An anti-abortion group called Carolina Students for Life had hoped to be part of UNC’s annual Women’s Week, which began March 21, and wanted to bring pro-life speakers to campus to participate in a dialogue with pro-choice speakers as part of the week’s events.
Instead, the group was left out. Its leaders objected, its complaint made it to the chancellor’s office, and the group has been promised that next year will be different.
The group discussed its goals in November with representatives of the Women’s Center, which organizes Women’s Week. But it wasn’t until two weeks before Women’s Week that the group was told that its involvement would be put on hold until its mission statement could be reviewed.
The group also had wanted a link to the Women’s Center Web site and several pregnancy support services posted on the Web page for the Women’s Center; access to the Women’s Week e-mail listserv; and the opportunity to have a working relationship with the Women’s Center.
In early March, Stephanie Evans, a senior from Moyock who is Carolina Students for Life’s leader, said Women’s Week officials told her they would not be accepting applications from any student groups to be involved this year. When Evans looked on the Women’s Week Web site, she saw 10 student groups were sponsoring events.
Evans scheduled a meeting with Women’s Week officials to find out why these groups were allowed to participate while hers was not. She said she was told that those groups had not submitted proposals but were chosen to participate.
“We were shocked when they first told us that,” Evans said. “Our reaction was disbelief, it seemed fishy.”
The sixth annual Women’s Week is a series of events sponsored by campus and community groups that includes film screenings, workshops, lectures on issues from civil rights to female entrepreneurship and an annual “Take Back the Night” rally and march to raise awareness about sexual violence against women.
Evans said that Women’s Week officials told her group that the pro-choice speakers it had lined up would not be needed because a discussion on abortion would not be held this year. She said officials told her that the discussion would not take place because the pro-choice speaker the center had arranged to appear had canceled.
Evans said Women’s Week has had pro-choice speakers in the past without inviting a voice from the other side of the issue.
“I don’t think a strong effort was made to include abortion in this year’s program after that, partly to avoid controversy,” Evans said. “We offered to help them, and we were open to the idea of having an open discussion with both sides there.”
Evans sent a letter March 15 outlining her concerns to Chancellor James Moeser; the John William Hope Higher Education Foundation, a conservative think tank; and various media outlets. This led to a meeting with Associate Provost Steve Allred ’74 and leaders from the Women’s Center, where Evans’ concerns were addressed.
“I think the administration respects students and takes their concerns seriously,” Evans said. “They know from past experience they have to listen when concerns like this are raised, and they take them even more seriously in light of recent controversies.
“When a student group says they’re not being heard, we try to provide a forum where both sides can be heard,” Allred said. “It’s critical that a forum for views to be aired is provided, and it doesn’t mean the University is endorsing the views of a speaker by providing the forum.”
Allred downplayed suggestions of controversy implied by some in the national media.
“This is a controversy because someone wrote a letter and aired it publicly, but this type of thing gets resolved every day without the press,” Allred said. “We had a productive meeting with a good group of students who got a satisfied outcome.”
Evans said she was pleased with the outcome of the discussion with Allred. Officials of the Women’s Center referred all questions to Allred.
Carolina Students for Life was able to get pro-life speakers to visit campus, but because the talks were not affiliated with the Women’s Week events, the group was unable to get funds from Student Congress. It received assistance from several other student groups to pay for the speakers’ visits.
“We have some great ideas, and we think we’ll be an asset to the center,” Evans said.
In early June 2004, the Carolina Women’s Center contacted the Carolina Alumni Review in response to this article and submitted a letter for publication in the July/August 2004 issue. It reads:
In response to your article about the anti-abortion group and Women’s Week in the May/June issue of theReview, we wish to clarify that we are working with Carolina Students for Life (CSFL) and others on a program for next year that will provide diverse viewpoints about abortion. Your article included several inaccuracies, for instance omitting the fact that CSFL was informed in early February, more than two months before Women’s Week, that the abortion topic would not be included in Women’s Week this year – not merely two weeks before Women’s Week, as you stated. The Women’s Week planning committee, which included both pro-choice and pro-life members, decided by consensus that they would not have an abortion-related program during Women’s Week 2004, keeping in mind that the Carolina Women’s Center does more programming during the year than Women’s Week and that there would be other opportunities to address this issue.
We are a center for all women on campus and have worked with Carolina Students for Life with integrity and sincerity throughout this process. We are dismayed that your article does not reflect the entire situation.
Diane Kjervik, Professor and Director
Chimi Boyd, Assistant Director
Carolina Women’s Center