When a friend sent me photos of the anti-abortion display on the Collonades at WKU, I was flabbergasted. Who the hell do these people think they are? I asked myself. I told my friend that she should cover their sign with one that said “Each cross represents a woman who was free to make her own choice” or “This is how many women will die each day if totalitarians succeed in taking away safe, legal abortion.”
I also wondered just what were these anti-choicers thinking, completely taking over a very popular gathering space for students, for an entire week. People drink coffee, study, or just soak in the sun on the Collonades. Nor is it unusual for professors to hold classes there on a nice day.
The Collonades are one of the beautiful architectural landmarks of Western. It is also affixed to the Ivan Wilson Fine Arts building, which houses the Art, Theater, Music, and Language departments.
Let me tell you something. If you believe that this ridiculous little Hilltoppers for Life group didn’t pull this stunt not merely expecting a reaction, but hoping for one, then you are a fool. Western Kentucky University has a proud history of activism. Students are very involved on this campus. Students were not going to let this stand without responding. Frankly? I was expecting more. If this had happened in my time, there would have been much more than a few condoms draped over crude popsicle stick crosses.
During the weekdays, they set up tables, along with boards. They wanted discussion. They wanted students to share their thoughts. Elaina Smith did just that. Like I said, they set up in front of the Fine Arts building. They expected some kind of art display. They expected a response, so they could throw a hissy fit. As Dr. Molly Kerby pointed out in her brilliant response to this hissy fit, the anti-choicers set up the crosses to spell out “life” on the bleachers, which could only be seen from the windows of the art department. This was provocation. This was a challenge. In my day, many, many more students would have taken up that challenge. Including me.
Now look. They’re calling for Elaina Smith to be arrested. They’re calling for the university to force her professor to give her a failing grade.
They want the police to violate Elaina’s first amendment rights to free speech.
They want the university to violate the academic freedom of their faculty.
It’s absolutely outrageous, but entirely consistent with their primary goal of calling for the government to forcibly violate a woman’s right to control her own body.
Hilltoppers for Life is no different from the man dubbed “Preacher Man” that occasionally visits campus. If you’re unfamiliar, Preacher Man sets up behind the university center during the day, insulting and provoking students in the name of the Christian god. The more students engage this man, the more insulting he gets. Meanwhile, his companion circulates throughout the crowd with a camera, snapping photos of the students who engage with Preacher Man. This man hopes to provoke the students into assaulting him, so that he may sue the student and the university. And, of course, claim martyrdom for himself and his religion.
These fools kept someone hidden at the Collonades each night, hoping to catch someone doing something to their display, so that they could claim martyrdom for themselves. Did you notice that when Elaina showed up to place her condoms, Hilltoppers for Life member, Matt Sohl, called the Students for Life for America before he called the police? Apparently their parent organization failed to instruct them properly.
(Did these student plan to skip class the next day? Or show up exhausted and unable to participate properly in their classes?)
If you still doubt that their goal was for someone to mess with their display, let me tell you something else about Western Kentucky University. Students interact with campus art on a regular basis. There is a statue of Sergeant Guthrie, in front of the Guthrie belltower, his right hand uplifted, and cupped just so. Students regularly put items in the statue’s hand. Coffee cups, bananas, ice cream cones, to name just a few. Behind McLean Hall, there is a statue of a woman, mid-stride. She is regularly dressed up with hats, scarves, and dresses. The wooden bunny, beside Garrett, is regularly dressed up as well. The students aren’t the only ones who do this–the university participates in this pastime. The abstract art affectionately dubbed the “Big Red Vagina” had bushes planted around it last time I visited campus. And I’m sorry, but that was not a coincidence.
It is shameful that President Gary Ransdell has condemned Elaina. She is a student–participating in a campus pastime, exercising her right to free speech and self-expression, and creatively completing a class project. Aside from the Hilltoppers for Life, this people crying foul are not part of WKU’s community. They all, including HFL, are part of an organized effort to curtail other people’s rights, creating controversy and provoking others to reaction. Garbear, as an alumni, I am ashamed that you are not standing by a fellow Hilltopper. I am ashamed that you, blinded as you are by your desire for good PR, turned your back on the students and faculty, falling hook, line, and sinker for their manufactured martyrdom.
Today, as a Hilltopper, I am ashamed, President Gary Ransdell, that you represent my university. I am proud, Hilltoppers for “Life” excepted, of the students and faculty. I am proud of Elaina. I am proud of Dr. Molly Kerby for taking a public stand for student’s right to free speech, and academic freedom. (Though, of course, I expected nothing less from Dr. Kerby. She is a fantastic person.)
I expect SGA to pass a resolution on Tuesday, supporting Elaina Smith, and condemning HTL and President Ransdell’s efforts to silence and punish students for expressing themselves.
I expect the Faculty Senate to rally as well, supporting their colleague’s right to grade her student’s work as she sees fit.
I expect the campus community to stand up, and call this manufactured outrage for what it is: an attack on freedom.