Belles for Life and the Cartesian Society host pro-choice, pro-life discussion, hoping to start conversations on campus
Maeve Filbin | Thursday, November 21, 2019
Belles for Life and the Cartesian Society invited Saint Mary’s students into open conversation Wednesday night with a pro-life and pro-choice discussion.
Those who participated in the discussion were required to register beforehand and declare their stance on the issue. Upon arriving, the students were split into small groups of mixed opinions.
On each table, sheets of paper posed six discussion questions for the small group, asking students to consider their own identity on the pro-choice to pro-life spectrum, the personal experiences that formed this opinion, issues surrounding reproductive rights and any positive or negative experiences they’ve had on campus.
Other printed handouts outlined “Five Ways to Respond to Someone You Disagree With,” including “respecting honesty,” “understanding different values,” “giving something back,” “finding a middle ground” and “being a good human.”
Megan Zwart, philosophy professor and department chair, said she was excited to see how the discussion mirrored the style of her course in dialogue and civil discourse.
“My hope is that students will learn skills in that class, but then they’ll get excited about having conversations about difficult topics outside of class,” Zwart said. “And so this is the perfect example of students taking initiative and, you know, seeing the conversation that they think we need to work on around campus and then doing that work. So I’m proud to see it happen.”
Senior Elisabeth Barrett, president of the Cartesian Society, the new philosophy club approved just after fall break, said the discussion was arranged in a manner similar to those that took place in Zwart’s class, with small groups of mixed opinions.
“No one is going to be overloaded or feel one-sided,” Barrett said. “We’re listening with the intention to learn and understand rather than debate, combat. It’s not an argument. It’s a learning opportunity, I would say. I’m really hoping that it brings everyone who comes here closer together. Ideally, the entire campus.”
Belles for Life has been working on a discussion session for a long time, but struggled to find a group that would act as a co-host, Barrett said. The philosophy club was quick to collaborate, she said.
“I think coming out as a philosophy club, it paints us as pretty neutral,” she said. “In philosophy, you explore different perspectives. It’s very open. There isn’t really such a thing as, ‘That’s a bad idea’ or like, ‘That’s a bad opinion.’ And that’s pretty much what philosophy is — building upon different thoughts, different values, opinions, beliefs — all that.”
Many of the Cartesian Society board members are pro-choice, Barrett said, but all were open to joining the discussion and excited to tackle an issue that they believe to be urgent and important.
“We’re very excited to jump at this because … this is a conversation we need to have on campus and it is extremely divided,” Barrett said. “You’ll see posters up that Belles for Life have around campus and other people will write on it, like slander it. And personally, I am pro-choice, but I don’t think that you should disrespect other opinions like that still at the end of the day.”
The event was intended to be more of a discussion than a debate, Barrett said, and overall, an exercise in listening and learning.
“I think what’s great about this event is that it encompasses a lot of listening, a lot of learning and respect and it kind of reminds us all that we are all women, that we do care about people,” she said. “It’s shown that … at the end of the day, we all care about life in whichever capacity.”
This type of open-minded conversation is meant to create safe spaces on campus, senior Morgan Chichester, president of Belles for Life, said.
“It’s just basically just opening up the discussion in a civil way,” Chichester said. “This is just an event just for people to express their beliefs in an open safe environment on campus.”
Chichester said she hopes participants leave the discussion having felt heard and encouraged to continue these conversations outside of their small groups.
“I hope that people walk away with just a sense that they can express what they believe and … just growing in a deeper sense of listening to different people’s beliefs, and that we can just have more discussions like this on campus,” she said.
Sophomore transfer student Annastacia Thompson said she identifies as pro-choice, and did not expect her opinions to change after the discussion.
“I came to listen,” Thompson said, “Just to hear the other side and maybe understand it more.”