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Conservative Group Fails to Challenge Liberal Student Body

On Tuesday evening, The Young Americans For Freedom conservative group on Davidson’s campus hosted Ryan Eyrich, a popular pro-life speaker. The posters for the event, adorned with large pictures of Martin Luther King Jr., had caught my eye days before. After reading that it would be a conversation around abortion from a pro-life perspective, I was intrigued to go and hear a viewpoint that differed from my pro-choice stance, whether to further establish my own views or question them. I was also intrigued by the use of MLK’s picture on the flyer and how he was relevant to the pro-life cause.

The event was attended by conservatives on campus as well as many liberal students, who I presumed had the same motive of being challenged to think critically that I did. Eyrich began his speech by referencing Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” as the basis of his argument to “embrace controversy”, through MLK’s persistence of fighting for civil rights. He went on the describe King as “someone who stood up when no one else would”. Thoughts of Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Marcus Garvey, Ida B. Wells, Malcolm X, and the millions of black people who continuously fought for justice pre-civil rights era flashed across my mind. Did this man actually believe MLK was the first person to realize that racism existed and take action to confront it? We were already off to a rocky start.

Eyrich went on to defend his stance of “embracing controversy” by asserting that MLK did not waver in his fight for equal rights. He attempted to relate this to his stance on being pro-life in a predominately liberal atmosphere. He stated the importance of fighting for what you believe in, though it may be unpopular. Though a valid statement, the comparisons he used to reach it were so flawed I’m not even sure where to begin. Let’s make a list.

  1. MLK had alliances with Planned Parenthood and supported family planning.
  2. MLK fought for economic, political, and social equality for black people, a population who have been oppressed since the beginning of United States history and continue to be to this day.
  3. Relating the African-American struggle for civil rights to pro-life groups’ attempt to have a prevalent voice on college campuses is a clear manipulation of words and appropriation of a message to fit into a context in which it clearly does not.

Ryan Eyrich is pushing for the abolishment of Roe v. Wade, as stated on the home page of his program. How is that a fight for any kind of justice? He asserted that he was standing up for the millions of “murdered children” or realistically, aborted fetuses. Yet, when confronted with the question of how he and his organization would support children that were born, he gave no clear plan or set policy. He responded that he would attempt to help women in “whatever way possible” by providing things like diapers or baby food to mothers. I am unsure if he was aware that birthing and raising a child until the age of 18 costs an average of $233,610, a sum I am almost certain Eyrich would not be willing to provide to every woman forced to continue with their pregnancy if Roe v Wade were to be abolished. His clear disregard of economic factors that influence women’s decision to have an abortion, one of the biggest pro-choice stances, weakened his argument monumentally and left much of the audience in the dark about what exactly his plan was.

 Returning to the idea of “embracing controversy”, Eyrich’s main tips were to,

  1. Be kind
  2. Find common ground
  3. Remember your rights
  4. Persevere

These were the guidelines he suggested when faced with any type of controversy as if they all deserved a universal response. I genuinely wondered what other types of controversy this cis white man had ever been faced with in his life outside of his pro-life activism. Was he ever stopped and questioned by the police solely because of his race? Sexually harassed in the workplace? Faced with the threat of deportation? Denied a service because of who he chose to love? Legally unable to use the bathroom of his choice? I wondered if he would still employ the same guidelines he had suggested if confronted with any of these situations. This was a clear display of privilege that I, and many of my peers, could not bear to listen to.

The Q&A portion of the talk was definitely the highlight of the evening. When affronted with the idea that women do not need protection from their own decision to have an abortion he responded, “I do not believe I have the right to tell women what to do with their bodies”. I was left dumbfounded. His entire movement was based on restricting what services women could have performed on their own bodies! I had already been fully questioning the speaker’s credibility and message beforehand but this was the ultimate tipping point. If I were to identify with the pro-life cause, I would be truly embarrassed to have this man come and represent me and my ideas in such an ineffective way.

As expected, the mix of liberal and conservative stances in the audience did create tension and conflict during the Q&A portion. One woman, while challenging the speaker’s idea of adoption as a better option than abortion, spoke with a passion and conviction that left the conservatives in the room with clear discomfort. In fact, one of the members of the Young Americans for Freedom proceeded to cut her off because of “lack of time”. Eyrich also refused to answer specific questions that challenged his argument because he asserted he “did not have enough time to go in depth”. The Young Americans for Freedom and Eyrich’s clear evasion of acknowledging a legitimate opposing stance undermined the idea of “embracing controversy” that was pushed throughout the entirety of the speech. The hypocrisy was almost laughable. 

I am honestly disappointed at an event that had the potential to truly question the mindset of a liberal student body but resulted in being an illogical, non-intellectual experience for me and many of my peers. The speaker was frankly embarrassing, to say the least, and caused the Young Americans for Freedom to lose any credibility I had previously granted them. This speaker was a poor reflection of Davidson, a place committed to bringing in intellectually stimulating conversation, by his poorly constructed argument and lack of evidence. Though I fully support Davidson’s mission to be inclusive of non-popular opinions, we must be more committed to bringing people who cause critical thinking for all students, rather than those unable to make a coherent argument.

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