On Tuesday, Oct. 1, Students for Life hosted Dr. Alveda King for a lecture on campus. King is the niece of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is a former Georgia State Legislator, minister and anti-abortion civil rights activist.
Marketing materials for the event stated that she would be speaking about continuing King’s legacy and civil rights activism. During King’s talk, she spoke mostly about her own abortions and resulting spiritual journey that has led her to advocate against abortion for the last few decades.
“I believe in women’s rights, but you know many of those little babies in the womb are women,” King said to an audience of over 100 attendees, which included both students and older folks. “So you have to ask this question. A woman has the right to choose what she does with her body, but the baby’s not her body. So you have to ask next, where’s the lawyer for the baby?”
Students for Life, a registered student organization, is an anti-abortion group that is “dedicated to the promotion of the culture of life at Georgia Tech, [and believes] life is valuable and should be protected from conception until natural death with the utmost dignity,” according to the group description on Engage. The organization had fallen inactive for a time but recently became active again. It is lead by fourth-year CS Brian Cochran.
Cochran represented Students for Life at the Sept. 17 meeting of the Undergraduate House of Representatives (UHR) at which the organization submitted a bill to fund the Alveda King event. Students for Life requested a total of $2346.16 from SGA to cover the cost of paying King to speak, as well as various publicity materials. The minutes provided by UHR detail a debate concerned about free speech and feelings of safety on campus.
“Dr. King is a known homophobe who has previously said things that can negatively affect the community, and we can’t censor her talk,” said Saif Kabariti, fourth-year ME and representative for international students. “I also don’t think it’s a good message to the community to say that we’re funding a speaker and that we stand behind what she says. I oppose this bill.”
Kabariti was likely referring to King’s comments at a 2010 rally for the anti-LGBT group National Organization for Marriage, where she said “It is statistically proven that the strongest institution that guarantees procreation and continuity of the generations is marriage between one man and one woman. I don’t know about you, but I’m not ready to be extinct and none of us wants to be. So we don’t want genocide, we don’t want to destroy the sacred institution of marriage.”
Several representatives felt an obligation to provide an opportunity for King to speak, even if they disagreed with her opinions, stating concerns on the precedent that their decision would set.
“I think there are many different ideals held by student orgs, and if there’s interest in hearing her speak, I think we should provide it to them. No one is being forced to attend this,” said Lauren Bohling, fourth-year MGT and representative for the College of Business.
Both the graduate and undergraduate student governments eventually decided to reject the bill. According to JacketPages, the bill failed 24 to 4 in UHR.
The bill was delayed a week in Graduate State Senate (GSS). Cochran returned to GSS the following week on Sept. 24. He stated that King had agreed to refrain from speaking religiously, and that Students for Life had a contract regarding speaking topics.
GSS representatives considered waiting to hear the contents of the speech and perhaps retroactively funding it, but they were concerned about the precedent this would create. The bill failed 15 to 6 in GSS with 5 representatives abstaining.
Students for Life received financial support from the Georgia Tech Parent Fund and with this money went forward to host the event.
“I am disappointed the SGA did not mimic the enthusiasm we felt from students for our event,” said Cochran. “We will be appealing the decision of the SGA and expressing our concerns for free speech on our campus.”
After King was finished speaking, Cochran selected from audience-submitted questions — specifically, questions that included asking King for advice on how to get involved with her work or how to broach topics she discussed with their peers.
The event concluded with a few words from Cochran, who encouraged the audience to talk to him if they want to get involved in the activities of Students for Life.