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Author Says She Was Uninvited To Speak At St. Mary's Commencement

A well-known filmmaker and author says she was invited to speak at the Saint Mary’s College commencement this year, but the invitation was later withdrawn because of an award she received from Planned Parenthood more than a decade ago.

Jean Kilbourne is a senior scholar at the Wellesley Center for Women in Massachusetts and is best known for her film “Killing Us Softly: Advertising’s Image of Women.”

Twelve years ago she received the Hilda Crosby Standish Leadership Award from Planned Parenthood of Connecticut. Kilbourne says the award honors people fighting for social changes. Now, she says Saint Mary’s College uninvited her to speak at commencement because of it.

"I had some important things to say, none of which had to do with reproductive rights or anything related to Planned Parenthood."

Kilbourne says she thinks those opposed to her coming would be pleasantly surprised to hear what she had to say.

"I’m a graduate of Wellesly College so I’m very supportive of all women’s colleges, and I had some important things to say, none of which had to do with reproductive rights or anything related to Planned Parenthood," Kilbourne says. "I was going to speak about, as I always do, about how to resist the negative images of women in advertising."

Kilbourne says she wishes the situation had been handled with more transparency, allowing more students to weigh in. She says it’s an example of the polarization, both on the left and right, that’s being reflected on college campuses.

"What’s really important, I think, is to make it transparent, make it public, be open about what’s going on," she says. "And give students a real voice in who comes to their campus."

A Saint Mary’s spokesperson Kara Kelly says in a statement, "Saint Mary’s considers internal deliberations about and discussions between the college and prospective speakers to be private. As yet, no public announcement has been made about the 2017 commencement speaker. Saint Mary’s expects to announce commencement details later this month."

Kilbourne says she’s spoken at more than 50 catholic schools in the past and has never been uninvited to speak.

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