Anna Eubanks, a founder of the University of Central Arkansas chapter of Students for Life, along with other members of the organization, were once called into an administrator’s office after they chalked pro-life slogans on campus sidewalks. “It was the second time in UCA’s history that there were so many complaints,” Eubanks said. “The other was in 1977 when someone wrote racial words with sidewalk chalk.”
It’s not always easy being pro-life in college, especially in a public institution. Cases of vandalism of pro-life displays or discrimination against pro-life student groups by university officials are not uncommon. Even just the liberal culture often present can be difficult to encounter, especially if experiencing it for the first time.
“The challenge is when students take classes where professors are very pro-choice and maybe anti-Christian, and they make statements that are directly opposed to what we believe as Catholics and pro-life (people),” said Deacon Richard Papina, director of Catholic campus ministry at University of Central Arkansas. “In a class of 25 or 40 students, there might be only one or two Catholics, and it takes a lot of courage for them to stand up and say something that goes against the majority, and also against the professor. It’s like they are the lone wolf in the classroom.”
To counteract that, Liz Tingquist, director of youth and campus ministry for the Diocese of Little Rock, invites campus ministries to participate in their pro-life conferences, weekend programs and a training camp where they learn to evangelize their peers.
“Over the years, I have found that our young people are more and more pro-life and more steeply entrenched in their Catholicism,” Tingquist said. “They are not afraid to go out there and speak. They have not only head-knowledge but also heart-knowledge, and that includes loving life and being able to stand up for it.”
Eubanks, 23, a junior business major from Benton, Arkansas, found her strong commitment to the pro-life cause through her family. Her mother, she said, declined to abort a baby that the doctor said had “something wrong.”
“My little sister was born fine and is a healthy 19-year-old girl,” Eubanks said. “That influenced me completely.”
Maria Lewis’ family experience set her heart on fire for life, too. She is one of six children of immigrant parents, who would have had only one or two children if they had remained in their native India.
“My brothers and sisters could have been killed in India,” she said. “My parents gave me life, and it’s our duty to save our brothers and sisters.”
Lewis, of Oakley, California, is a community college student who plans to pursue a degree in law. She is the founder of Pro-Lifers of the Mystical Rose, a nonprofit outreach to middle school, high school and college students.
“We are working on three presentations at colleges,” she said. “One, ‘Be a Light,’ equips people to stand up and be a voice. We also counsel students, one-on-one or in groups, who are struggling with life and death issues. We give them the resources they need and provide them with loving hands. We are helping them through abortion-related issues with absolute love, no hate and no judging. That’s the kind of love that Christ had for everybody.”
Amanda Conklin, 26, of Gouverneur, New York, felt targeted in high school because of her own pro-life activities. She is now on staff in campus ministries at St. Lawrence University and State University of New York in Canton. Their activities include attending the annual March For Life in Washington, D.C., weekly meetings and being a resource for students seeking information or are interested in starting or joining pro-life activities on their campuses.
“We share what the Church teaches, and sometimes we are there just for support, especially on non-Catholic campuses,” Conklin said. “There are a lot of teachers who are not only atheists but definitely pro-choice. The students hear a lot of rhetoric every day, and when you hear something over and over, it becomes ingrained, and it’s harder for them to recognize the truth. It’s a huge challenge to overcome the cultural noise out there.”
Mary Kominsky, who is on the pastoral team at Montclair State University in New Jersey, speaks to students about her own experiences.
“I am a woman who is post-abortive and have been giving my testimony for 10 years,” she said. “The students are quite familiar with my story, and I am able to assist them in the negative effects of abortion and the truth of what abortion does to women.
“When many students go to college, they not only become pro-choice, but they also lose their Catholic identities, even at Catholic colleges,” she said. “Today when you go to a university, if you believe in God, that’s seen as a bad thing. There’s a great emphasis on having no faith at all. And unless you are from a family that’s extremely active in the pro-life message, the majority of students coming to college really do not believe in life issues. Most of the time, they really don’t understand what it means. I can say that I can speak to them from a personal level.”
Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.