Mustangs for Unity and Claire Krizman: How a Small Campus Organization Responded with a Big Demonstration

It takes guts to take a stand, especially when the political environment seems polarized against you. But that’s exactly what junior Claire Krizman did when she co-founded the campus group “Mustangs for Unity” in response to the recent “Mustangs for Life” demonstration, during which 2,500 crosses were driven into Dallas Hall lawn to represent the number of abortions that happen every year. Despite where our students stand on the issue, every year the display turns heads, inciting a political discussion that has long been decided in the courts. (Roe v. Wade, anyone?) In today’s political climate, more and more college women worry about the chance that they may lose their reproductive rights.

After weeks of planning, preparation, and fundraising, the counter protest is finally up. We sat down with Claire to talk about what sparked her to speak up, and what this movement means to her.

Every year, the tiny crosses appear like daisies on the Dallas Hall lawn, and every year, there’s a smattering of talk, both offended and pleased. On a college campus, you can expect for there to be political discussions, and especially ones that don’t always fit with your personal values, but the pro-life crosses seemed something “other.” Mustangs for Unity doesn’t discourage free speech, in fact, it encourages it. But at some point, as Claire explained, it becomes less about engaging in relevant political discourse, and more about trying to force the population to espouse your beliefs.

“At some point, free speech can turn into a shaming demonstration, and that’s when I believe that is inappropriate on our campus,” Krizman told HCSMU. “It’s not the fact that it’s anti-choice that I find to be the specific problem here—it’s the heavy handed way they put on this demonstration that had no empathy for women who have had abortions. Even if you are anti-choice, you should understand that is it a complicated and emotional decision for women, and their demonstration didn’t express any of that understanding. By not leaving space for empathy, it held many women at arms reach, and all it does is polarize our campus.”

The problems extend farther than just anger at other’s belief, Krizman found that it wasn’t even conducive to starting conversation. The demonstration had no pamphlets, no information about other possibilities for women, and only tiny factoids of who were effected by abortion. You could listen in on students in the lawn and not hear anything about what the demonstration was intended to evoke. Students weren’t reconsidering their stance on pro-choice or anti-choice. Krizman found that they were either upset and insulted, or validating the importance of free speech. Mustangs for Unity even started out of that anger, from students who were upset at the site of the stakes in the yard.

One of the considerations of the counter-demonstration then, was to acknowledge the lives of the women affected by abortion. Krizman saw that gap in the discussion, and with the group, sought to fill it.

“There may be 2,500 women who have had an abortion,” Krizman said, “but there are also 2,500 women who have stories and reasons behind those abortions, and that shouldn’t be ignored.”

Within hours, Krizman, and classmate Gabby Davé had come up with the idea of a GoFundMe, specifically to benefit Planned Parenthood. Davé had come up with the idea of raising a dollar for each one of the crosses on the lawn, until the campaign went viral, even sparking an interview with the our national site. The campaign has now reached to almost $8,000. Planned Parenthood is such a salient choice of a beneficiary, as it is so much more than an abortion clinic. Much of it’s resources go towards programs like family planning, contraceptives, STD screening and high quality reproductive care. Should all of these resources work effectively, abortions would cease to be necessary for women—as they would have access to the resources that make unplanned pregnancy less likely. “They work to empower women to be able to have children, when they actually are ready,” Krizman said.

Shame shouldn’t be the issue here, and that’s what the counter demonstration seeks to exemplify. The lawn is once again covered in stakes, but this time, each with a figure of a person on it to represent each woman who has been affected. Signs line either side of the walk way, bearing messages such as “it’s not that simple” or “walk a mile in their shoes.” At both the front and the back of the demonstration, it features fliers for women’s resources, that provide her clear options. It is one to inform, not to offend. The slogan is that “everybody has a story,” and this counter-demonstration works gently, not with a heavy hand, to show all of these stories with equal dignity.

The group is making strides as well—it has over 40 members, who helped set up every individual sign late Sunday night. These members span the pro-choice and the pro-life sides, seeking for unity even within political disagreements. The members aren’t entirely women either (although I feel we can’t deny the importance of a women’s issue finally being led by a woman), it also includes many men who were frustrated at the original demo. Krizman hopes that this group can expand even further to tackle other issues on the SMU campus. She doesn’t feel like this group is simply a “loud minority,” or just a few angry students, but rather that students were tired of feeling silenced in important issues. She feels as if our demographic and age of college students is pretty open minded on this issue, and was ready for discussion.

“A woman cannot walk away from a pregnancy without making a choice. Abortion is one of those choices, but it’s a hard choice to have to make. It’s not an easy way out by any means, it’s a hard in itself,” Krizman said. Mustangs for Unity isn’t forcing you to choose their beliefs. They aren’t even forcing you to agree with them. But they certainly are asking us all to consider a different side of the issue that has been ignored on our campus for so long—and to consider the lives of the women affected by this issue. In today’s political climate, we’ve started to focus less debating the issues, and more on yelling at each other about them. This counter-demonstration seeks to undermine that tendency to ignore the other side, and instead acknowledge the humanity of each and every woman affected.

So why did she want to start the discussion? Krizman is majoring in human rights and psychology, hoping to get her doctorate in clinical child psychology, so obviously she has an uncommon clarity. She’s also incredibly involved, working not only as the PR chair of Amnesty International at SMU, but also as the vice president of external recruitment on SMU’s Panhellenic exec board. She’s already received support from the human right’s department, which offered support without her even asking. It was almost as if Krizman had her feet in so many doors that she already had a leg up for starting a real dialogue.

“I feel like I have a strong voice, I’m involved, and I can contribute an open-minded perspective,” Krizman said. “I am not afraid of that discomfort. I think it's worth it, and that it's important.”