On Monday morning, students passing through Hepner Hall were greeted by an anti-abortion group.
Ella Bast, an unregistered freshman at San Diego State, received a brochure and threw it away after seeing what was inside. She said it was hard to see the footage and what the group was saying went against her beliefs, but understood it was a public campus.
By 12:30 p.m., the Project Truth group had increased in number and put up large signs with depictions of dismembered fetuses. Students began gathering to counter-protest the group.
“There are people here with a bunch of different opinions, and I understand that everyone needs to be heard,” Bast said. “I’m just troubled by this and the fact that it’s here.”
William Wilberforce, member of the anti-abortion group with Project Truthhas been doing it for 15 years.
“We go to every college campus and present the view that an abortion is an act of violence that kills a baby,” Wilberforce said. “Pictures paint a thousand words, so we found (the signs) to be very effective.”
Sophie Scholl, another Project Truth member, said many people don’t actually know the process and don’t know all the information about abortions. They wanted to show the injustices of abortion and provide resources for students.
Scholl said they were open to conversations and debates, but had mixed reactions from students.
“We always encourage civil dialogue,” Scholl said. “That’s what makes America so great is having different points of view and talking about them reasonably.”
SDSU student Sydney Hoke chose to come back at the end of one of her classes after passing by and seeing the signs, to ask them questions.
“They responded with the same things found in their brochure, there wasn’t a lot of clarity just pushing the pro-birth agenda,” Sydney Hoke. “It’s really disappointing to see them here, and I would like them to leave.”
Aldo Rojas, a fourth-year mechanical engineering student, said he was frustrated with how the campus was handling the situation.
“I think the campus should be the first line of defense,” Rojas said. “They should recognize that this could be a very traumatic thing for students on campus to see and hear.”
“It’s not about free speech,” Rojas said. “These people are trying to emotionally harm the students.”
The university said it was ready to provide support to students regarding the graphic images on the panels.
“The organization did not initially submit an application through the system and, upon being notified to do so, submitted the application and met the requirements of university policy (see the Buildings and Lands Regulations) and was therefore cleared for designated space,” the university said in an email. “In an effort to support free speech on campus, the university cannot legally consider activity or speaker content in its review or clearance processes.”
Wilberforce said he gets different responses from students and staff at each campus, but some appreciate the opportunity for civil discourse.
“A lot of students here are in an echo chamber. We are here to disrupt the echo chamber,” Wilberforce said. “We’re here to say, hey guys, there’s more to life than what you’re spoon-fed.”
Randi McKenzie, assistant dean emeritus at SDSU, was on her way to a meeting when a student on the counter-protest side called her.
“I think it’s important as an educational institution to share different perspectives on given issues,” McKenzie said. “If one side of a debate is there, it’s very positive to have an alternative side, that’s what free speech is.”
She said it was the right of the group to choose to come to a public institution to share their opinions and it is also the right of the students to share theirs.
“I always love to see our students engaged,” McKenzie said. “I like that they participate in political issues and provoke debate.”
Kiarra Mapp, political science major and president of Turning Point USA at SDSUwas on the second day of protests.
She said she felt compelled to join the anti-abortion group after one of her classes and stayed for more than two hours.
“We have three groups of people with us here today, we have the pro-life group, the pro-choice group and people who are generally interested in what we have to say,” Mapp said. “The biggest difference between the three of us is how we handle the situation overall.”
She said the pro-choice group was reactionary and used a mob mentality instead of having a civil conversation.
“People are going to believe what they want to believe and it’s up to our optimism and willingness to have a conversation to really go anywhere,” Mapp said. “All of this reactionary – all of this clinging to emotion doesn’t help anyone.”
Mapp said that unlike the counter-protesters, the anti-abortion group did not go in people’s faces, call names or threaten contrary to the reactions of the counter-protesters.
“Civil discourse is about learning the other side,” said communications professor Michael Rapp. “Keep an open mind and then make informed decisions. You want to take the emotion out of it because we act differently and speak differently when we’re emotional.
Rapp said communication is about understanding people, not getting them to agree with you.
“You want to take the emotion out of it because we act differently and speak differently when we’re emotional,” Rapp said.