The demonstration was, to say the least, unnecessary, lacking in educational value and harmful to students. It juxtaposed bloody images of fetuses with references to things like Native Americans at Wounded Knee, Nazi Genocide and the lynching of Black Americans.
"The fact that I can be walking to class and see a Black person hanging from a tree is triggering as fuck," UNC first-year Victoria Bryant said. "They willingly and they actively allowed for my history — history that fucking hurts, history that we’re still feeling the consequences of today — to be displayed like that.”
The display racialized the issue of abortion by bastardizing the Black Lives Matter movement with a large display that read, “All Black Lives Matter! Born and unborn.” The group also claimed that, “Abortion suppresses black vote” and that, “Planned Parenthood 'Abortion Care' has suppressed the black vote more effectively than poll taxes, literacy tests, voter ID requirements and Ku Klux Klan lynchings combined.”
We think Bryant put it best when she said, “This shit is mind-blowing ... it shows UNC’s blatant disregard for the minority presence on campus and women and marginalized groups in general.”
There is a time and place for free speech and public discourse. But placing an extremely graphic, two-story display in the middle of campus is simply not okay — and traumatizing people into taking your side is simply not it, chief.
This act of free speech did not generate productive dialogue, nor was it presented in a way that was educational to students. It was a shock-and-awe demonstration that was traumatizing to students — Black students and female-identifying students in particular.
The fact that the Genocide Awareness Project was even allowed to erect this display on the quad in the first place brings UNC’s free speech policy into question. Why did the University allow this group to display triggering anti-abortion propaganda in one of the most heavily trafficked areas on campus?
We don’t usually like to give props to N.C. State, but they have a better campus policy regarding free speech and reserving space on campus.
Their policy notes that, “groups and individuals not affiliated with the university must be sponsored by a university group, student group or student in order to use space on N.C. State’s campus. A fee may be charged for the use of university space and any related security costs.” This empowers students and adds another level to vet which groups are allowed on campus without restricting speech.
On the other hand, the UNC Facilities Use Policy only stipulates that groups must simply obtain permits on quads and other locations excluding McCorkle Place.
The University sent an email to students on Oct. 18 warning of the group’s presence, saying that students should seek counseling services if they find the display disturbing.
First-year Julia Clark said, “If you have to recommend counseling before you invite or allow a protest to come, then that obviously crosses a line between free speech and actually harming people.”
Did anyone from the UNC administration screen this display before approving it? They had to get their permit from someone, so we have to wonder if those in power are even considering how these kinds of demonstrations could harm minority students.
While we understand the value of free speech, we also believe we must establish a threshold in University policy that prevents the repeated targeting of women, students of color and other minorities on campus. As an educational institution, displays of free speech that are permitted to be this grandiose should at least be educational, not distressing.
First-year Jailyn Neville said it best:
"I’m tired, this is tiring.”