NEWS

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April 9, 2004

Flier removal raises questions

Member of March for Women's Lives saw fliers and posters announcing an informational session for the group—openly pro-choice on abortion—torn from the bulletin boards of the Reynolds Club last week, prompting the administration to revisit a freedom of speech abuse issue that flared last fall.

Lisa Oelfke, a graduate student and the founder of the University's chapter of the organization, said she noticed all of the March for Women's Lives fliers had been taken down from the Reynolds Club bulletin boards in the afternoon after they were posted, April 1. Three pink fliers and an 11-by-17-inch color poster were removed from the large bulletin boards inside the main 57th Street entrance to the Reynolds Club, three fliers and one poster were taken down from the bulletin boards outside the C-Shop, and a flier and poster were taken down from the bulletin boards going downstairs from the University Avenue entrance.

"They were done so that everything else was left intact on the bulletin boards," Oelfke said. "It was clear that someone went around and pinpointed just the March fliers for removal." Fliers for the event were immediately put back up.

Stephen Klass, the vice-president of the College and dean of students, is reviewing the incident, while Sharlene Holly, the director of the Reynolds Club, is also investigating it.

Klass and Provost Richard Saller sent out a statement to the University community last winter quarter detailing what the University considers infringements on free speech and open dialogue on campus. Mentioned in the statement was University Statute 21, which prohibits "conduct disruptive of the operations of the University, including interference with instruction, research, administrative operations, freedom of association, and meetings."

Other conduct falling into this category includes heckling speakers and defacing, removing, or obscuring announcements, fliers, posters, or other publications to prevent them from reaching their intended audiences.

"We were made aware of this unfortunate incident right after the group noticed their posters were missing," Klass said. "Unfortunately, it is very difficult to identify individuals who engage in this kind of unacceptable behavior. The University takes these kinds of incidents extremely seriously. Needless to say, we have a set of strict rules that regulate the posting and removal of fliers such as this. We cannot make any guarantees beyond providing a level of due diligence in their enforcement."

Holly said that if the fliers had been posted on walls or doors, a member of the Office of the Reynolds Club and Student Activities (ORCSA) staff may have removed them, but that since they were only on bulletin boards, it must have been someone else.

"There have been similar incidents to this elsewhere on campus, but not recently in the Reynolds Club," Holly said. "The University's response to other incidents has been to try and isolate the circumstances around the incident—specific information about location, time, and the type of poster or flier removed." She said the response to incidents at the Reynolds Club includes talking with full-time and student employees to see if anyone on the staff removed or saw anyone remove anything.

"If ever an individual or a group is determined to have removed fliers, those persons would be contacted by someone on the dean of students' staff and appropriate action taken," Holly said. "The first and often most important step is education—getting the person or persons to understand why it is important to respect and allow for differing points of view, especially at an institution of higher learning."

Oeflke could not understand who could be behind the act, but the pro-choice activism of the March for Women's Lives may have been a reason why someone would discriminate against the group, particularly a pro-life advocate in the abortion debate.

The March for Women's Lives Chicago Coalition has been meeting since November to promote the March in Washington, D.C. Also on the agenda are the importance of women's right to choose and reproductive health in Chicago's communities and neighborhoods, according to Oeflke.

"We consist of community members, pro-choice activists, and non-profit professionals who are concerned with women's issues. It developed from meet-ups," Oeflke said. "The Chicago meet-up group is the third largest in country with over 300 registered individuals. We regularly have 30 members at our meetings and work closely with the national march affiliates, such as Planned Parenthood Chicago Area and the March Office." She added that, so far on campus, about 30 students have expressed interest in participating in the March meet-up.

Oelfke said that her group will continue to promote the lives and health of women in the area and to promote the aforementioned March for Women's Lives, a demonstration to be held in Washington on April 25, in support of a woman's right to choose. The March is co-sponsored by several national organizations including the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the ACLU, the National Organization for Women, NARAL, the Feminist Majority, and the Black Women's Health Imperative.