Appleton Pro-Life Students has no purpose

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Maybe the biggest point of drama in the Lawrence community this year has been the existence of the student group Appleton Pro-Life Students (APLS; formerly Lawrence University Pro-Life Students). On their Facebook page started in February, APLS describes their goals thusly: “Through a broad education and inclusive discussion about abortion and other Pro-Life topics, we aim to promote the belief that life begins at conception and that the human rights of all, regardless of one’s stage of life, should be protected.” APLS approached the Steering Committee back in October, but was denied due to the fact that it lacked a sustainable purpose, discriminates against those with uteruses and had not made adequate progress on discussions or adequate advertisement for their discussions. 

Since this denial, LUCC and APLS have had communications and meetings regarding the reasoning behind the denial, but APLS’ trial period has gone ahead regardless. Ultimately, LUCC approved the club for a trial period. The purpose of this article is to call into question the validity of potentially recognizing APLS in spite of those original reasons for denial as well as introduce new issues with the club’s conduct. 

On Apr. 9, I attended their most recent event: a dialogue titled “Lets [sic] Talk Reproductive Choices” . The first issue here is quite straightforward. The policy in section 2.03cof our student handbook explains rules pertaining to expectations of student organizations on their trial period (as APLS currently is). The section states “Any publicity sponsored by the applicant organization must clearly state that the organization is on a trial period.” In their post advertising the event, APLS does not mention this at all.  

Another policy (4.01)states that “A Lawrence University organization may advocate publicly a position on a public issue, provided such organization clearly identifies itself, and provided such an organization in any public statement makes it clear that it does not represent or speak for the university or LUCC.” As already demonstrated in their mission statement, this group clearly advocates a position, but this was only made clear through the club’s name and no statement was added regarding the club’s un-affiliation with the university or LUCC. Furthermore, in the comments of the dialogue advertisement, the APLS member who posted suggested the following in response to student Nick Mayerson’s reservations with the event: “I’d like to refer you to LUCC or the Dean of Students for additional concerns regarding the event, since it is with their approval that we are putting it on.” Not only has APLS not made clear their un-affiliation, they’ve actively used LUCC and a Lawrence administrator as a shield for criticism.  

These are not the first violations of LUCC standards as the group had been illegitimately going by the name “Lawrence University Pro-Life Students” for multiple months, which has already been reported in the Lawrentian earlier this term in an open letter from five of the committee chairs on LUCC.  

Going back to the ‘dialogue’ meeting, I became quickly aware in arriving that I was in a room with people only affirming the pro-life position. The other participants of this event were six in total, not including myself, but this was disappointing given the discussion being advertised as “pro-choice/pro-life”. This may be unsurprising; Mayerson’s reservations noted that “When one side of an issue hosts a dialogue, it creates an unequal environment. It gives the impression me that the pro-life position is the one that is being brought to the forefront, the one that gets the stage, whereas other parties are invited in as outsiders.” I came to this event interested in how this discussion would be facilitated, but I have no data to report as the conversation seemed more of an echo chamber discussion than a ‘dialogue’.  

To be sure, the other participants had subtle differences in their beliefs, but all still affirmed the ‘pro-life’ position. This was recognized early on by the facilitators, one of whom recognized the similarity of views, stating they would be “playing devil’s advocate” to “put our views to the test.” While the content and style of ponderings varied a fair amount, the ‘dialogue’ really resembled debate preparation as student facilitators (again, all of whom affirmed the pro-life position) provided participants with examples of pro-choice positions and criticisms to respond to. The word ‘pro-choice’ was not uttered once by my count.  

This is counter to what APLS stated in a Steering Committee meeting in February that “dialogue is not here for debate or teaching, more about hearing the points of view.” I could not fathom the utility of the meeting that occurred if not for teaching or debate. If not for either of these reasons, then the other participants were simply a group of pro-life students shooting the breeze about their flagship topic. This demonstrates a failure in general progress on the discussions. 

To address the required “sustainable purpose” originally seen as lacking by the Steering Committee, the same February meeting provided an unofficial definition asserting a sustainable purpose to be “when a group is open to the entirety of campus and longevity in leadership.” This is a confusing definition to say the least, as I could hypothetically start a student org called Lawrentians Doing Nothing (LDN) or Lawrentians Twiddling Thumbs (LTT) both in service of  activities I am deeply passionate about that have a certain cult following, but to say these two have a sustainable purpose simply for having a specific theme that’s open to all and because I’m successful at passing on their legacy is laughable.  

The Steering Committee procedures state that the committee can deny recognition to clubs on the basis of “Organization similarity: the committee believes the applicant organization serves a function not substantially different from…” going on to list other clubs, academic departments, and the LU admin. This basis certainly applies to APLS: at Lawrence we have an LU Debating Club on its trial period, Spiritual and Religious Life (which host and provide facilitation training for dialogues), a degree program and coursework to minor in biomedical ethics (the topic under which reproductive issues almost always falls), multiple religious student groups (as debate on reproductive issues almost always intersects significantly with religious ones), and courses like “The Biology of Human Reproduction” , “Politics and Human Nature”, or “Civil Liberties and the Supreme Court”.  

APLS also committed itself to discussion with SAASHA, the campus’ sexual assault and harassment awareness student group which actually offers resources on reproductive health. The discussion was described in an LUCC meeting as “unproductive” with the two groups being “diametrically opposed.” I also personally reaffirm the belief that APLS’ one-sided dialogue has an implicitly discriminatory nature to people with uteruses, especially those who’ve had experience with abortions in their personal life. 

My personal suspicion is APLS may only exist because being pro-life in particular is the pet issue of a number of Lawrentians and not because the club has a sustainable purpose or mission other than promotion of pro-life ideology. I harbor no ill will towards anyone I talked to at the ‘dialogue,’ but one has to wonder what the material goals of a group like this could be that aren’t already offered elsewhere on campus. As evidenced by the meeting’s attendance, there clearly is not widespread interest in dialogue specifically on reproductive rights as facilitated by only one side of the debate.  

At a Steering Committee meeting this past Tuesday, APLS was denied recognition (in a 3-1-2 vote) on discrimination grounds. While I believe the grounds extend to a lack of sustainable purpose and conduct violations, I reaffirm this decision and suggest it remain should the same group (or similar ones) return seeking recognition in future terms.