[Update, 3/30: FIRE reports that Duke has reversed its ban on the pro-life group using the women's center--through, in an ironic touch, a letter from director Ada Gregory.]
At this point in time, it’s hard to imagine anything surprising coming from the Brodhead administration—which, after all, has responded to the lacrosse case by promoting numerous members of the Group of 88.
But it’s still possible for a Duke decision to raise eyebrows.
Duke’s Women’s Center claims that that it “welcomes discordant viewpoints from varied experiences.” Yet, as we saw in the campus reaction to the lacrosse case, some “discordant viewpoints” are more equal than others at Duke.
In a line that could almost qualify as a parody of political correctness, the Center asserts that it works “to build a community that acknowledges and supports resistance to racism, classism, sexism, ablism and heterosexism.” The Center also tells Duke women that they can find their “feminist voice” through participating in its programs. In a couple of weeks, the Center will welcome an address from Jessica Valenti, a former volunteer for Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-choice America, on the “enthusiastic consent” standard.
Pro-life Duke women, it seems, are not as valued by the Center. Today’s Daily Caller features a column from Duke student Michelle Barreto, president of Duke Students for Life, who had requested to use a space inside the Women’s Center for what was described as a “Discussion with a Duke Mother,” as part of the campus-wide “Week for Life” event.
A Duke student who’s also a mother—this would seem to represent the type of “discordant viewpoints” the Center celebrates. Instead, according to Barreto, Women’s Center staffer Martin Liccardo vetoed the event, because of its association with a pro-life viewpoint, adding, “We had a very strong reaction from students in general who use our space who said this was something that was upsetting and not OK . . . So based on that, we said we are going to respond to this and stop the program.” I e-mailed Liccardo to ask if he had a response to the Daily Caller column; he did not reply.
FIRE has come to the aid of Barreto: FIRE Vice President Robert Shibley accurately noted that “Duke appears to have an unwritten but officially enforced stance regarding abortion that has resulted in pro-life groups being shut out of the Women's Center.” Since Duke isn’t a public university, it isn’t bound by the First Amendment. But—as we all learned in the lacrosse case—the university purports to value open discussion on campus. As Adam Kissel, Director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program, commented, “If Duke wants to be officially a pro-choice university where only women with ‘correct’ views get full access to campus resources, it should stop misrepresenting itself.”
This seems like a pretty clear-cut case of upholding student speech. Will the Brodhead administration do the right thing?
[Disclosure: By the way, I should probably point out that I am pro-choice on abortion rights.]