Duke University cancels motherhood event when pro-life group participates

posted at 4:02 pm on March 29, 2010 by Ed Morrissey

The defender of free campus speech FIRE has a new report that has to be read to be believed.  Duke University Students for Life booked a space at the campus Women’s Center for a presentation on the challenging roles of motherhood as part of their “Week for Life” campaign.  The event at the center involved a student and her mother speaking about their relationship and the difficulties each had.  Unfortunately, Duke apparently fears that students might come into contact with pro-life arguments while discussing motherhood — and acted to protect students from the trauma:

Duke University’s Women’s Center has canceled an event about motherhood because the sponsor was engaging in pro-life expression elsewhere on campus. A Women’s Center representative told Duke Students for Life (DSFL) that “we have a problem” and an ideological “conflict” with the event, which was supposedly canceled to protect Duke women from encountering the event during the group’s “traumatizing” pro-life “Week for Life.” The group’s president has turned to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for help.

“Duke appears to have an unwritten but officially enforced stance regarding abortion that has resulted in pro-life groups being shut out of the Women’s Center,” said FIRE Vice President Robert Shibley. “This treatment is a deeply hypocritical violation of the Women’s Center’s promise that it ‘welcomes discordant viewpoints from varied experiences.’”

As part of a “Week for Life” series of events held at Duke over March 15-19, DSFL had reserved a Women’s Center space for a “Discussion with a Duke Mother” on March 18. A Duke student and mother was to speak about motherhood and the challenges of being in both roles. But the day before the event, the reservation was abruptly canceled in a voicemail to the group.

Meeting with the group on March 18, Duke Women’s Center Gender Violence Prevention Specialist Martin Liccardo said that because the event was associated with the Week for Life and DSFL, the event could not be held at the Women’s Center.

Liccardo told the group that the prospect of holding a pro-life event in the Women’s Center during Week for Life was too upsetting for some students: “We had a very strong reaction from students in general who use our space who said this was something that was upsetting and not OK. So based on that, we said, OK, we are going to respond to this and stop the program.”

Duke is, of course, a private enterprise and can set any terms it wants for its campus speech.  However, the notion that motherhood is so traumatizing for students who at some point in time all had mothers is too hilarious to ignore.  Motherhood, after all, is an integral part of the lives of most women at some point.   What’s next — banning a speech on apple pie because it might “traumatize” anti-Big Ag activists?

The irony of this is that the event appears to have been intended to show the difficulties of motherhood.  The topic of abortion was apparently not the point of the discussion (but even if it was — why is Duke afraid of it?).  If anything, it could have provided a springboard for discussion about family planning and its options.  Instead, Duke acts as if women will get the vapors if someone mentions “motherhood” in a public space on its campus.  The women who attend the university ought to feel insulted rather than be grateful for this paternalistic intervention.

Of course, what really happened here is that Duke just doesn’t like the notion of pro-life groups on its campus.  Duke and its Women’s Center “welcomes discordant viewpoints from varied experiences” only when those viewpoints all reach the Duke University-approved conclusion.

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