Duke Keeps Pro-Life Group Out of Women’s Center During ‘Week for Life’

March 29, 2010

Duke University’s Women’s Center has canceled an event about motherhood because the sponsor was engaging in pro-life expression elsewhere on campus. A Women’s Center representative told Duke Students for Life (DSFL) that “we have a problem” and an ideological “conflict” with the event, which was supposedly canceled to protect Duke women from encountering the event during the group’s “traumatizing” pro-life “Week for Life.” Today’s press release has the story.

As part of a “Week for Life” series of events held at Duke over March 15-19, DSFL had reserved a Women’s Center space for a “Discussion with a Duke Mother” on March 18. A Duke student and mother was to speak about motherhood and the challenges of being in both roles. But the day before the event, the reservation was abruptly canceled in a voicemail to the group.

Meeting with the group on March 18, Duke Women’s Center Gender Violence Prevention Specialist Martin Liccardo said that because the event was associated with the Week for Life and DSFL, the event could not be held at the Women’s Center.

Liccardo told the group that the prospect of holding a pro-life event in the Women’s Center during Week for Life was too upsetting for some students: “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. So based on that, we said, OK, we are going to respond to this and stop the program.”

After the group’s president, Michelle Barreto, asked FIRE to intervene, we wrote Duke President Richard H. Brodhead last Friday, asking him to respect Duke’s promises. Normally we do not publicize a case until we hear back from the university, but in this case the story is already out: Barreto explained the situation in an op-ed this morning on the national politics website The Daily Caller.

In short, this treatment violates Duke’s public commitment to free speech. Not only does Duke promise free speech in its policies, but the Women’s Center itself promises that it “welcomes discordant viewpoints from varied experiences.”

If Duke’s promises of inclusiveness are honest, Duke must repudiate the Women’s Center’s decision and ensure that such viewpoint-based discrimination does not happen again. If Duke wants to be officially a pro-choice university where only women with ‘correct’ views get full access to campus resources, it should stop misrepresenting itself.


Write to President Brodhead and tell him to respect student rights today!


Schools:  Duke University

Cases:  Duke University: Women’s Center Cancels ‘Motherhood’ Event