Thursday, March 22, 2012

Why the hell did that woman take her clothes off on campus?!



photo credit: Jade Su

“Censor your body and you censor breath and speech at the same time.” – Helene Cixous



On Thursday, March 8 -- International Women's Day, it so happened -- I took off all my clothes and sat naked in the plaza in front of the UBC students’ union building. I did so as a counter to the large signs erected by the Genocide Awareness Project, an anti-abortion group which comes to the campus once a year to “graphically expose the injustice of abortion” (according to their website). The following is an explanation of why I did it, and also a discussion of how the University of British Columbia responded. I hope it will prompt people to think about free speech, our right to protest against things we find abhorrent, and what role the university plays in restricting or allowing protest.



As someone who supports women’s universal access to free, safe abortions, I fundamentally disagree with the anti-abortionists’ message. That said, I respect their right to hold their opinion as long as they don’t infringe on anyone’s right to access a free, safe abortion. However, I object to the Genocide Awareness Project’s particular message, which is that abortion is genocide.


The group conveys this message via large (about two-metre-high) banners displaying photos of the Holocaust, Pol Pot’s massacre of the Cambodian people, lynchings of African Americans, the massacre of the Lakota Indians at Wounded Knee, and the destruction of the Twin Towers. Next to each of these representations of organized, ideologically driven mass murder, is an image of an aborted fetus. (you can see an example here: http://www.abortionno.org/index.php/gap_signs/image_full/91/) The message, as the Genocide Awareness project states on their website, is that abortion is analogous to historically recognized forms of genocide.


But what they are really saying with these images is much more nuanced than that. They are saying that a woman who chooses to terminate her pregnancy is akin to Nazis, terrorists, Klu Klux Klan members and the Santebal – all groups which set out to systematically destroy or enslave entire groups of people out of a sense of God-given superiority. And it is not just a woman who actually has an abortion who is labelled as – at the very least – a cog in a genocide machine. The implication is that anyone who supports a woman’s right to choose is also participating in mass, organized murder, and that the very act of supporting the right to choose is violent and inherently evil.


But this was not the first reaction I had to the Genocide Awareness Project’s display last Thursday. Walking as I was from my Indigenous Literature course, I had issues of exploitation and trivialization on my mind. People of colour, dispossessed Indigenous peoples, and religious, racial and cultural minorities all face regular and concerted efforts to strip their experiences of meaning. Their traditions are outlawed and derided; their place in history is erased or disregarded; and very often, their stories are co-opted in order to first dismiss their experiences as illegitimate and invaluable, and then assimilate those who have survived extermination attempts into the reigning culture. With this is mind, my first thought was: “I wish I were Jewish, or Lakota, or Cambodian so I could tell those people how deeply disrespectful and ignorant their posters are.”


Imagine that! My first thought was that I, as a woman, did not have a legitimate grievance against images which equate my right to choose with enthusiastic membership in the Nazi party.


I became increasingly frustrated as I stood amongst a group of protesters holding signs that read “This is not free speech, this is hate speech” and “Is masturbation genocide?” because I didn’t feel that waving a sign and shouting was an articulate enough way to respond to this very carefully crafted anti-abortion message (which is not to say that I didn’t shout and wave a sign). Many of the people I spoke to said they wished they could knock over the signs or unplug the PA system the Genocide Awareness Project people had set up, but every one of them also said they were afraid of getting trouble and remained where they were. I agreed that kicking over a university-sanctioned display was probably going to result in some repercussions, but I was deeply troubled by the fact that people were so afraid of … what? Getting kicked out of university? Being stripped of their scholarships? There seemed to be a feeling that stepping outside of the zone reserved for protest would have disastrous results, and no one seemed willing to test the rules. It made me sad, but it also got me thinking.


I thought about what it is I wanted to say to the people gathered around this display, and this is what I came up with: I am an exceptionally privileged person. My freedom to exercise control over my own body without shame or fear is a freedom I want all people to have because only when all people are free from oppression and shame will we live in a universally peaceful and egalitarian society. That is what I want for the world, and I recognize that as soon as I take my freedom for granted I make it more difficult for someone else to achieve freedom. Freedom (and I realize I’m starting to sound like a certain American president here, so I’ll just take a moment to say that George W. Bush is a war criminal) is beautiful. My body is where I exercise and appreciate my freedom on a daily basis, and I reject outright the assertion that by supporting the right to free, safe abortions, I am turning it into a tool of mass murder.


