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How defined are students’ civil rights?

By Erin Brody, Arts and Culture Editor

Something lawyers wished more people understood is that a case is never as simple as it seems. Is a college responsible to investigate a Title IX situation if multiple students claim the situation was well-known? Are professors obligated to know about a student’s medication if there happens to be an event in class where the student is unable to administer the medication themself? If a student couldn’t complete a college form and missed a deadline due to ADHD, is the college obligated to grant that student an extension? These questions and many more were asked by attorney and Saint Vincent College alumna Kimberly Colonna (C’94) during SVC’s annual Charles G. Manoli Tribute Lecture Series.

“Charles Manoli taught here in the History Department for about 50 years,” explained Brian Boosel, O.S.B. and history professor. “He went to high school here, he went to college here, then [...] he came back here and was a favorite professor by generations of students.”

Manoli and his wife Anita became what many alumni recognize as a second family, and because of that, Manoli wanted to help future students by granting them a scholarship. The first scholarship was granted in the 2005-2006 school year, and after hearing about this, Manoli’s former students wanted to donate funds into the scholarship.

“[Those former students] wanted to honor Chuck and Anita, so in 2013, they had the first speaker — former student Donald L. Miller,” said Father Boosel, and as time went on, the lecture grew into the esteemed event it is known as today.

At this year’s Manoli Lecture, Kimberly Colonna was introduced as an award-winning attorney who has been named a Pennsylvania Super Lawyer in 2013 and 2014, won a Local Legal Leader Award, and has been recognized by many other publications and institutes. On Nov. 3, Colonna came back to her alma mater to deliver her lecture titled “Student Civil Rights: Guarding Truth and Justice in a Developing Legal Landscape.”

“[Students] have the most interesting legal issues,” Colonna said, and that is why the word “developing” is the key word to understand the complexity of student civil rights.

The first time the United States seemed to have a clear law on student civil rights was when Title IX was established in 1972. It was only 37 words long and was aimed at stopping discrimination based on sex. Of course, Title IX soon evolved into a discrimination law that defines what constitutes as sexual harassment, and that is exactly the point Colonna was attempting to make: Laws are always changing. “It may not be as simple — if fact, it’s not — as it may appear,” said Colonna.

Not only is the legal system constantly being re-defined, but how much can a college or university let what Colonna calls “50 percent and a feather” affect a decision. By feather,

Colonna means a small, minor detail. She then questioned how far one is willing to let “50 per cent and a feather” affect a student’s future, should they be facing criminal charges.

That feather, however, is different for everyone. What someone would consider to be a feather could be throw-away evidence. Along with that, what if a student is unable to have legal representation? What if a student accuses another student of some form of harassment but refuses to say any names? Is a college allowed to hand out a scholarship to a specific demographic while leaving a large amount of its population out of the mix? What if a student needs a service animal on campus but their roommate is allergic to that animal? Oftentimes, we believe that only one side or the other is correct, making the feather a lot heavier than it seems.

Because of that, Colonna believes that more dialogue is the answer. “What I hope I do is recognize this reality and engage in a respectful discourse, actively look for areas of agreement, and attempt to gain consensus [...]” stated Colonna.

To gain this consensus, Colonna reflected back on her Saint Vincent education and believed the Benedictine Hallmarks would help achieve this. Having conversations grounded in love, attentiveness, generosity, hospitality, and relationships will help not only to reach a consensus, but to establish a sense of understanding between two arguing groups.

“I don’t want you to walk out here tonight and think I am saying that people have no real strong convictions or that people should not be honest about the convictions they have,” said Colonna. “I think we should want our convictions to be informed, […] and maybe we should question them for a reason.”

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