A blue sign reads 'University of Michigan Medical Center' with a yellow block 'M' by the road.
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Incoming University of Michigan medical students walked out of Sunday’s white coat ceremony at the start of the keynote address to protest the selection of Dr. Kristin Collier as the speaker. Collier, a Michigan Medicine physician, has publicly expressed anti-abortion views in interviews and on social media.

A video showing students leaving their seats and exiting the Hill Auditorium has gone viral on Twitter, having received over 16 million views since being posted Sunday evening. The white coat ceremony is an annual event in which new medical students are welcomed to the University of Michigan Medical School. 

The walkout follows the circulation of a petition to remove Collier as speaker that received over 400 total signatures, 348 of which were from incoming or current medical students.

“We demand that (the University) stands in solidarity with us and selects a speaker whose values align with institutional policies, students, and the broader medical community,” the petition read. “This speaker should inspire the next generation of healthcare providers to be courageous advocates for patient autonomy and our communities.”

In a statement to The Michigan Daily, the medical students who organized the petition said a group of people also made a direct request to Collier, asking her to step down in accordance with the preferences of the students she would be addressing. According to the organizers, Collier did not reply. Collier did not respond to The Daily’s request for comment in time for publication.

In a statement to The Daily, Michigan Medicine spokeswoman Jina Musto said the purpose of the white coat ceremony has always been its significance for the incoming students, rather than providing a space for debate.

“The White Coat Ceremony is not a platform for discussion of controversial issues,” Musto wrote. “Its focus will always be on welcoming students into the profession of medicine. Dr. Collier never planned to address a divisive topic as part of her remarks.”

Musto wrote that Michigan Medicine declined to select an alternative speaker because the University does not revoke speaking appointments on the basis of personal views.

In their statement, the organizers expressed their gratitude for the support of their classmates and emphasized the role of medical professionals as patient advocates.

“Even for those who chose not to walk with us, we felt their support and are grateful for the different ways that the class showed up — including wearing pins, working in the background on the petition, or joining in reciting the line we added to our statement of ideals: ‘I will honor the choices of each patient as they navigate their own experience with healthcare,’” the statement reads. “We hope to empower others, especially health professionals, and encourage them to find and use their voices.”

Summer News Editor Samantha Rich can be reached at sammrich@umich.edu.