Aleesha Bray rallying at the Genocide Awareness Project in 2009.
courtesy Mike Soron/Flickr

Group confronts Pro-Life debate

Safe Space Campaign challenges Genocide Awareness Project

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Most of the students who have spent more than one semester at the University of Calgary are aware of the Campus Pro-Life club and the Genocide Awareness Project demonstration held each semester.

Fewer students, however, are aware of the Safe Space Campaign. According to social work student Alena Rose, the Safe Space Campaign is a student-led initiative promoting an environment of healthy and inclusive sexuality, where learning, discussion and activism can take place without judgement.

When Rose first saw gap being displayed on campus, she began discussing it with other members of the university, and she found there was not a channel to voice their opinions regarding the project.

"Ultimately it was my goal to provide individuals with meaningful conversation in the hope that they might feel less oppressed by images they are forced to witness at their school," said Rose.

In December 2011, Rose brought the idea of the Safe Space Campaign to the Social Work Students' Association.

According to swsa president and communications coordinator Corinne Ofstie, "the principles of human rights and social justice are fundamental to social work. swsa supporting the dialogue around reproductive rights and freedom of speech was natural."

Another reason for swsa's support was that its position on campus allows it to support certain student-led initiatives which might have been rejected by others for their possibly polarizing or political nature.

The Safe Space Campaign is not ideologically pro-life or pro-choice. Instead, the goal is to provide a safe environment for people to disagree with gap's approach.

Ofstie believes that gap's methods are illogical and manipulative, and there needs to be a balance to the arguments.

"Comparison between women and those who support women's reproductive rights and perpetrators of genocide has a damaging and value-laden [result]," said Ofstie.

Another concern Ofstie has is that gap has the potential to introduce more trauma for those who have personal experience with abortion or genocide.

Fourth-year social work student Barbara Piertzykowski, involved with the Safe Space Campaign, commented "[gap] isn't a dialogue, it's an onslaught."

Rose believes there is an appropriate way for Campus Pro-Life to present their message in a respectful manner.

She said that in the opinion of the Safe Space Campaign, "an appropriate way to present the pro-life view is one that does not hurt or victimize others. Recognition of differing values needs to be shared."

Ofstie said that some students who consider themselves pro-life have also taken offense to Campus Pro-Life's approach to conveying their message.

Current president of Campus Pro-Life Cameron Wilson said that the group uses gap to get their message across because "if you want to demonstrate to someone that there's an injustice going on, there seems no better way than to show them the injustice."

Wilson says that he doesn't have a problem with the Safe Space Campaign, but worries that the campaign will cover up the reality of abortion.

"It's mostly directed at why gap is such a bad thing, which ignores the fact that without gap, people wouldn't have the chance to face their pain," said Wilson.

Campus Pro-Life believes that gap, despite being painful for some, can push those who have had an abortion towards healing by forcing them to face the issue.

"The basic question in the abortion debate is whether or not someone is human. If [the fetus] isn't human, then why are people in so much pain [after an abortion]?" asked Wilson. He said the goal of Campus Pro-Life is to prevent anyone else from being hurt by abortion, including both mothers and fetuses.

"I absolutely believe that abortion is genocide-- we are showing Canadians the reality of abortion, and it's theirs to accept or reject," he said.

Second-year engineering student Miles Alger said the Safe Space Campaign is a good way to start discussion.

"It seems like a worthwhile initiative. I have no problem with the campaign," he said.

However, he would like to see more discussion from Campus Pro-Life demonstrators as well.

"They're graphic but I really am a strong supporter of free speech," said Alger. "I would like to actually have a philosophical discussion, as opposed to just the images, but the actual morals and reasons behind [the argument]."

Due to the Safe Space Campaign's recent establishment, they have not yet had the chance to host a demonstration alongside Campus Pro-Life and gap. However, responses to the idea from various students, faculty and clubs on campus have been positive.

To this point, the campaign has been directed towards the creation of "critical consciousness and discussion" surrounding the issue, but the group is staying alert for the next gap demonstration on campus.

To further their message, the Safe Space Campaign has decided to create a small magazine which offers a platform for students to share their stories of how the gap has impacted them.




\" \"The basic question in the abortion debate is whether or not someone is human. If [the fetus] isn\'t human, then why are people in so much pain [after an abortion]?\" asked Wilson. \"
One time my friend had a hernia and he said it hurt a lot, even after the procedure. Could his hernia be human?