“I no longer feel safe walking around campus,” says Pro-Life leader about Viterbo University, located in Wisconsin, as a nun vows to restrict pro-life activity.
School administrators have allowed a hostile environment to take place at Viterbo University – that is – if you’re pro-life. A nursing student’s pro-life efforts on campus have been met with dozens of cyber bullying messages and threatening comments as she goes about daily activities on campus.
The efforts of her peers and faculty, including a nun, have tried to silence her pro-life group as the nun and faculty work to make her campus events near impossible.
Danielle Smits, President of V-Hawks for Life at Viterbo University, had paved the way for pro-life advocacy on her campus until the school administration caused her work to come to a screeching halt. After tabling with Students for Life of America (SFLA) Regional Coordinator Matt Murphy for a “No Woman Stands Alone in a Post-Roe America” event, the Franciscan Catholic university placed restrictions on the group as students harassed the pro-life members.
Here’s why Smits is asking her club to be treated equally as other peer led organizations on campus and how the harassment has made her no longer feel safe:
In early May, V-Hawks for Life were informed that the group would have to go through additional levels of approval for tabling events – a warning notice that no other student organization had been given. The next day they were informed that the SFLA Regional Coordinator was no longer allowed on campus. The reason for this sudden policy? Smits and Murphy tabled on campus to share why no woman stands alone in a post-Roe America.
Smits was very excited for this tabling event because she indicated that there was no better time to talk about the resources in place for women than this very moment, when Roe was finally reversed, and she could share life-affirming resources to her peers.
Together, the pro-life group stood as a united front but were met with screaming, belittling comments, and insulting names by Viterbo students and faculty. When their table wrapped up for the day, the group took a photo and exchanged numbers to stay in touch.
The comments of the three staff present sought to place shame on pro-lifers for spreading “misinformation” to students and “sparking division within the campus community.”
Smits was grateful for SFLA’s support on campus and said, “I thanked them all profusely for tabling with me because for the first time, I felt supported as a pro-life student on Viterbo’s campus even if it wasn’t by anyone from the university itself.”
After Smits posted the group photo on the club Instagram page with a caption about how great it was to have compassionate conversations about abortion with the campus community, the comment section started blowing up with hateful and demeaning messages by Viterbo students.
Not only was the post receiving hate, but the direct messages to the club’s Instagram account were filling up. Since people on campus knew Smits was leading the club, she said that many people with her personal cell phone number started texting her.
In the midst of studying for her final nursing exams and leading her pro-life group, Smits was distraught over the virtual harassment she was facing. Smits had the support of some great friends, and she began to fill out official hate/bias reports for the comments, texts, and interactions she had experienced on campus.
Smits returned to studying as she worked to fill out the lengthy hate/bias reports. She constantly looked for ways to get off campus to avoid more profane screaming from dorm windows and anonymous notes that wished for her to be sexually assaulted and impregnated.
Leaving the university after completing final exams, it was her understanding that she would be updated on the progression as the hate/bias reports. Since May, she has heard of no action taken by the school administration. Instead, Smits’ club received more restrictions making it even harder to table on campus.
“I no longer feel safe walking around campus,” she told SFLA.
The university shared that there is a new “no visitor” policy, but this new policy was directly in response to the pro-life group’s tabling display. While this new policy applies to all Viterbo clubs and organizations, it will greatly affect how the pro-life club functions on campus.
On August 22, Sister Laura Nettles, Executive Director for Mission and Social Justice, said publicly that she was “placing restrictions on the pro-life club.” An audience member asked Sister Nettles during the meeting why a “pro-choice” club was not allowed to form on campus to which the faculty member said they could under a name such as “Reproductive Rights Club.” While assuring the audience that a pro-life club was being restricted and would not allow future displays from them, she said “pro-choice” is a trigger word for the Catholic church.
According to the student handbook, Viterbo “commits to creating an inclusive environment where persons of all faiths and no faith are welcomed.” Smits sought out her education at Viterbo because she knew the statistics of young adults losing their faith when they leave for college, and she wanted “a community to build me up as a Catholic woman as I made the transition into adulthood and independence for the first time in my life.”
Leading a pro-life group has caused Smits great challenges and she said, “I have found myself struggling to ever find true rest on Viterbo’s campus, never knowing what would be said next in contradiction to my faith or my belief that abortion is morally wrong.”
The university has attempted to block Smits’ pro-life advocacy on campus and remove her support by stopping SFLA’s Regional Coordinator from visiting campus. Smits said, “My Regional Coordinator cannot do apologetics training for our club members, and he cannot be the active support system I very much crave and deserve to have as a student leader. I supposedly have the support of campus to continue this club, but I can no longer actively utilize the resource of my Regional Coordinator that has been giving me strength to keep fighting for the unborn.”
The nursing student continues to study and work to bring a positive, pro-life message to campus. Smits has sent a letter to her school administration with the help of SFLA and continues to urge the faculty to treat pro-life groups fairly. In a post-Roe America, sharing life-affirming resources should never lead to such harassment and hate by students – we’re proud of the Pro-Life Generation for standing up and speaking out!
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