On Thursday, October 26, over eighty students from Carleton and St. Olaf gathered at St. Olaf’s Buntrock Commons to protest the Northfield Women’s Center’s annual fundraiser. Opposing the crisis pregnancy center’s presence in the Northfield community, the two colleges’ student organizations dedicated to reproductive justice made posters, handed out pamphlets and lined the hallway entering the fundraiser.
Natalie Jacobson ‘18, chair of Carleton’s Students for Reproductive Choice (SARC), said that this was the first year that Carleton students protested the event. “Carleton students have not protested this event in years past because we only recently found out about the fundraiser’s existence,” Jacobson said.
“CAN-DO, SARC, SDC and other random students” joined in the protest, and SARC “co-hosted the event with St. Olaf Students for Reproductive Rights. We co-planned the details and held a poster-making session together prior to the protest,” said Jacobson.
According to Jacobson, students decided to protest because “our campaign to encourage the administration to not renew the Center’s lease gained lots of momentum this year. We wanted to continue that momentum by protesting this fundraiser.”
Sydney Spreck ’18, co-chair of St. Olaf’s SARC, explained that the Northfield Women’s Center has hosted their annual fundraiser at St. Olaf for nearly ten years, but St. Olaf students have not protested before. “I think maybe about five years ago someone did something similar, but it was a smaller, protest and tabling thing.” According to Spreck, previous fundraisers by the Northfield Women’s Center hosted about 100 people.
Nikki Lewis ’18, another co-chair for St. Olaf’s SARC, stated that the fundraiser’s presence on campus “is not something we’re concerned about, because they’re paying to be here. Planned Parenthood could have a fundraiser here, so we’re not upset that the school is allowing this to happen.”
Rather, Spreck explained that the demonstration mirrored pro-life protests in front of abortion clinics. “We’re giving them a taste of their own medicine, but in a much more respectful way. We respectfully lined the hallways and are not engaging the attendees, but this is kind of what it’s like when someone tries to go in to get an abortion,” she said.
“We made a decision as students to remain quiet during the event and to not engage with attendees. We remained relatively stoic. Even when students did engage, that engagement happened in a respectful manner,” said Jacobson.
Lewis said that “The attendees do seem to be very affected by this, and that was our goal. Our goal was not to hurt or harm anyone, but our goal was to convey a message and our message is clearly being heard, even if they don’t agree with it.”
For some of the 40 Carleton students at the event on St. Olaf’s campus, the protest acted as a venue to send a message to the Carleton and St. Olaf administrations that the crisis pregnancy center was not wanted in Northfield.
“I went to the protest, not because I thought that any of us would change the minds of the people attending the event, but because I hoped this protest would show the Northfield Women’s Center that it is not welcome on Carleton or St. Olaf property,” said Carolyn Grahn ’18.
Another protester, Kate Hoeting ’19 said, “I chose to protest because it is asinine that the Northfield Women’s Center exists at all, let alone gains support from our community members.”
Some protested to continue raising awareness about the Division Street center and to counter misinformation regarding abortion procedures. “Accurate medical information is a human right, and the Northfield Women’s Center has been shown time and time again to violate that right,” said Hoeting.
“I think all babies deserve parents who want them and have the resources and support to be the best parents that they can be to them. That’s why I protested on Thursday and that’s why I will continue to work to spread awareness and information to end the stigma of abortion and fight for the right to do what I want with my body and my future,” said Mara Pugh ’18 who also attended the protest last week.
“I’m usually not big on protests because I feel uncomfortable making other people uncomfortable, but I see the kind of nasty protesting that anti-choice people participate in every day, so I was happy to be part of a more positive kind of protest. Yet even engaging in a silent protest, holding signs that really shouldn’t be seen as provocative, like ‘Trust Women,’ led anti-choice donors to still say awful things to us,” said Pugh.
Due to the nature of the event, the Carletonian was unable to obtain a comment from the event organizers or attendees. However, while the Carletonian reporters were interviewing the protest’s organizers, attendees interacted with the line of students.
Comments included one man walking down the hallway asking, “Isn’t this a Christian college?”
“Haven’t you read the Bible?” he added.
Another donor asked, “Aren’t you glad that your parents didn’t murder you?”
“You make me sick,” said another donor. One event attendee, after reading through several of the signs with stated, “Unbelievable. Do you guys have jobs?”
But one woman, when she approached the end of the line, said, “That was peaceful. Thank you.”
Student protesters remained silent after the majority of the event attendees’ comments and questions. On several occasions, however, students engaged with the donors, often in short conversations. These exchanges remained relatively civil.
Despite the frequent remarks from the donors, “I thought the event went really well. I was excited about the turnout and I was really impressed with how people handled some of the comments from the Northfield Women’s Center supporters,” said Grahn.
“The protest was extremely successful. The Northfield Women’s Center sent up a representative to the front of our protesters, which speaks volumes. We likely caused a number of supporters to think about the way that crisis pregnancy centers treat pregnant people,” added Hoeting.
“The event felt powerful and energy was high. We feel pleased by the big turnout and that we are continuing to raise awareness about the presence of CPCs in Northfield,” said Jacobson.