By Abbey White & Reese Shebel
Created Equal, a national anti-abortion organization based in Columbus, Ohio, visited Cleveland State University on Thursday, Oct. 29, as part of its on-going traveling photo exhibition.
The graphic-driven presentation included abortion and prenatal images and videos, garnering attention from regular student traffic as well as several Cleveland State student organizations.
The event took place between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on the second floor of the Student Center and in the Rhodes Tower courtyard, and was part of a larger program that sees Created Equal coming to college and high school campuses across the country.
“We are trying to create a kind of dialogue on campus where we believe dialogue on abortion has generally ceased,” said Mark Harrington, the national director of Created Equal. “Or if it’s being discussed, it’s generally being discussed from a slanted point of view, as most colleges — and I don’t mean to say this disparagingly — are liberal in the sense that it’s the predominant world view on campus. We’re coming with a perspective that is rarely brought forward.”
Created Equal’s demonstration featured volunteers from the organization’s training program, which teaches individuals various methods and tactics for engaging with students who may or may not disagree with Created Equal’s message, on top of dealing with police and protesters, according to Harrington.
The self-described social action movement has already come to a handful of Ohio colleges and universities, including The Ohio State University, Kent State University, and the University of Toledo, among others.
Many of the campuses it visits are larger, public universities like Cleveland State and that, according to Harrington, is for a very specific reason.
“We pick public universities because of the way the law is,” Harrington said. “Per the First Amendment, we have the right to come on campus because it’s a state-funded university.”
To book time on campus, Created Equal reached out to Cleveland State’s Office of Student Life, in addition to notifying the campus police.
Harrington confirmed that this is a standard practice for the organization and its on-campus initiatives.
“We work with [the offices] as much as we need to arrange the time and place,” Harrington said.
As a result of this pre-planning, Cleveland State community members became aware of Created Equal’s visit well before its physical arrival.
This advanced notice gave several campus organizations time to plan their own response to the organization’s forthcoming graphic presentation, which included Cleveland State Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity (CSURGE) and the Student Feminist Coalition (SFC).
Both groups were responsible for organizing the counter-protest titled, “ChoiceFest.”
SFC is an organization committed to education, awareness and activism, explained the campus group’s president, Zoe Jones. “We want people to see that feminism is a positive thing and that it is beneficial to everyone,” Jones said. “We work to erase the stigma that comes with the word, while also reaching for a gender equality.”
When CSURGE and SFC heard that Created Equal was coming to Cleveland State after a recent visit to Kent State University, they researched and discovered their strategies of protest.
“We saw how they documented anyone that counter-protested them, including videotaping, taking pictures and using quotes to make them seem overly fanatical,” Jones said. “We realized that engaging with them wouldn’t be the way to go about getting our message out.”
The CSURGE and SFC event was held at the same time as Created Equal’s exhibit, but was designed to avoid igniting conflict, according to ChoiceFest’s organizers.
Rather than try to sway people who dedicate their lives to a cause, the two organizations believed that talking to students was a better approach. With no intention of arguing or engaging with Created Equal, they organized an event that would be dedicated to spreading positivity.
“We came up with fun things like cookies, music and positive signs, all while being open to discuss with students our view on reproductive rights,” Jones said. “By creating an open environment, students came and engaged with us and wanted to hear more.”
Overall, Jones said that the event was a success. Students thanked CSURGE and SFC for what they were doing. In addition, Jones said she had many meaningful conversations with students.
SFC is working on a video on the subject of catcalling, or sexual comments and gestures for the purpose of getting attention, and they are taking a trip to see Gloria Steinem in Toledo on Nov. 18.
This story first appeared in the Nov. 16, 2015 issue of The Cleveland Stater.