Students in a Queer Literature class used their class time to protest an anti-abortion “Stop the Violence Tour” on Thursday in the Tyler Haynes Commons.

Spiders for Life, an anti-abortion student organization, hosted the tour in order to demonstrate the violence of abortion, Meghan Miller-Brown, WC’20, the president of the group, said.

“328,348 babies, mothers, fathers and other family members are hurting from this epidemic,” the group's announcement for the event in SpiderBytes read. “It's time to stop the violence.”

“We supplied scientific facts about fetal development and how abortions actually take place,” Miller-Brown said in an email interview after the event. “We wanted to educate the campus and bring awareness to this issue.”

Julietta Singh, associate professor of English and women’s, gender and sexuality studies, brought her Queer Literature class to protest the event because some of her students reported that the group was circulating scientifically unfounded information about women’s bodies and women’s reproductive health, she said in an email.

Sara Messervey, WC’20, a student in Singh’s class, said members of the anti-abortion group were saying "shaming things" about the use of contraception.

“This is problematic because it’s telling people, ‘Don’t have sex, don’t have any kind of safe sex, but also it’s on you to have your baby if you get pregnant,’” Messervey said.

Spiders for Life is a secular club and doesn't advocate for or against birth control, Emma Dressel, treasurer of Spiders for Life, said in an email.

“If someone did say that, then the views expressed are those of the individual and not the club," Dressel said.

Natalie DiPasquale, WC’20, a member of Planned Parenthood’s Generation Action UR chapter, was also present for the protest.

“I felt that there were skewed statistics that were being passed out on flyers and a very specific narrative that made it seem like those who stand with Planned Parenthood support violence, which is definitely not the case,” DiPasquale said in a statement.

Spiders for Life is a chapter of Students for Life of America, a national organization that supports anti-abortion student groups across the nation. The organization's regional coordinator, Lori Cascio, was at the event, as well as two visiting staff members who stayed with the group throughout the event, Miller-Brown said.

“They supplied all the materials for us and were able to help us talk with students,” Miller-Brown said.

The materials, among which included a fake fetus, could have been triggering for students on campus who have had an abortion, Messervey said.

“We definitely understand that this is a very sensitive subject,” Miller-Brown said. “CAPS and Student Health were notified in advance of our event. We want all women and men on this campus affected by abortion to know that we fully support them and will offer them any assistance that we can.”

Post-abortive resources and counseling centers were advertised on the TV throughout the event and the group had handouts full of more resources, Miller-Brown said.

"Things we thought could be triggering, such as graphic images and surgical tools, were kept inside the hanging lounge," Dressel said. "The only people these items were shown to were those who expressed interest in our display and gave their consent."

“People should have a right to speak freely, but I think maybe the university could've controlled where they were speaking,” Messervey said.

The “Stop the Violence Tour” was registered as an event through the Center for Student Involvement (CSI), just as any other club would register their events, Miller-Brown said.

“We worked with the CSI to reserve the space and time, as well as run through what we would be showing,” Miller-Brown said. “CSI was very respectful toward us and there was no question of our mission nor message. Our right to free speech was recognized and fully supported.”

In order to protest the event, Singh and her students crafted posters, Singh said. They also brought along the book they were scheduled to discuss in class, Leslie Feinburg’s “Stone Butch Blues.”

“Because our course investigates non-conforming embodiments and reads toward bodies that have been policed, misrepresented and abused both by the state and by the public,” Singh said, “We decided, collectively, that it was crucial to express support for women’s rights to choose how they want or need to manage their bodies.”

“I am not sure how abortion relates to Queer Lit," Dressel said. "But if the students in the class were given the option whether or not to participate, I have no problem with their presence."

Singh was pleased with her students for how they chose to respond to the event.

“I am extremely proud of my students for their maturity and strength, and for their capacity to find productive ways of responding to their feelings of political urgency,” Singh said.

Contact news editor Jocelyn Grzeszczak at jocelyn.grzeszczak@richmond.edu.

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