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Though it may seem as if the Northern Right to Life and Students for Choice groups built simultaneous (counter) displays to outdo one another, members of both groups say it’s purely accidental.
Both Katie Walker and Alex Kindell, presidents of the pro-life and pro-choice groups respectively, applied through different administrators for the grassy hill area between the University Center plaza and the Fine Arts Center for their displays.
Kindell said the groups didn’t even know about the mix-up until she hosted an event at her home to collaborate on a Student Government Association campaign. Members of the pro-life group noticed the flowers Kindell was storing and asked when she would be displaying them.
The current situation unravelled from there.
“At first I wasn’t comfortable having my display next to theirs,” Kindell said, because she feels the crosses “judge women who have gone through an intensely personal experience.”
But Kindell soon realized the chance the two groups had before them.
“This was an opportunity where we can create a respectful dialogue,” she said. “It was too good to pass up.”
Nick Hoffman, the webmaster for and founding member of NRTL, said he liked the idea from the start.
“We actually watched each other set up,” he said. “I thought it was a great idea.”
Last month, members of both groups put aside their differences to protest the university’s proposed new Free Expression Policy that regulated chalking, indoor protesting and areas where protests can occur. Students involved in a variety of groups came together for the free-expression protest, which Kindell credits as a major reason for the dual-display’s success.
About 30 students erected the more than 400 white crosses and 300 colorful flowers April 15 in the grassy area. The groups also made a pact, to watch out for each other’s displays in wake of the destruction of NRTL’s cross display last year.
“I would’ve never thought we’d be doing it with such respect,” Kindell said. “I expected it to be much more tense. I never thought there would be such a lack of animosity.”
This year, NRTL set up the same crosses that Sally Jacobsen, then a literature and language professor, and six of her students dismantled April 12, 2006. According to The Northerner archive, the students were charged with criminal mischief and theft by unlawful taking, but the charges were dropped upon completion of a diversion program.
Jacobsen, facing the same charges, successfully completed a judge-ordered mediation between NRTL and herself. In the mediation agreement, Jacobsen agreed to pay $270 in restitution for the damaged crosses, make a $1,000 donation to a charity and write an apology to NRTL and the owners of the crosses.
This year, NRTL isn’t worried about such a situation.
“The more I thought about it, if anything bad happens, it turns to good,” Hoffman said. “(Last year) I wasn’t too surprised. I was more curious to see what the university was going to do about it.”
This year, an NRTL member is even standing guard to ensure people don’t vandalize the display.
“I’ll probably guard every day at some point,” Ryan Jones said. “I’m really doing it on my own accord.”
Jones said he’s watching out for the Students for Choice display while he’s there too.
“They have every right to put it up … I may not agree with it, but I’m not against it,” he said.
Hoffman said dialogue, opposition and vandalism happen to groups such as the pro-life or pro-choice organizations due to the polarity in opinions.
“It comes with the territory,” he said.