Duke University Issues Apology
Special Report - April 7, 2010
Duke University has apologized to a pro-life student group for denying the group access to meeting space in the campus Women’s Center for a motherhood event as part of the March 15-19 “Week for Life.” Duke Students for Life (DSFL) reserved space in the Women’s Center for a March 18th “Discussion with a Duke Mother,” where a Duke student, who is also a mother, was going to talk about her experiences with motherhood and the challenges of living life as both a student and a mother. On March 17, the Women’s Center left a voicemail for DSFL saying that the reservation had been cancelled due to a “problem” and ideological “conflict” between the Women’s Center and DSFL.
Duke Women’s Center gender violence prevention specialist Martin Liccardo met with DSFL on March 18 and told them that the event’s association with DSFL and the “Week for Life” disqualified it from being allowed to be held at the Women’s Center. DSFL president Michelle Barreto contacted the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which focuses on “protecting the individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience” at colleges and universities, regarding the discriminatory explanation for the cancellation. FIRE wrote to Duke president Richard H. Brodhead on March 26 pointing out, “This denial of event space is unjustifiable both according to the stated mission of the Duke Women’s Center and the promises of free expression made by Duke University itself, and seems to indicate that Duke University is taking a secretive but officially enforced stance on the issue of abortion that has resulted in differential viewpoint-based treatment of campus groups.”
Ada Gregory, director of the Duke Women’s Center responded March 29 that “Mistakes were certainly made that should not have occurred. I have taken steps to ensure that such an incident will not happen again. The Women’s Center is indeed intended to be a place that supports the agency and choices of all women.” The director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program, Adam Kissel, responded, “If Duke's promises of inclusiveness are honest, Duke must repudiate the Women's Center's decision and ensure that such viewpoint-based discrimination does not happen again. If Duke wants to be officially a pro-choice university where only women with 'correct' views get full access to campus resources, it should stop misrepresenting itself."
A March 31 response from Duke’s vice president for student affairs, Larry Moneta, stated, “Duke University supports and encourages open discussion and debate on the issues of our time. We strive to create an atmosphere on campus conducive to this goal. We apologize for canceling the Duke Students for Life event scheduled to take place in the Women’s Center. All Duke student groups are welcome to use the Women’s Center reservable space under established guidelines. The cancellation was a mistake on our part, and we are taking steps to ensure such an incident does not happen again.”
In February, Duke received a yellow free speech rating from FIRE due to the presence of “some policies that could ban or excessively regulate protected speech.” You can read more about that report in our previous story on campus speech codes.
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