Pro-choice protesters at the University of San Diego on Nov. 11, 2021. / Screenshot of Students for Life in America video
Boston, Mass., Dec 7, 2021 / 12:10 pm (CNA).
The University of San Diego will not say if any students who shouted obscenities and displayed vulgar signs during a recent pro-choice demonstration on the Catholic college’s campus will be disciplined.
The students were protesting a talk by a pro-life speaker hosted by a student College Republicans club.
“The protest got absolutely out of control, and it was an embarrassment for the university,” senior Jack Uribe, the club’s secretary, told CNA.
Prior to the Nov. 11 event, an administrator informed the club that the pro-choice demonstration was supposed to be a “silent event” held at the Plaza de San Diego, a screenshot of an email shows.
Instead, dozens of students assembled outside Maher Hall, adjacent to the plaza, where pro-life speaker Kristen Hawkins was giving a talk. Demonstrators held signs that said, “Thank God for abortion,” “Hoes before embryos,” and “Public Cervix announcement, F--- You,” and shouted obscenities.
A video clip Uribe shot during the demonstration captured one female protester using a bull horn shouting, “You can't dictate what we do with our “f------- bodies.”
Uribe said the demonstrators also chanted a sexually explicit insult at an 84-year-old deacon and his wife as they were leaving the event.
“It was the loudest silence I ever heard,” Uribe said. “It was so silent that it could be heard from the apartment complex a 10th of a mile away.”
The protest was organized by the Gender Equity and Sex Positive Collective. The group is not affiliated with the University of San Diego but is run by students at the school. The group did not respond to CNA’s email requesting comment on Dec. 6.
The university issued a statement to CNA on Nov. 24 about the incident.
“The event was focused on an issue of significant import that continues to be discussed and debated in our country and within our campus community,” the statement said.
“A university is exactly the kind of place where such discussion and debate should occur. As a Catholic institution, the University of San Diego supports Pro-Life tenets. As an academic institution, we also support the rights of students of all viewpoints to peacefully assemble for the purpose of exercising free speech or dissension,” the statement said.
The statement said the university does not support hate speech, intolerance, or targeting “of members of our community or any other group.”
“The actions of a few protesters at the event were antithetical to our values of inclusion, respect and acceptance of all,” the statement said.
“We in no way condone actions that denigrate others, and we have a student code of conduct by which we address policy violations. We do not share with the media details of policy violations by members of our campus community.”
Hostility prior to event
In the weeks leading up to the event, posters advertising the event were torn down and A-Frame structures holding the posters were damaged.
Mary-Logan Miske, president of the College Republicans club, and Alyssa Jackson, the club's human dignity chair, took turns monitoring advertisements for the event. In one incident, they say they caught a student on camera tearing down their posters.
“I'm sitting down on the ground in the hallway waiting with my video camera in a kind of awkward, low key, hidden spot, and there's this girl who goes by the posters and she tears it down right in front of me,” Miske told CNA.
Miske asked the woman if she knew ripping down the posters was vandalism of USD property. The woman responded, “‘Yeah, I did actually know that,’ and then she tears down another one, rips them up and throws them at me,” Miske said.
An anonymous student told a student news program that she tore down some of the signs because she was upset that the speech was happening on campus.
“I was using my own voice in retaliation to something that I thought was disturbing on my campus,” said the student, whose appearance on camera was distorted to protect her identity. “I just wanted them down.” You can watch the segment in the video below, beginning at the 2:26 mark.
In the interview, the student accused the university’s administration of only paying lip service to promoting free discourse on campus.
“I think USD likes to do a really good job of pretending like they air both sides of things,” she said. “Like they pretend that we’re allowed to have this all this discourse and woke conversations, if you will, about things like sex ed, or healthy sex, or healthy relationships, and they really don’t.”
But the pro-life students who spoke to CNA say they feel that views in support of Catholic teaching on abortion and other issues are the ones being marginalized on campus.
Miske believes the university is more focused on promoting diversity than Catholic teaching.
“I think a big problem is shown in what we've seen this past week that there are people who truly believe you can be pro-choice and Catholic,” Miske said. “I don't know how you can think that way, I truly don’t.”
Pro-life speaker responds
The invited speaker, Kristan Hawkins, president of the national pro-life organization Students for Life of America, went ahead with her speech. She also attempted to engage protesters in discussion outside the auditorium.
Hawkins told CNA that the USD opposition is not the first time she has experienced hostility at one of her events.
“We've had staff who have been struck, items stolen, signs defaced and even set on fire inside of school buildings, and even a bomb scare,” Hawkins said. “While we always hope for a real conversation, we often meet harsh opposition. But we believe in using our free speech rights and will not be stopped from passionately advocating for the preborn, whose humanity is being ignored in abortion.”
Hawkins, a Catholic, said that she believes it is important “to remind our Catholic schools, institutions, and leaders that we need a strong defense of Church teaching so that we can pass on our values to future generations who must be taught that we need to care for the least of these.”
Hawkins said the event in San Diego was a success and fostered “real conversations,” noting that more than 8,000 people watched the conversation online.
“Even though some events are harder than others, it's worth it to share the truth that we can love them both, women and preborn children, and that many of us stand ready to help,” she said.