By Caroline Hecker
ST. LOUIS (KMOV) — Saint Louis University officials are investigating after a conservative student group on campus said it caught students defacing its anti-abortion display on Monday.
According to the SLU chapter of Students For Life, the display consists of several hundred small flags in the shape of a cross, with each flag representing a number of lives lost to abortion across the United States last year. It was approved by the university and set up on Monday morning. Students within the group said shortly thereafter, other students began defacing it.
“Within a few hours of it going up, we walked by and someone had torn down the signs we had up alongside it,” said Isabelle Hotard, President of Students For Life at SLU.
Later in the day, another group member said he discovered two female students tearing the flags out of the ground and stomping on the display, of which he captured on cell phone video.
“You’re a little b****, that’s why you put this up and you have no right to have an opinion,” one of the women can be heard saying.
Then Monday night, Hotard said she was walking by the display and saw another group of students tearing flags out of the ground. As she was filming on her phone, she asked the group to leave the flags on the ground as she was planning to remove the display overnight.
“We put it back up this morning,” she said. “I just didn’t want any additional problems over the night.”
Hotard said the display is an annual event, usually held in October, but was delayed this year by a few weeks. She said she knew the display would likely be messed with, but said she didn’t anticipate how “brazen” it would be.
“I was very surprised how emboldened people are to trample on other people’s stuff and they truly seem to think we’re in the wrong 100 percent and we’re doing something that hurts other people, and it’s kind of heartbreaking to see people believe that about us, because that’s not what we’re trying to do at all.”
On Tuesday afternoon, a crowd grew in front of the display, divided evenly between abortion-rights advocates and anti-abortion supporters. The majority of conversations were civil, according to Hotard, something she said her group encourages.
“We want people to come out and talk to us and have a peaceful discussion,” she said.
One of those students was sophomore Ellen Resek. A self-described independent, she said while she is favors abortion rights, she also supports free speech.
“If that’s what they want to do (create a display) that’s great,” she said. “I saw some people tear it down yesterday and I thought that was really unfortunate, even though I agreed with what they were saying.”
She said her goal was to bring both sides together for a civil, but lively discussion.
“If you’re not allowing people to speak, then you’re never going to change their mind,” she said. “You have to listen to what they have to say to be able to come to a discussion and have discourse about it.”
Other abortion rights supporters said their growing presence at the display was only fair in getting their message across.
“Me and my friend came up and put one of these sign over here and it was taken down in like three minutes,” said freshman Anna Maris. “So I came over and decided to physically be the sign that way it wouldn’t be taken down and people started showing up.”
Maris said her group did not want to be silenced and is fearful for students who have had an abortion that walk by the display.
“What we’re doing is exactly what they’re doing, which is getting our opinion heard,” she said.
Lucy Gonzales is the Students For Life Regional Coordinator for Missouri and Arkansas. A SLU alum herself, she said the student group is used to these kinds of incidents.
“Something happened every year I was in school here with this display,” she said. “This group is used to the harassment.”
In 2017, more than 100 wooden crosses were stolen from campus as part of a similar display. The university’s president sent out a letter at the time condemning the theft.
Gonzales wants to see more done.
“I think Catholic universities and Christian universities…we should really be holding them to those pro-life values that they tout in their mission statements,” she said.
SLU officials released this statement to News 4:
“On Monday afternoon, Saint Louis University’s Office of Student Responsibility and Community Standards was made aware of possible violations of the University’s Community Standards involving a student organization’s approved campus display. The Office is conducting an investigation of the report.
The University takes seriously any alleged violation of our Community Standards, and has policies and processes in place to address concerns when they are reported.”
Please note: This content carries a strict local market embargo. If you share the same market as the contributor of this article, you may not use it on any platform.