Yet another case of campus discrimination

Apparently pro-life groups are not welcome on certain places on Duke University’s campus.

Surprised? We were too. As part of ‘Week for Life’ that occurred on Duke’s campus March 15-19, Duke Students for Life requested to use a space inside of the university-funded Women’s Center. For the event, “Discussion with a Duke Mother” we invited a student mother to speak about motherhood and the challenges of being an undergraduate mom. The space was initially reserved, but when the Week for Life began, the Women’s Center canceled our space request.

When asked for an explanation, Women’s Center staffer Martin Liccardo said that because the event was associated with the Week for Life and Duke Students for Life, the event could not be held at the Women’s Center.

It is unacceptable that a university-funded Women’s Center that advertises itself as promoting a “campus culture that ensures the full participation and agency of women students,” does not allow a group sponsoring a conversation about motherhood into their space. If Liccardo’s defense was intended to be sincere or convincing, it came across quite differently—quite frankly, as censorship.

“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,” Liccardo told us when we confronted him about the abrupt cancellation. “So based on that, we said we are going to respond to this and stop the program.”

He then admitted that he never personally saw or attended any of our events or displays on campus. Our “Week for Life” consisted of presenting abortion statistics, fetal development displays, and discussions on motherhood and life to the campus at large. Liccardo explained that Duke students were uncomfortable with Students for Life using the Women’s Center space because they were “traumatized” by the fetal development pictures we displayed on a high-traffic area of campus.

However the pictures are ultrasounds that mothers typically ask to see during pregnancies. It is unreasonable that we were turned away from the Women’s Center because we presented factual information and pictures of human development.

Even though Liccardo said that the Women’s Center wants “women to have access to information and resources” about reproductive rights, we found it enlightening that in his view, “a picture of a fetal development does not have a place in [the Women’s Center].” How sad that competing ideas at liberal arts universities are not accepted by those who claim to be open minded.
Regardless, the event we wanted to hold at the Duke’s Women’s Center had nothing to do with fetal development or abortion. It was a conversation about celebrating and discussing the challenges of motherhood. But Liccardo also accused Duke Students for Life of attempting to promote a political agenda with its “Duke Mother” event.

“A mothering discussion during Week for Life that to me, well I should not even say to me but to the students we actually encounter, had a smack of a political agenda,” he explained.

It is strange that he accused us of having a “political agenda” when he readily admitted that “philosophically [they] are a center that is not opposed to abortion.”

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  • Just Tex

    michellbv wrote: “Duke is a private institution they are well within their rights to do this kind of thing.”

    Duke may well take that stand.

    However, courts have increasingly ruled that “private institution(s)” receiving federal funds must not discriminate.

    With that, and with speech being both a civil (statutory) and natural (Constitutional) right, courts may be more easily stirred to find that your rights are superior to those of the university. Or, rule the university must restore you rights, must not deny student rights in the future, or suffer the lose of federal funds.

    michellbv wrote: ” FIRE is already on it: http://www.thefire.org/article/11693.html

    Excellent! Considering Duke’s dubious history, I hope they will swing for the fences.

    Also, it’s possible that the ADF (Alliance Defense Fund http://www.alliancedefensefund.org/main/default.aspx ) would agree to perform at least a cursory review of this case. Or, perhaps even collaborate with FIRE (and others) to seek a voluntary, or if necessary, a judicial remedy/settlement.

  • akw1

    Keep fighting for the unborn, and for free speech, Ms. Barreto!

    They don’t want pro-life advocates on campus because you force them to face reality about abortions. You make them feel guilty and ruin their ability to pretend that they’re not really taking a human life when they abort that “fetus.”

  • moira1987

    It’s just absolutely nauseating how liberals have no shame when it comes to promoting double standards. Shame on the center for caving in to the pressure from the Left who have no real reason for complaint in the first place. They don’t agree with pro-life advocates and so they did whatever they could to shut them down. What if Michelle Barreto and her group had instituted a campaign of complaints aimed at stopping visits from Planned Parenthood and NARAL at the center? They’d be accused of ever nasty thing imaginable and, of course, their wishes would be ignored. It’s pathetic how much the so-called “pro choice” crowd resent and reject a choice of viewpoints and beliefs. Diversity? Whatevs.

  • Just Tex

    Ms. Barreto,

    First, I’d like to thank you for holding very values, and, for your courage.

    Next, sadly, your report of bias at Duke isn’t surprising at all. Especially when one takes a few moments to reflect historically, of what has happened at Duke over just the last few years.

    The vicious and absurd faculty reactions to the unfounded charges made against the Duke University lacrosse team come to mind right away.

    I clearly recall that the faculty (group of 88) initiated such strong protest, that the university administration felt compelled into dubious action, then went on to force out the team coach and disbanded the team, prior to any formal or even serious investigation.

    In the aftermath, lacrosse players Kyle Dowd and others filed civil suits against Duke, and reportedly, among other considerations, received large cash settlements.

    Considering that, and the many more incidents of an apparent inflammatory and biased Left leaning nature clearly present and prevalent among Duke staff, that at times runs rampant and roughshod over student rights, I hope you will see this incident as an opportunity, not as a setback, then seek legal counsel.

    If your case (and perhaps others that may come to light during discovery) sets into motion lawsuits that compel long needed changes at your university, you will have served yourself and your cause immensely. As well as that of fellow students, perhaps, for many years to come. And, there is the possibly that your actions may serve student bodies at other universities as well.

    The “Foundation for Individual Rights in Education” is an excellent resource regarding this and other similar issues.

    I hope the next time that I read your name is when you announce your successful outcome on this matter in court. And, the next time after that, your graduation announcement…

    Best Regards,


    • michellbv

      Unfortunately because Duke is a private institution they are well within their rights to do this kind of thing.

      But FIRE is already on it: http://www.thefire.org/article/11693.html

      • AdamKissel

        Duke would be within its rights if it had not actually promised free speech and had, in contrast, promised an ideological education. Duke most likely has a contractual obligation to follow through on its promises of free speech. It’s unlikely a First Amendment issue, but Duke students most likely DO have a right to free speech as both a legal matter and a moral matter.