Minutes after 10 pro-life protesters gathered in Kogan Plaza Monday, roughly 100 student counter-protesters assembled with improvised posters and chants.
A group of men from The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property gathered at the H Street entrance to Kogan at about 2 p.m. to hand out pro-life fliers and play music on bagpipes. Students protesting the advocates gathered a few minutes later shouting pro-choice phrases and demanding that the group leave campus.
The group of counter-protesters carried cardboard signs emblazoned with messages like “policing women’s bodies is a sin” and “my GW is pro-choice.” The students brought a large speaker to the protest that played songs like Beyoncé’s “Run the World (Girls)” and Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts.”
William Siebenmorgen, a protester affiliated with the pro-life group, said members of the organization came to GW to protest against same-sex marriage, abortion and socialism. He said GW is his “favorite stomping grounds” to protest because members of the community have engaged in “good” arguments. The group held a similar demonstration in February.
“We’re here to challenge the idea that abortion is a right,” he said. “To let them know that there are other opinions that are not based on emotion. It’s based on scientific evidence.”
Two members of the group declined to comment, deferring to Siebenmorgen.
Student counter-protesters said they got involved after hearing about the original protest from friends and wanted to show their support for abortion rights.
Quintin Schraff, a freshman who participated in the counterprotest, said she stepped into the protest after she noticed students gather and create makeshift signs with pro-choice messaging.
“It was really small at first, and people started passing out these signs that say ‘If it’s not your body, it’s not your decision,’ and people started just making more posters and playing music and it escalated from there,” she said.
Freshman Runjni Shastri said she assembled with the counterprotesters after receiving a text from her roommate about the pro-life protest.
Shastri said she disagreed with the pro-life protesters’ statements claiming abortion is a sin, adding that “God loves everyone.”
“This is my right to my body as a human right,” Shastri said. “I’m not standing here and letting these men tell me what I can and cannot do with my body.”
Freshman Julia Danett said she joined the counterprotest after her friend called her to tell her about the pro-life gathering.
“I’m pro-choice,” she said. “I think they came to the wrong campus. I think they’re speaking a destructive message in the wrong place.”
Student Association President SJ Matthews, who stood with the student counter-protesters, declined to comment.
As counter-protesters surrounded the pro-life group’s white van parked in front of the Media and Public Affairs building, the group departed at approximately 3:30 p.m.
Cissy Petty, the vice president of student affairs and dean of students, arrived at Kogan Plaza shortly after the protest began and spoke with student leaders and law enforcement. She emphasized students’ right to protest and added that she was there “to keep the peace” and ensure the safety of students.
University spokeswoman Crystal Nosal said 11 GW Police Department officers were dispatched to the scene at about 1:45 p.m. to maintain distance between the two groups.
Metropolitan Police Department officers also appeared on the scene. An MPD spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment.
“A total of 11 officers were dispatched through the length of the protest,” Nosal said. “Officers stood between the two groups until the original group left the area.”
Members of the student organization Queer Radicals, a “trans-centered community of queer students,” released a statement after the protest condemning the actions of GWPD officers during the protest, including the “aggressive actions” they took during the protest – like allegedly pushing a female student off of a crosswalk – and their failure to remove a nuisance from campus.
The statement also criticized one officer for taking a sealed envelope from a pro-life protester that read “To our dear police, thank you!” according to a video taken by a counter-protester that was obtained by The Hatchet.
Nosal said the card’s front read “Saint Michael, pray for me!” inside of the envelope.
Lauren Sforza contributed reporting.