First they had to enter through a side door. Then they had to pass through three security checkpoints.
Eventually, though, senior Gabby Resnick and Madison Bowen (‘18) made it to the White House’s East Wing to watch President Donald Trump sign an executive order meant to promote free speech on college campuses.
The executive order, signed March 21, directs 12 agencies that provide federal grants to colleges and universities to ensure the institutions follow the First Amendment right to free speech. If an institution fails to comply to free speech laws and policies, it can have federal funding, excluding student aid, revoked.
Public universities already must comply with the First Amendment. The order does not indicate who or what determines free speech, nor does it specify exact financial penalties.
Bowen and Resnick watched the order’s signing with over 100 other college students, many of whom represented conservative-leaning student organizations. Albion’s two representatives make up the executive board of Protect Life at Albion College, an anti-abortion group formed in the fall of 2018.
The opportunity, Resnick said, was provided in large part to the Leadership Institute, a conservative think tank that helped them get speakers and resources on campus.
Resnick said Protect Life at Albion College’s main goal is to educate students on abortion and to provide resources and support services to students on pregnancy-related choices.
“We fought with Student Health Services closing,” said Resnick. “There’s not free resources if anyone was to have a pregnancy test or be referred to health services for women’s pregnancy resources.”
The organization caught the attention of the campus community by hosting anti-abortion speakers and by finding itself in a conflict over free speech.
During the fall semester, the group chalked anti-abortion messages on the campus quad. Unidentified individuals scribbled over the anti-abortion chalkings overnight and chalked pro-abortion messages near the scribbles. The event led to debates over social media from students both pro- and anti-abortion.
Resnick said that Albion administration did little to protect their right to free speech, while protecting the free speech of others. She used the example of a 2017 instance where the campus rock, displaying wordage supporting undocumented immigrants, was sprayed over with pro-Trump wordage. The college supported the pro-immigrant students’ right to free speech. The College, she said, never denounced Protect Life’s scribbling incident.
“The administration sent out [over email] that vandalism would not be tolerated, but that wasn’t done for us,” she said.
Albion College made FIRE’s Worst Colleges for Free Speech list, after a student whose inciting language in a shared Google Document led to an anti-racism demonstration had his judicial hearing on the incident continually postponed. FIRE is a far-right advocacy group focused on college students’ First Amendment rights.
The organization’s startup, its success in hosting events and its run-in with issues of free speech granted Bowen and Resnick an invitation to the White House.
Bowen and Resnick met Secretary of Education Betsy Devos and Kristan Hawkins, president of Student for Life of America, a group that seeks to “abolish” abortion, per its website.
“It was like the most awesome experience,” she said.