The university has condemned the defacement of Georgetown University Right to Life’s anti-abortion chalk display in Red Square, after it was erased and replaced with phrases including “End hate,” “Choose Women” and “End the racist sexist capitalist cishetro patriarchy” early Wednesday morning.
On Tuesday night, GU Right to Life chalked messages including “End abortion” and “Choose both” in Red Square to celebrate national Pro-Life Chalk Day, according to the group’s Facebook page.
Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson said the incident violated the university’s Speech and Expression Policy, which protects the right of student groups to chalk in Red Square.
“This incident of chalk messages being erased and altered in Red Square is a clear violation of our Speech & Expression Policy,” Olson wrote in an email to The Hoya. “It is troubling, and demonstrates a real lack of respect for other students’ viewpoints.”
Olson said the university will investigate the incident and work to ensure that the freedom of expression in the community is adequately protected.
“Our Speech & Expression Committee will look into the issue. It is vital that the right of all members of our community to express their views is protected,” Olson wrote.
Georgetown University Police Department Chief Jay Gruber said Thursday evening GUPD is currently investigating the defacement, after GU Right to Life President Amelia Irvine (COL ’19) reported it to GUPD and filed a bias report.
“We did take a report. Our Criminal Investigations Unit is looking into the case,” Gruber wrote in an email to The Hoya.
GUPD had not identified a perpetrator as of press time.
GUSA Free Speech Policy Team Chair D.J. Angelini (MSB ’17) also criticized the Red Square defacement. Members of GU Right to Life met with GUSA representatives Wednesday evening to discuss the incident.
“I find the erasure and manipulation of the Right to Life messaging directly opposed to the ideals set out in the policy,” Angelini wrote in an email to The Hoya. “What could have been a civil back-and-forth turned into an infringement of free speech in one of Georgetown’s spaces dedicated for healthy contrasting dialogue.”
GUSA said in a campuswide email Thursday evening that erasing or manipulating chalking in Red Square is “in direct opposition to the university’s ideals of Free Speech and Expression.”
On Wednesday morning after the defacement, H*yas for Choice posted a statement on Facebook stressing the importance of respecting GU Right to Life’s freedom of expression.
“Last night, anti-choice messages were chalked in Red Square as a part of ‘National Pro-Life Chalk Day.’ While we condemn their calls to ‘end abortion,’ and their other anti-choice messages, we ultimately know the free speech rights of students on campus allow them to share their opinions in public spaces, even if that speech is problematic and often biologically unsound,” the statement reads.
Irvine said GU Right to Life leaders have reached out to leaders of H*yas for Choice in the hopes of establishing a firmer commitment for respect for each other’s viewpoints.
“I reached out to HFC yesterday to ask them out to coffee. [GU Right to Life Vice President] MyLan Metzger [COL ’19] and I will be meeting with their co-presidents this Saturday afternoon to talk about how we got here and how we can do better to love one another and treat each other with respect,” Irvine said.
Irvine said she was taken aback at the alterations to GU Right to Life’s intended message of love and acceptance.
“I was surprised to see that our message of love had been changed to something different, something aggressive and accusatory,” Irvine wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Our theme was ‘Love Them Both,’ meaning that we as pro-lifers want to love both the woman and the child.”
Irvine said the defacement unfairly portrayed GU Right to Life as an organization that is hateful toward women.
“Those who disagree with us still accused us of hate, changing ‘End abortion’ to ‘End hate.’ I believe that this is a complete misunderstanding of what it means to be pro-life,” Irvine wrote.
Irvine also said members of GU Right to Life were harassed while writing the chalk display.
“There were precursors to this event. While a group of RTL members were chalking late Tuesday night, several students scuffed at the chalk and poured water on it. A couple of them cursed, saying such things as, ‘Get the f—–g government out of my vagina.’” Irvine wrote.
GU Right to Life On-Campus Service Chair Lindsay Caprio (NHS ’19) said the group sought to express a message of love for both the mother and the child.
“All we wanted to do for this year’s pro-life Chalk day was to send a message of love. We as members of the pro-life movement equally love and support both the life of the mother and the life of the child,” Caprio wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Caprio said it is important students on campus who disagree with each other can find a way to voice their disagreements without resorting to vandalism when it comes to the stances of others.
“Others who disagree with our view then resort to acts that destroy the integrity of our message,” Caprio wrote. “We, as students who attend such a rigorous school like Georgetown, are more than capable to engage in these difficult yet critically important discussions.”
Hoya Staff Writer Christian Paz contributed reporting.