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Last week, Harvard Right to Life (HRL) pinned about 400 anti-abortion posters on bulletin boards in first-year dormitories and undergraduate Houses.
A few days later, the group said, about half of the posters had been torn down or defaced.
In response, Acting Associate Dean Judith H. Kidd sent an e-mail to House Masters on Friday asking them to remind students to respect the rights of all student organizations to poster on campus and the right of freedom of expression.
At least one senior tutor has e-mailed House residents to deliver that message.
Last year, HRL’s “Natalie” posters, which showed the progressive stages of development of a fetus, were also torn down, prompting a campus controversy over the limits of free speech.
The group said it started putting up its first round of posters for this year, which show a picture of a woman holding a baby and the quote, “Women Deserve Better,” around a week ago.
“In most of the houses, about half of the posters are torn down within a day,” said HRL President Daniel R. Tapia ’05.
Paul C. Shultz ’03-’04, an HRL member and also a Crimson editor, said he has “had to re-poster five times in four days” in DeWolfe.
Philip D. Powell ’06 said he put 15 posters in Eliot House Saturday evening, and as of yesterday, only six remained.
Powell also said HRL posters were defaced. On one sign, according to Powell, someone had scrawled a message calling those who oppose abortion “chauvinist, gun-toting, Christian fundamentalists.”
An Eliot House resident, Julia K. Clarke ’06, acknowledged that she removed an HRL poster on a bulletin board near the door of her dorm on the first floor.
“I took the poster down and tore it up,” said Clarke, who felt that the poster was “coercive” and imposing on her “personal space.”
“That’s moral judgment I don’t want to look at when I go into my room everyday,” she said.
Clarke said the proximity—roughly one foot away from her door—and content—a flustered woman saying she was raped and therefore justified in her abortion—influenced her to tear down the poster.
“It was right outside my door and it was making me feel uncomfortable,” she said. “Some posters cross the line.”
Clarke said she did not tear down any posters on other bulletin boards.
Abigail L. Fee ’05, president of Harvard Students for Choice, said she made it explicit to her group that members should respect the right of freedom of expression. She said she had done everything she could to ensure that her organization is not responsible for the vandalism of posters.
Tapia described the vandalism in an e-mail to Kidd, who responded Friday night with an e-mail promising to “remind students to respect the rights of all student organizations to poster appropriately on campus.”
“I will also ask them to remind students that respecting the opinions of others is expected conduct of members of the Harvard Community and that repeated offenses will be taken seriously,” the e-mail read.
The Faculty of Arts and Sciences issued a resolution in 1971 guaranteeing the right of free speech. The Handbook for Students upholds “a community ideally characterized by free expression,” and cases involving the removal or vandalism of posters may be reviewed by the Administrative Board.
“It would be up to each House Master if and how they wished to convey that message,” Kidd told the Crimson in an e-mail yesterday. She did not specifically mention Right to Life in her request of the Houses.
Over the weekend, Lowell House Senior Tutor John L. Ellison sent an e-mail—similar to one he sent last year in response to the “Natalie” poster controversy—to the residents of Lowell asking them to respect every person’s freedom of speech. The members of an academic community must value the expression of ideas, even and especially controversial ones, he said, expressing concern that students were removing posters they found disagreeable or offensive. Students do not have the right to censor one another, he stated, and Harvard must be open to the free exchange of ideas.
Because Ellison’s e-mail did not cite any specific incidents, some Lowell residents deleted it in confusion.
“I had no idea what he’s talking about, and it didn’t apply to me, so I just deleted it,” said Bill Cocks ’06, a Lowell resident.
Kevin O’Keefe ’04 said that most of the people he knew “just brushed it aside.” Some students guessed the e-mail was related to the anti-abortion posters.
“That’s what I’d assumed because it was an issue last year,” said Jacquelyn A. Cronin ’04, another Lowell resident, referring to the “Natalie” poster vandalism last year.
Ellison declined to comment on his e-mail.
HRL reacted to Kidd’s initiative and Ellison’s message to Lowell House with approval.
“If a House Master or tutor sent out an e-mail saying not to tear down posters, that’s good enough for us,” Tapia said.
Some HRL students, though, were more skeptical about the effectiveness of e-mail.
“E-mail is obviously the easiest way to get out to people,” Powell said. “At the same time, it doesn’t pack a whole lot of punch behind it.”
Tapia said HRL is putting up its second round of posters today.
“The more posters are torn down, the quicker they are being put back up,” Tapia said.
“We’re hoping to organize in such a way this year so that we can fight it a little better. So the first step, for us, is to try to contact the senior House tutors,” said Powell, an Eliot resident who e-mailed his senior tutor about the removal of HRL posters.
HRL members, however, said they have come to expect vandalism of their posters.
“I think our posters have attracted a lot more attention than any poster campaign in recent years,” said Laura E. Openshaw ’04, HRL vice-president. “This is not an abortion issue, this is not a Harvard Right to Life issue, this is a free speech issue,” she said.
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