Friday March 21 was a good day, until I got to campus. I was walking to class and happened to pass the Student Union Building, outside of which there was a very loud anti-abortion demonstration. The group had a microphone so loud that I could clearly hear them all the way to Clearihue, so my entire walk to class was marked—completely against my will—by one woman’s graphic and traumatizing description of her apparently regretted abortion. Two hours later, on my way back to the bus loop, I had no choice but to hear another woman’s account of her abortion in brutal and upsetting detail. You might be familiar with the intensely gruesome photos of aborted fetuses that some pro-life groups post and circulate—this was basically a verbal version.
I firmly believe that everyone has a profound and inarguable right to voice their opinions, and to work through traumatic events in their lives. But, I also believe that everyone has an equal right to walk across campus without being forced to hear such distressing and graphic stories. My problem with what happened was not that those people were protesting abortion or sharing their stories. Stories of that deep emotional nature have a kind of sacredness about them, and I have the deepest respect for people who are brave enough to share their most heartbreaking experiences in an attempt to help others avoid the pain they felt, or still feel.
My problem lies in the fact that I was not given a choice in hearing their extremely personal and upsetting stories. Their loud and violent display was a blatant violation of the personal boundaries of everyone who walked past, or even close enough to hear. Therapists spend years training so they can deal with that level of painful emotional detail. Yet, somehow this group found it appropriate to force their stories on people who didn’t even have a moment’s time to prepare themselves.
And, even more perplexing, the UVSS found it appropriate to approve their activities. Is this really the kind of high-stress environment that the UVSS wants to create for students in the middle of one of the most stressful academic times of the year?
The subject matter of that display was overwhelmingly sensitive and upsetting, and it should be treated as such. I say these things not out of disrespect, but out of the utmost respect for the emotional power these stories hold. Sharing them in such a context is highly inconsiderate, and downright emotionally manipulative.
In the future, I sincerely hope that they continue to have a tent and (non-graphic) signs with information available to people who deliberately ask for it, but no microphone, or that they arrange talks in auditoriums that people can choose to attend—or not.