Right to Life Club faces persistent problem of disappearing posters

Throughout the 2021-2022 academic year, Notre Dame Right to Life (NDRTL) has experienced increased rates of missing posters. The club began tracking the disappearance of posters when the NDRTL executive board received reports from multiple club members that posters hung in dorms advertising the March for Life went missing.

Right to Life President Francie Shaft explained, “We print posters for most of our large events, and we have dorm reps who are tasked with putting them up in the public dorm poster space. Posters had been stolen before, but we hadn’t really kept track of it. But then, when we started putting posters out for the March for Life, there were multiple reports from our dorm reps that posters were being taken down. They would put a poster up one day, and the next day it would be gone.”

The club’s first response was to give dorm reps additional posters to hang on the bulletin boards for club posters within their residence halls. However, posters continued to disappear.

“It’s kind of soul-crushing after a while,” she said.

NDRTL’s dorm representative to Lewis Hall told the Rover, “I noticed posters disappearing, as well as posters being thrown on the floor and being ripped up with the scraps repinned to the [public] bulletin boards.”

The dorm representative reported this to a Lewis Hall residential assistant, who declined to comment to the Rover. The rector of Lewis also declined to comment to the Rover. [Note: The Lewis Hall dorm representative requested that her name remain unaffiliated with this article.]

According to Caeli Jojola, Director of Dorm Outreach for NDRTL, dorm representatives in Flaherty, Breen-Phillips, Walsh, and Keough also reported disappearing March for Life posters. When Jojola reached out to rectors, she was encouraged to give the dorm representatives more posters to hang.

“Basically, a lot of [rectors] just didn’t seem to care,” Jojola told the Rover.

When posters disappeared in Breen-Phillips, where Jojola lives, she emailed her rector. “She apologized and said that I could hang up more, and so I did. She said she would email the dorm, but she never did. And that was the end of it,” Jojola said.

Jojola’s rector did not respond to request for comment.

Jojola expressed her frustration at the lack of concrete action by rectors. “It’s expensive to print posters, but the rectors are saying, ‘Oh, just hang more up.’ When all the posters were taken down in academic buildings and in the dorms, Francie had to order about 80 more posters for us to rehang them,” she said.

At the end of the fall 2021 semester, following reports from multiple club members that posters advertising the March for Life were missing, Shaft contacted Erin Riordan, the Assistant Director for Student Involvement in the Student Activities Office (SAO), to report her concerns about the persistent problem of missing posters.

“[Riordan] said she was really sorry that this was happening, and then she copied someone on the email who never got back to me. This was very near the end of the semester, so it was difficult timing, too, because how are you supposed to address this when you’re about to go on break? But she never followed up.” Shaft said she has not yet reported the problems from this semester, but she plans to do so now that the planning-intensive Day for Life is behind her.

Riordan did not respond to the Rover’s request for comment.

While club members noticed that a large number of March for Life posters disappeared, they have also noticed the disappearance of posters for other events, including the Day for Life.

On January 15, Shaft put up a poster advertising the upcoming Day for Life events in the entrance to the LaFortune Student Center. On January 16, Shaft noticed the poster was missing. She found the on-duty student building manager to ask if she had accidentally hung the poster without proper approval.

“I asked, ‘I have this poster—do I need to go through you [to hang it]? Campus Ministry is sponsoring.’ The student building manager told me, ‘No, you just need to put it out.’ I wanted to see the best in the fact that maybe I just wasn’t following protocol, but I was [following protocol],” Shaft explained. [Note: Posters for events with Campus Ministry sponsorship and approval can be hung without SAO approval.]

Casey St. Aubin, Assistant Director of LaFortune Student Center, explained to the Rover: “The areas for hanging posters are not securely locked. They aren’t monitored to make sure no one takes or tears down posters. Obviously, we continually monitor what is being posted to make sure that what’s being hung is approved, but there is always the potential that something could be taken down without our knowledge.”

After the Day for Life on January 21, pro-life posters on Shaft’s dorm room door were stolen and vandalized. “My door is decorated with Right to Life posters,” she explained. “And I had just put up the night before one of the posters that you hold up at the march. It said, ‘We are the Fighting Irish, and we reject abortion.’ It was right below one that said, ‘Pro-life is Pro-Woman.’”

On the morning of January 23, Shaft found that one poster was missing, while the other poster was left on the door and ripped in half.

“I was upset and really shaken, actually, because [the dorm] is where you live and where you spend all of your time. I had no idea who did this, and so I put it immediately in the dorm group chat because I wanted to give whoever did this a chance to just talk to me. That’s been a mission for my role [as president] and for Right to Life: to have constructive dialogue [instead of] tearing people’s posters down and stealing them,” Shaft explained.

Shaft did not receive a response to her invitation to talk. She emailed her rector and reported the incident through Speak Up, the university site for reporting incidents of bias, discrimination, and/or harassment to the Office of Community Standards (OCS). Speak Up directed Shaft to talk with her rector about the incident.

Shaft met with her rector on January 30 to discuss the incident, and she later told the Rover that she felt reassured of the commitment to dialogue in the dorm. “Rectors and hall staff want to create a culture where all students can be open and honest about their opinions and beliefs. My rector is addressing the issue tangibly and is very open to promoting overall dialogue on difficult topics in the dorm,” Shaft said.

Shaft’s rector did not respond to the Rover’s request for comment.

Shaft recognized the possibility that her door may have been accidentally vandalized by an intoxicated student or that the poster may have been stolen by someone from outside of her dorm. However, the persistent hostility she has seen towards Right to Life leads her to believe that the vandalism was intentional.

“The difficult part is having all of these experiences with people taking down posters, with seeing what people say about your group online, with people actively making barfing faces at you when you’re tabling for an event. That sort of hostility points to conclusions. They didn’t choose just any poster. They didn’t choose the wealth of posters on the wall by the water fountain. They chose to rip one of my posters in half and steal another,” Shaft told the Rover.

This is not the first time that NDRTL has experienced the theft of their promotional materials. In October 2016, the club’s large wooden sign displaying the Pope John Paul II quote “You are irreplaceable, unrepeatable and unique” was stolen at night from the club’s Rose Garden on South Quad.

While investigating this piece, the Rover asked for comment from PrismND and the Gender Relations Center (GRC) to determine if other organizations that hang posters related to disputed political and social topics face similar problems with missing posters. Neither PrismND nor the GRC responded to the request for comment.

The Rover also contacted every residence hall rector to inquire whether rectors had received reports of missing posters related to disputed political and social topics. Two of 32 rectors responded to the Rover’s request for comment, and both respondents said that they had not received reports of this nature.

Dennis Brown, Assistant Vice President for News and Media Relations, provided comment. He told the Rover: “As we have made clear over many years, the destruction or defacement of property of any kind is unacceptable on this campus. Whenever the university’s police department is made aware of such incidents, it investigates based upon available evidence. Anyone with information in this regard is encouraged to contact NDPD.”

Mary Frances Myler is a senior in the Program of Liberal Studies with minors in theology and constitutional studies. She is happiest when sailing on Lake Michigan, browsing a second-hand bookstore, or exploring a national park. Suggest a destination for her next road trip to mmyler@nd.edu.

Photo credit: Notre Dame Right to Life and Saints for Life