An online petition calling for the dismissal of an Xavier College Preparatory teacher over the distribution of an anti-abortion “black genocide” handout has led thousands to call for his firing for what his opponents characterize as “hateful, racist and anti-women” rhetoric.
The petition, created by Xavier alum Peg Perl, was created with the goal of having instructor Gavin Ahern removed for providing a handout with “unsubstantiated hate speech” that shamed women and promoted race-baiting, she said.
Xavier, a private Roman Catholic institution in north-central Phoenix, aims to guide “young women of faith pursuing excellence.”
Those who support Ahern’s dismissal believe the handout is contrary to the values and practices taught at the all-girl college-prep school.
Petitioners: Appalled by KKK, genocide rhetoric
A picture of the handout distributed to theology students last week compared Planned Parenthood to the Ku Klux Klan, as the sheet purports an overwhelming amount of aborted fetuses are black and that more black fetuses are aborted than born.
“Maybe the Klan didn’t invent abortion, but you have to believe they are pretty happy with the results,” the worksheet says in its introduction.
Perl, who described the 73-year-old institution as an empowering, rigorous program, became aware of the handout over the weekend after a friend and fellow alum with a daughter who attends the school told her about it. She described the material as unacceptable, saying that it would lead to a hostile learning environment.
“It doesn’t debate theology in a respectful way,” Perl said. “I do care about the school, and I believe this incident is an outlier. It doesn’t fit with its reputation at all.”
As of Thursday afternoon, the petition had collected more than 7,300 signatures and features numerous comments from self-identified alumni who claim this isn’t the first time the instructor has used misogynistic rhetoric.
Perl, who lives in Colorado, said that parents involved in the effort would deliver it to administrators in the coming days.
Competing petition rallies for instructor
A competing online petition, made by two Xavier juniors in response to the original, says Ahern had been portrayed unfairly, with little context for the handout offered. “The other side of the story needs to be heard,” the petition states.
Ahern, who has taught theology at the school since 2002, is also the moderator of the Right to Life, Music and Young Vincentians clubs, according to the school’s website.
The students who created the petition said the exercise had been mischaracterized and that Ahern did not make the handout himself.
“There are some topics that are disheartening and hard to deal with, but the purpose of this exercise was to expose the students to unpopular and unacceptable views from the past,” the rival petition states. “Mr. Ahern has never been racist in class and actually has a very large understanding and big heart toward multiple views and opinions.”
That petition, which supports Ahern and opposes any move toward his dismissal, has garnered more than 1,000 signatures.
Xavier: ‘Duty to impart the values of our faith’
Calls to Ahern from The Arizona Republic were not returned.
Xavier administrators issued a statement to The Republic on Thursday in response to the competing online efforts and controversy.
The statement cited the school’s commitment to preparing students with knowledge and skills to meet challenges while being committed to faith.
“We acknowledge the emotions that discussion on such matters can often evoke, and recognize that disagreements may result, even among members of the Xavier community,” the statement said. “Nevertheless, Xavier will not allow the threat of controversy to intimidate our teachers, counselors, and administrators from discussing these important controversial issues, nor silence us in our duty to impart the values of our faith to the young women entrusted to our care.”
The school added that one of the most fundamental spiritual tenants it imparts to its students is the Catholic Church’s position on “the sanctity of human life, in all forms and at all stages … from the first moment of conception until natural death.”
Some alumni have criticized the school’s response as well.
“The school has chosen to turn this into an abortion debate and it’s not,” said Christina Lambard, a 1993 Xavier graduate. “This is about a teacher using his position of authority to spread misogynistic and racist ideas to young women. And for the school to hide behind the idea that these are church beliefs and that it’s about promoting discussion, that’s not at all what we’re trying to bring up. We do not support teachers using position of authority to spread propaganda that is not fixed in theology.”