Peralta Community College District's Only Student-Run Publication
Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

    Anti-choice demonstrators face student rage

    ‘Project Truth’ shows obscene images, provokes protests

    Obscenity, harassment, and issues of free speech collided violently at Laney College on Oct. 26 and 27, when representatives from an anti-choice organization called Project Truth settled onto the campus quad with a shocking display. The representatives — all of whom were male — disrupted, traumatized, and disturbed students and faculty over the course of their two-day unwelcome stay. 
    On Oct. 27, Ethnic Studies Professor Alicia Caballero-Christenson led the campus’s primary response, creating a bold poster with red paint reading, “My Vagina, My Choice.” She invited any students with vaginas or who identified as female to write their responses, thoughts, and feelings on the banner, which remained on the campus quad for the rest of that afternoon.
    The men characterized themselves as “pro-life,” while verbally harassing female students. One called a student a “baby-killer.” 
    protestThey also handed out booklets that equated reproductive rights with genocide — using the term “the American holocaust” — and twisting quotes by Plato and Martin Luther King, Jr. to support their claims.
    Caballero-Christenson characterized the demonstration as psychological terrorism, and English Professor Jackie Graves described many students coming into her classes deeply disturbed by the men and their display, which included obscene, graphic images of aborted fetuses. A male police officer stood watch, letting students know that any form of uncivil action or language toward the demonstrators could be cause for arrest.
    Caballero-Christenson then decided to hold the beginning of her M/LAT History of Latinos in the United States on the quad in front of the demonstrators. 
    She connected the men’s rhetoric and actions to the United States’ forced sterilization of Puerto Rican women throughout the 20th century, describing to her students a long history of white men trying to control women’s bodies and limit their reproductive rights.
    “We need to create spaces for students to feel safe, seen and heard, not terrorized and dehumanized,” she wrote after the incident. 
    Indeed, many were perplexed as to why the group was allowed on campus in the first place. 
    In an email message sent to Laney faculty and staff on Oct. 27, Laney College President Elñora Webb explained the college’s policy as it related to demonstrations like theirs. 
    “The Laney Quad is designated as a free speech zone on campus,” she wrote. 
    “Laney Administration monitors the use of the quad to ensure compliance with our District’s free speech policies.”
    The policy, which she attached to the email, states that, “[The Board of Trustees] recognizes the constitutional right of free speech, and to that end, the Chancellor shall enact such administrative procedures as are necessary to reasonably regulate the time, place, and manner of the exercise of free expression on district property.”
    However, the policy also states that speech “shall be prohibited that is defamatory, obscene according to current legal standards, or which is designed to incite another to create a clear and present danger of the commission of unlawful acts on District property or the violation of District policies or administrative procedures, or the substantial disruption of the orderly operation of the District.”
    “Free speech is not the same thing as aggressively forcing opinions on our captive students,” wrote Laney College Biology Department Chair Rebecca Bailey in an email following the incident. 
    “And, while we are all certainly entitled to our own opinions, we are not entitled to our own facts. I would like our students to see Laney as a place where logic, reason and truth are valued, and as a safe space for them to get an education without being harassed.”
    “To my knowledge, most schools have [free speech zones (FSZs)] in places that students can avoid if need be,” wrote Political Science Professor Scott Godfrey. 
    “Imagine if the Westboro Baptist Church walked onto Laney to protest our policies with their incredibly hateful signs. In reality, if the quad is a FSZ, there would be nothing that we could do to stop them.” 
    He offered sending out an alert to students to warn them of such demonstrations as a potential solution for future incidents.
    However, in her email, Webb noted that, according to her understanding, “Project Truth is not planning to return to campus this academic year.” 
    But the damage already done to the Laney College community left many concerned about what precedent the incident set for the future. 
    “This is more indicative of a deeper problem in this district, the lack of respect for our students,” wrote Chemistry Professor Pinar Alscher and Math Professor Christine Will in a joint statement. 
    “The pictures were obscene, and although [they] might not create a physical danger, [they] create mental harm and were inciting. Yet if students spoke up against the group, they could be punished for harassment. Students can’t defend themselves against this onslaught.
    “We have not allowed our students the chance to make an informed decision. By having one side of the issue presented… we have made the decision for them,” they continued.
    “If one of our ILOs [Institutional Learning Outcomes, a measure for determining the college’s success] is critical thinking, then we have failed.”

    See the student response in ‘Word on the Quad’

    About the Contributor
    In the fall of 2019, The Laney Tower rebranded as The Citizen and launched a new website. These stories were ported over from the old Laney Tower website, but byline metadata was lost in the port. However, many of these stories credit the authors in the text of the story. Some articles may also suffer from formatting issues. Future archival efforts may fix these issues.  
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