut down discussion on the matter due to protecting sensitivities. I would like to respectfully pose a series of questions that will allow you and myself to be intellectually honest. How can the government mandate the covering of our faces under the presumption that masks work? At least for myself, seeing someone’s face is extremely important. It is part of our humanity. If the government wants to take a piece of our humanity away, I would like to hope that they have hard scientific evidence on the matter, not just a reasonable doubt. Even if masks were certain to provide some benefit, is the harm of destroying our humanity worth the health benefits? Additionally, one can also question the lockdowns. Are the harms that it is doing to the social aspect of society and the economy better than the possible (but not yet fully proven) health benefits? I understand how these comments might offend many, but all I hope is to pose questions to generate discussion, not anger.

      Thanks for responding and for the time you took to dialogue with me.

  5. Considering these so called ‘protesters’ were effectively blocking the ‘public’ sidewalk, this is not as benign as the acting president of the college would have us believe.
    While the college portends to be vigilant, many residents can point to their own negative experiences of confronting groups of unmasked people, clustered closely and in front of entrances to stores.
    Their actions are an affront to every front line worker, health care worker, and those family members protecting their vulnerable and sick. It is obvious, those who cry out for their ‘right’ to be wilfully blind to the dangers are doing the absolute opposite of what ‘Jesus’ once said.. ‘show me by your good works’. No amount of prevarication or facile declarations will serve ‘the greater good’.

  6. Pat Scott

    During the provincial lockdown when no unnecessary trips outside the home were to occur, you are condoning your students participating in a protest? You say they wear masks in stores, not so, since I observed several of your students purchasing alcohol with no masks to go to a party at O***’s house. A party at someone else’s house? In the lockdown? How is that their own bubble. I think that you may be so caught up in your own head and the reality of what is going on is completely missed. The community that welcomed OLSW is telling you otherwise. And we are repeating what has been said before. You say your students are adults but they are behaving like children. I understand as does the community that you cannot police the students on their own time, but you truly are allowing them to damage the college’s reputation in our community. You count on community support for some rental housing. Perhaps call by-law and ask about all the late party noise complaints and other complaints, ask landlords about the damages to their homes, and now all this denial to the community about the kids behaviour. You have a professor that will not comply with wearing a mask that goes shopping? Does he also go to restaurants in bare feet and expect to be served? Do you really believe he is not telling this to his students too? For a college that is supposed to be Christian based, what happened to the 10 commandments in your daily lives outside the classroom?
    I respect your right to disagree with me and I don’t take that personally, but are you so naive that you think your words will pull the wool over the community’s eyes who are witnesses to what is going on and you are in denial?

  7. Barbara Cardwell

    The college really needs to stop defending students who continue to show a total lack of respect for the local community. The argument presented by the interim president is now added to the list of disrespectful behaviour. Really, are you trying to tell us that only THREE students attended, and were not doing anything wrong? You expressed no interest in looking at the photos that were taken so you could identify your students and have proof of their involvement. In addition, you are completely ignoring the fact that they were participating in an illegal gathering during a provincial lockdown. No wonder the reputation of your institution is in tatters.

    • Dave Maher

      OLSW upholds truth. And to discover truth one must be open to hearing various opinions, even if they do not agree with your own. It is false to claim that the reputation of the institution is in tatters, in fact, by students exercising their right to speak, the school is being further upheld. The truth will set you free, all you have to do is discover it. Truth will not be discovered without being open to various opinions. Truth will not be discovered without the freedom of speech. Truth will not be discovered without the freedom to protest. Additionally, the protest was law-abiding in so far as it was people in groups of 5 or less spaced out.

  8. Frank Mallany

    I’d like to commend the protestors for demonstrating outside, as is their right, as opposed to previous displays in public places like the grocery store. You may not agree with them but people are allowed to have their own opinions.

    • Ben van Wesenbeeck

      Having an opinion about a scientific fact is a contradiction in terms. The science behind the safety measures is irrefutable. Debating that doesn’t show an opinion but instead displays willful ignorance. The right to protest is enshrined in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, yes. However, it is not one’s freedom to put others at risk. So, if these protesters would like to exercise their right to peacefully assemble in a location where others won’t be put at risk, go right ahead. And if that becomes their own super-spreader event, then they can also deal with that amongst themselves.

      • Dave Maher

        Hey Ben, I would like to note that mask-wearing, lockdowns, and like measures are not scientifically proven to work. In fact, there is a wide variety of opinions on the matter in the scientific community. The best thing we can do is be intellectually honest, not create a left vs right debate that ends nowhere. One example of intellectual honesty is the following:

        “Direct evidence about whether wearing a mask of any sort outside a health-care setting reduces actual transmission of COVID-19 is lacking. This is why public-health decisions about public mask-wearing have been difficult to make, and why they differ around the world,” said Catherine Clase, associate professor of medicine at McMaster University and a nephrologist of St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton.

        This neither affirms nor denies the efficacy of masks, but simply states that the matter is quite unknown. To the surprise of many, quotes like these are all over pro mask and pro lockdown establishments. One can be in favor of the restrictions but admit that there is no scientific certainty in them.

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