When it came time for senior Samantha Culver to get an internship, she applied for a position
with Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, which she described as “an awesome opportunity.”
According to Culver, she notified St. Michael’s internship office as soon as she was awarded
the position. She said internship director Joanne LaBrake Muehlberger, told her it was OK.
Not long after returning to school from winter break, Culver learned she would not be eligible
for credit for the internship.
Culver said she believes that Muehlberger must have misunderstood what her organization
of choice was when they talked initially.
“I sat down and she was, like,‘nope, there’s no way around it’,” Culver said. Because of the school’s religious affiliation, the internship department was obligated to deny Culver academic credit
for her internship, Muehlberger said.
“There is an attempt to make sure things we do agree with the Catholic belief,” said Jeffery
Trumbower, dean of the college. He said that approving this internship would mean that the
school approved of the practices of Planned Parenthood.
Abortion services are available at the Burlington branch of Planned Parenthood.
“The institution has long taken this position that we cannot give academic credit for internships at Planned Parenthood,” Trumbower said.
Culver chose to work with Planned Parenthood because she has long had an interest in
women’s rights. She said she believes that Planned Parenthood has these same interests.
“Most want to be with a company they respect,” Muehlberger said.
For this reason, Culver was eager to learn under Planned Parenthood’s staff.
Although Muehlberger strives to accommodate students who wish to work in an office that has not been pre-approved, she said she ultimately respects the decisions of her peers. She said she agrees with the administration’s choice in this instance.
Culver has since decided to take the internship without credit and works for the Burlingtonbased
organization 15 hours a week, unpaid.
“It’s really upsetting,” Culver said. The Northern New England chapter of Planned Parenthood
said its mission is “to provide, promote, and protect access to reproductive health care and sexuality education so that all people can make voluntary choices about their reproductive
and sexual health.”
Many assume Planned Parenthood is just an abortion clinic, Culver said, but she was quick to
explain that “95 percent of what we do is prevention and education.”
Although Culver works for the organization three times a week, she spends one of those days at the State House in Montpelier where she sits in on meetings and discussions involving women’s rights and health.
“I’m the youngest [one there] by 15 years,” Culver said.
Culver said she doesn’t know any other people her age who can say that they set foot in the Vermont State House on a weekly basis. She said this position will give her an edge in her career search that she might not otherwise have.
“She’s a smart, talented, passionate young woman who is learning about the legislative process, grassroots organizing, and public health,” said Jill Krowinski, Vermont director of public affairs at Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.
Upon hearing the news that Culver would not be getting credit, her coworkers wanted to send St. Michael’s College a protest letter.
Culver did not support the idea.
“I’m not trying to attack anyone on this,” Culver said.
If anything, she wishes that a dialogue could be created between the two groups. She said that while she respects the college’s beliefs, she views this as a budding campus, one of fresh minds and innovative thoughts.
Culver said that both groups want to prevent unwanted pregnancy, and that it is unrealistic to
not present all the ways to do this on a college campus.
Culver is not alone in her beliefs.
“I understand that the Catholic church’s teachings are not in line with things Planned Parenthood
does,” said political science professor, Trish Siplon. “But if you’re going to have a school that’s open to non-Catholics, then you have to respect that different people have different personal
Since being vocal about her decision to pursue an internship with Planned Parenthood, Culver has not felt supported by all in the campus community.
“I felt like the stigma [against Planned Parenthood] was getting put on what I was doing,” she
said. Although she does not feel personally attacked, she is disappointed in the rejection.
Trumbower said “the institution or professors don’t pass judgment based on these things.”
The St. Michael’s diversity statement on the school’s website states: “the St. Michael’s community
embraces the inherent worth and educational importance of sharing perspectives and beliefs in an increasingly interconnected world, and seeks to understand the significance of differencesin culture and circumstance, including those based on race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, age, religion, language, abilities/disabilities, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, military service and geographic origin.”
But by not approving of Planned Parenthood, Culver described feelings of disapproval for people who associate with the organization.
“I think it’s discrimination to not allow academic credit for an organization that is a nonprofit,”
“I feel like St. Michael’s is so open to so many things, it’s such an accepting school,” Culver said. “It’s disheartening.”
Culver continues to work to promote a new social definition for Planned Parenthood. She
hopes that her peers can come to see the facility as a safe haven for discussion, as well as a medical facility for testing, medications and services. Until a relationship between Planned Parenthood
and St. Michael’s is built, students must seek these services on their own.
“I recognize it’s a tough call for a religious institution, but it’s an educational institution as well,” Siplon said.