Anti-abortion activists used graphic images to stage a demonstration Dec. 10 near the middle of Pomona College’s campus, drawing significant student attention and sparking conversations about the role of protests that employ shocking or disturbing visuals.
Four representatives from the California-based nonprofit organization Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust, a pro-life advocacy group, stood on the sidewalk at the intersection of Sixth Street and College Way from approximately 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. They set up two large placards displaying photographs of aborted fetuses and slogans such as “Abortion & Slavery,” “Dispelling Adoption Worries,” and “Do you have an Open Mind?” The demonstrators also offered pamphlets to passing students.
“Our goal is to change public opinion about abortion, and we do that at college campuses across the nation,” said Kristina Garza, the organization’s Director of Campus Outreach. “We’ve had a wide range of reactions … We’ve had people have very open conversations and we’ve also had some hostility.”
Devin Gladys PO ’17, who stopped to speak to the demonstrators, was among the students who objected to the demonstration.
“I think that what they’re doing with the pictures is very wrong, what they’re doing with equating slavery to abortion is wrong,” Gladys said. “I think they could have come about this a very different way, and I definitely think they chose the wrong type of campus to do this at.”
Dunmi Alabi PO ’17 expressed concern that the graphic images might be triggering.
“This could be traumatic to some people,” Alabi said. “You don’t know what anyone’s been through in their life.”
Other students, however, appreciated the chance for dialogue. Rosemary Pelch PO ’17 stopped for an extended conversation with demonstrator Lauren Brice.
“I basically wanted to use this time to absorb more information and different people’s opinions, and see what my classmates had to say,” Pelch said.
She added that she believes that “anyone who has something they want to educate the public about has a right to be out and speak that, even if it includes images that are disgusting.”
Brice, who has staged similar events at campuses across the country, said that she “was able to have more intelligent conversations” at Pomona than at many other locations.
“We actually got down to what was bothering them,” Brice said. “I appreciated that.”
Garza noted that some students questioned the legality of the protest. Because Sixth Street is owned by Claremont, not by Pomona College, the street and its sidewalks are public property.
“What we are doing is free speech activity, protected by the First Amendment, and we made sure we were on a public sidewalk before we set up,” Garza said.
Pomona Vice President and Dean of Students Miriam Feldblum confirmed that the college has no ability to limit demonstrations on Sixth Street.
“These individuals were on public property, and have a right to be on public property,” Feldblum wrote in an e-mail to TSL. “If they were on College property … then we have requirements in terms of who can set up events on campus, permission and places where tabling is allowed, etc.”
Feldblum added that Campus Safety and the Claremont Police Department were notified of the demonstration as a precaution.
A Facebook post on the Pomona College Class of 2016 page invited students to a counter-demonstration, suggesting a “circle of music” to “distract from the disturbing display.” The demonstrators had left for the day before students had gathered, however.
One of the post’s authors, Laeesha Cornejo PO ’16, said in an interview with TSL that she saw the anti-abortion demonstration as an attempt to generate “outrage.” She said that she preferred to “distract from what they’re doing” instead of engaging with the demonstrators.
“Clearly, they’re not there to have an open dialogue about abortion,” Cornejo said. “I feel like there’s no point fighting with people who aren’t there to listen.”
Garza said that the demonstrators will return tomorrow, Wednesday Dec. 11, to the same location. Cornejo said that there are no definite plans for a counter-demonstration.