Every year at Southern Methodist University, a pro-life student group called Mustangs for Life sets up thousands of small crosses on a prominent campus lawn, with each cross representing an abortion.
Not everyone agrees with this display—And this year, instead of sitting back, a group of students decided to take a stand for women's rights. The GoFundMe page they set up to raise money for Planned Parenthood has already gone viral, trending on the website and getting over 1,400 shares in just 24 hours. The students, who are forming a new student group called Mustangs for Unity, quickly surpassed their goal of $2,500 (they're now aiming for $5,000). Their message is simple: No one should feel shamed for their choices and everyone should feel supported on their own campus.
Her Campus talked to Claire Krizman, the founder of the group and one of the brains behind the fundraiser, to learn more about Mustangs for Unity's vision and how they plan to continue making a difference on campus.
Her Campus: How did it feel to be forced to look upon hundreds of miniature crosses on a popular campus lawn?
Claire: It was a really hard thing to see. When I saw them, I felt so much frustration and hurt. I personally have not had to have an abortion, but the idea that somebody could come onto their own campus and see that broke my heart, because I can imagine they would’ve felt so out of place and so unsupported. But also it really inspired me. At the time, I didn’t see any established way to express these emotions in a constructive way on campus. So I realized clearly that so many other people needed a way to respond to this demonstration. So it began with my friend Gabby suggesting we put together a GoFundMe, and suddenly our donations had gone viral, and we’re starting a real movement on campus possibly.
HC: How did you come up with the idea for the Planned Parenthood fundraiser as the method of counter-protesting?
Claire: Gabby suggested we give the money to Planned Parenthood, which seems like the obvious counter to this demonstration. And I wanted to do a small demonstration as well, but the link went viral in the first 24 hours. We received over $2,500 and over 1,000 shares so we kind of realized we can make this a real organization and now we have goals as a full group beyond just the fundraising.
The reason why we chose Planned Parenthood is because the biggest misconception about being pro-choice is that it’s the same as pro-abortion. I don’t know anyone who’s pro-abortion. Agree or disagree on whether it’s necessary, no one wants one. So what Planned Parenthood does is eliminate the need for abortion, through education and access, provisions of contraceptives and healthcare. Eliminating the need is what actually needs to be done to solve the problem—not making it illegal because then back-alley abortions become prominent.
HC:Aside from the visual display you are planning on putting up, are there any other next plans for this new group?
Claire: We actually just titled it today. We are called Mustangs for Unity. We are going to begin the process of becoming an established organization on campus, but our main goal is to unite the campus. Abortion is such a complicated and personal topic. No one should ever feel shamed when they walk onto their own campus, and there should be a community that supports this. Regardless of your own opinions, you should be able to support your fellow Mustangs. We really want to increase the empathy on campus. My hope is that even if someone’s mind isn’t changed into being pro-choice, then maybe they’ll at least think about the emotional issues behind abortions and leave them with some sympathy.
There are so many clubs on our campus, like College Republicans, Mustangs for Life and various religious groups, but there are relatively few groups like ours. And what I found in creating this group is there are so many more like-minded people on this campus than I thought. There just hasn’t been a way for me personally to connect with these people. There are all these people who recognize a woman’s right to do what she wants with her own body. People who want to give a voice to the other stigmatized groups on campus stemming beyond just abortion rights. And people who will tolerate nothing less than the utmost respect for people different from themselves. And that’s a difficult thing to be respectful to people you completely disagree with—it’s something that I’m still working on, we're all still working on, but that’s what we’re going for. We don’t want to see a political movement, we want to see a movement of kindness.
HC: Have there been other demonstrations in the past against the display?
Claire: There were demonstrations last year. I believe it was a women's interest network that did it last year; I don't recall the details so I'm not going to comment on what they specifically did. But there have been other groups that countered it. The approach that they take, from at least my understanding, is a little different from the approach I want to take. Of course it’s a political issue, but I want to move and see it more in the broader sense of not just being about politics but about people and our campus.
HC: How has Mustangs for Life reacted to your fundraisers? Have they taken down their crosses?
Claire: The crosses are still up. I haven’t been contacted. I’ve seen Facebook comments on posts that are countering the fundraiser but that’s to be expected. I don’t know if they are Mustang for Life members. They’ve actually had to put increased security up around [the crosses] because it is such a polarizing display. They’ve had to bring in police to secure our campus because of it.
HC: What has the university done about the situation? Do you think the university has a responsibility to do something about Mustangs for Life’s display?
Claire: The university gave them permission to put this display up. They had to get a permit to post it. I think the university is more believing that they’re a group on campus, they have the right to demonstrate if they’d like. And what we’re hoping to show the university is that it is not about the issue of freedom of speech—We are in no means against their freedom of speech on campus, but at some point freedom of speech becomes a demonstration that, whether or not it’s intentional in shaming women for their choices, it goes beyond civil discourse.
It’s the heavy-handed way in which they put this demonstration out, and it leaves no empathy for women who have had abortions. You should understand it’s a hard and emotional choice for women. I don’t know if the university realizes this—I know there is outcry every year for this. I don’t know what their policies are with regards to what a student group can do on campus, but our goal is to make people see that there are right and wrong ways to go about your civil discourse.
HC: Congrats on your campaign is currently trending on GoFundMe! Did you expect the fundraiser to have such widespread attention?
Claire: Absolutely not. I had no idea what to expect, not even in my wildest dreams would I have imagined I would be interviewing with Her Campus right now. That was two days ago that we had this idea. My friend mentioned to me, "let’s try to raise a dollar for every cross they put out on the lawn," which is 2,500, and we thought, that’s a good starter goal. And we finished that 2,500 well before the 24-hour mark with over a 1,000 shares. I had no idea it’d go like this. I knew we’d get the money, but not like this.
HC: How have your friends and fellow students on campus reacted to the GoFundMe campaign? Has there been a lot of support or backlash?
Claire: From my personal friends, there’s been a lot of support. Even my friends who don’t support Planned Parenthood or are anti-choice, they still respect me as a person, my right to fundraise and desire to make social change. So I haven’t faced any backlash in my personal circle. I know there are people on campus who probably are not my biggest fans right now, but the people who are matter are totally cool with it and supportive. So far I haven’t seen much [backlash], I’ve been intentionally not reading the comments on people’s Facebook posts if I get any inclination that they will be unpleasant. I’m happy to talk to anybody on campus, but so far no one has expressed any specific anger.
HC: What kind of message do you hope the fundraiser and its success will send to students at SMU and across the nation?
Claire: I want to unite this campus. Abortion is a complicated and personal topic and no one should feel shamed when they walk onto their own campus. There should be a community of support. We should all learn how to see things from every side, and have civil discussion without leaving people feeling ostracized on their own campus.
HC: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Claire: I’m looking forward to the planning stages of our demonstration. I hope we can convey our message in a manner that is tasteful, and not leaving anyone feeling left unwelcome on this campus, including our anti-choice students.
This interview has been lightly condensed and edited.