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What to do if your pro-life group is attacked on campus

Cue the dramatic music: A pro-life student group harassed by fellow students and university staff at Miami University-Hamilton sets off a chain of events unlike anything the school has ever seen in a chilling series of events spanning multiple years. As the pro-life group struggles to share their message of hope on campus -- without discrimination -- the vandalization case turns into an all-out free speech fiasco. These crimes are under investigation, and time is of the essence. 

Just this past year, the school’s administration was desperately trying to impose a “trigger warning” rule on the pro-life group – a gross illegality considering Miami is a public institution. Fortunately, with the help of a federal lawsuit, the school has since backed off from their policy of censoring certain students and even become surprisingly helpful in subsequent free speech issues surrounding the pro-life campus group.  

What’s the lesson here? Public campuses are not allowed to stifle certain viewpoints. The pro-life students at Miami started with a menacing, untamed administration that had lost sight of how inconsequential they are compared to the U.S. Constitution. When the students stood up for themselves (and all other pro-life students, by example), they ended up with a tamed beast that respects them and even offers extra support in the face of peer hostility. 

This could be a "made for TV" event. Fans of “The First 48” know the show’s introduction by heart: “For homicide detectives, their chance of solving a murder is cut in half if they don’t get a lead within the first 48 hours.” While these violations of student rights’ don’t result in macabre crime scenes, students are still dealing with something pretty scary.

Sadly, this is not an isolated event. Pro-life students at colleges and high schools across the country are the victims of vandalizations and discriminatory actions each year. These come from fellow students and school staff alike, all in favor of abortion and all subscribing to the ridiculous belief that the people they disagree with should be silenced. This includes everything from washing away chalk messages and tearing down flyers to stealing displays, shouting down pro-life speakers and even threats of violence. 

Plenty of student pro-life groups are quite interested in catching the perpetrators responsible for the destruction of the group’s materials, which is completely justified. But for most, the fight is simply to be able to share their message without fear of violence. 

But back to our story: Miami University-Hamilton in Ohio is a great example of exactly what to do immediately following an attack on free speech. 

This is what a successful, first 48 Hours can look like: 

1.    Be Prepared: When putting up a display or setting up an event, take “Before” pictures. Assign group members to keep an eye on things throughout the duration of the display and have a plan in place should things get rough. 

2.     Get Help: Most vandalism occurs out of sight, but if someone approaches and starts destroying things right in front of you, call the police in case the person poses a threat.

3.    Document Everything: This is perhaps the most important bit of advice. Without proper documentation, a legal case (should it become necessary) is weakened. Documentation means pictures, videos, and evidence in writing (I.e. emails, letters, etc.). Check out this video Miami students captured of a someone destroying their display.  

4.    Stay Timely: Report vandalization, theft, or whatever the transgression to the appropriate authorities immediately, and keep a copy of the reports filed. Their enthusiasm for addressing the issue will be strongest in (surprise) the first 48 hours. 

5.    Engage Allies: Often school administrations will address problems only after being confronted by the pro-life student group themselves … or their advocates and attorneys. Miami Students for Life contacted Students for Life of America and Alliance Defending Freedom to create a precedent and make sure their free speech rights would be protected in the future. During their most recent spate of harassment, they also garnered the support of campus police. 

6.    Keep Fighting: It can feel intimidating to get back out there following campus harassment, but it’s a crucial last step. Continuing to do what your pro-life group set out to do (consider adding extra displays or events to your schedule) to send the message that the Pro-Life Generation will not be silenced. The Miami group, following every instance of vandalization, promptly went back out and replaced whatever was broken or stolen. 

7.    Stay Loving: Part of “going about their business” included kindness through it all. The Pro-Life Generation cares about mothers and their children, born and preborn, and wants to engage their peers with love and compassion. We understand that those who lash out are often the ones who are hurting the most. 

American school campuses should be the safest places on Earth for free speech and the exchange of ideas. It’s not altogether surprising that pro-life students are seeing an increase in violence directed towards them, given the violent and incendiary language coming from pro-choice politicians and celebrities. But the example set by Miami and their pro-choice vandals is a template for how to effectively respond. 

Brenna Lewis is the current Staff Writer, and former Regional Coordinator of Kentucky & Tennessee, for Students for Life of America, who managed events and crisis response on college and university campuses.

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