Pro-life speaker causes tension

Students for Life president Kristan Hawkins met by student demonstrators

By Joseph Cotton and Mo Juenger | Staff Writers

Newswire photo by Mo Juenger
S4LA President Kristan Hawkins addresses a packed Kennedy Auditorium as a part of her “Make Abortion Illegal Again” speaking tour.

A Xavier Students for Life (XS4L) event was met with demonstrations Tuesday evening as Students for Life America (S4LA) President Kristan Hawkins was set to speak. The free event was open to the public and part of Hawkins’ “Make Abortion Illegal Again” speaking tour. The demonstrations were organized by Xavier College Democrats, and consisted of approximately 40 students.

Hawkins describes herself as a “Christian, wife, mother, grassroots activist, author, speaker and a human rights advocate.” She was named president in 2006 and has led the organization from “a few dozen small student groups” to more than 1,200 chapters across 50 states, according to her website.

“The goal of the talk is to get rid of some of the fear surrounding what a post-Roe v. Wade would look like,” XS4L President, Kennedy Borchardt said. “A lot of people think it’s going to be ‘anti-women’ but we want to show people how to engage the topic.”

Approximately 115 people, including both students and community members not affiliated with Xavier, attended the event.

XS4L stated, over Twitter, that 27 posters publicizing the event were taken down by vandals in the weeks leading up to the event. The tweet reads, “@KristanHawkins is coming whether you like it or not… come dialogue! All are welcome.”

“It’s definitely disappointing,” Hawkins said, “When you see signs being taken down around campus. It’s demonstrative of a problem of viewpoints being suppressed.” She went on to say that her reception at universities varies between campuses. 

Newswire photo by Joseph Cotton
Xavier demonstrators stood outside of the CLC before and during XS4L’s event to protest the inability to have a pro-choice group on campus.

“I’ve always been pro-life, it’s one of the most important issues of our time,” first-year Derek Swartzlander said. “I hope that we can build a better support network for younger pregnant mothers.”

The demonstrators were initially positioned outside the doors to Kennedy Auditorium but were asked to move outside of the Conaton Learning Commons (CLC) by campus police.

Before the event, Hawkins tweeted, “Thank you to @XavierU for the protesters tonight for my “Make Abortion Illegal Again” speech. Sad reflection of our Catholic universities.”

Xavier Democrats tweeted a response to Hawkins, including a photograph of a statement which demonstrators handed to her upon entering Kennedy Auditorium. The tweet reads, “We were protesting @XavierU ‘s (sic) lack of equity of expression, not @xustudent4life ‘s event. We do not agree with you, but we respect your right to speak. Please do the same for us.”

Part of their statement reads, “Pro-choice students have been silenced on Xavier’s campus while pro-life students have been given ample opportunities and resources to express any view they please.”

“Considering that they won’t allow a pro-choice speaker, the university is clearly biased,” Xavier Socialists’ Vice President and demonstration organizer Grayson Walker said. “Pro-life is a misnomer anyway. If you asked them if they support universal health care you would get dead-pan silence.”

Student demonstrators reiterated the sentiment that the school is suppressing pro-choice voices on campus.

“I chose to come because I like to have dialogues, but there’s clearly a one-sided dialogue happening on Xavier’s campus,” demonstrator Grace Schuermann said. “And for reasons unknown to students, (pro-choice students are) not allowed to have the same events on campus that the pro-life group can.”

Tensions around the abortion debate are not new for Xavier University. Last year, pro-life messages written in chalk, as part of a national event sponsored by S4LA, were scrubbed away with water.

Although the incident was investigated by the Bias Advisory Response Team (BART), with help from Xavier Police and the dean of students, it was later declared not to be a bias-related incident.

Sophomore Christopher Taylor, not affiliated with XS4L or the demonstrators, expressed satisfaction with both the event and demonstration.

“I think it’s great that people can voice their opinions and feel comfortable to do that on both sides,” Taylor said, “and I like that people are taking initiative to say what they think.”