So I took off all my clothes and sat in front of the display until it was taken down (not because I was sitting there, I assume, but because it was the end of their day).


I will admit that I didn’t analyse the message of my nakedness for very long before I was stepping out of my clothes, but as I sat there naked in the afternoon sun (the clouds cleared just as I sat down – Thanks, universe!) I had a chance to ruminate on what the naked female form means in our society, and its effectiveness as a way to expose oppression and shame-based control. But this note is getting long, so I will leave that for another day.


It didn’t take long for campus security to arrive and ask me to “cover up.” I asked why, and was told that I was “indecent.” I found this particularly ironic, seeing as I was sitting in front of a six-foot-high image of naked bodies piled in a mass grave, but the security guard was adamant. I refused to give him my name, lied and said that I didn’t have any ID on me and told him I was not a UBC student. I did this because I was irrationally scared of the same things the people who restrained themselves from kicking over the display were scared of. The security guard said he would call the police and I said “Fine.” That was the end of our discussion. At that point, I put my underwear on, which I really wished I hadn’t done, but as I said, I was scared, and the thought of being arrested with a bare bum was simply too much. As I learned from talking to the RCMP officer who works the UBC/Wreck Beach beat (he arrived after the signs were down and I’d put my clothes back on), protesters don’t usually get arrested for being naked, they’re just asked to please put their clothes on – which seems very civilized and makes me happy to be a Canadian. However, that same conversation opened up a whole discussion about the legality of public nudity, including women being topless, which I regrettably have to skip over (for now).


A few days later, I got an email from Chad Hyson, executive co-ordinator at the office of the vice-president, students, telling me that I was accused of student misconduct and asking me to come to his office.


I will post the recording of our interview in the next day or two.


Here is a summary:


Chad told me there were three options: a hearing before the president and a council, a reparation plan or a letter of warning. You will notice that none of the options is a decision that I did not in fact misconduct myself. In other words, I was presumed to be guilty. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that all people are assumed innocent until proven guilty, so right off the bat, UBC is not conducting itself very well. Furthermore, Hyson had no evidence that I had misconducted myself, only an allegation. Now granted, I admitted to taking my clothes off, but as you will hear if you listen to the recording that is not what the allegation of misconduct is – I was alleged to have disturbed the GAP display.


If you take a look at some of the photos my camera-happy classmates took that afternoon, you will see that I am not blocking the display from view, I am not touching their banners, I am not within their marked territory, and there is no sign or barrier to indicate that the place I am sitting is off-limits. In addition to any physical evidence that would prove a disruption, at no point did any member of GAP ask me to leave. Nor did they complain to the university after the fact.


And this is the kicker – the university has translated the campus security guard’s allegation that I “disrobed in the plaza…” into an allegation that I disrupted the GAP display. In other words, UBC is laying charges on behalf of a “victim” who never even made a complaint. I expected that there would be repercussions to my actions that day, but I never suspected the university would come to the defence of a highly controversial anti-abortion group WHICH DIDN’T EVEN ASK TO BE DEFENDED (I try not to descend into all caps, but seriously, this is too much).


So what now? Hyson is writing up a letter of warning which will be put on my file. I am writing a letter detailing the assumption of guilt, the lack of evidence and the specious charge of disruption. Done and done.


But here’s the thing, this is not about me. This is about a) our university quashing people’s right to peaceful protest, while at the same time supporting a group which time and time again has been asked to stop coming to campus because its message is deeply offensive and hateful, and b) women’s reproductive rights, which are not as secure as we might think. As I write this, Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth is trying to have fetuses declared people, which would be an enormous step toward making abortions illegal.


Read more here:


http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/03/13/tory-backbencher-wins-bid-for-abortion-related-debate-in-house-of-commons/


If you think it’s inappropriate for the university to be taking up the cause of protecting GAP from non-violent protest WHICH IT DIDN’T EVEN COMPLAIN ABOUT, then you should write a letter to UBC president Stephen Toope (stephen.toope@ubc.ca) and also to Chad Hyson (chad.hyson@ubc.ca) saying as much. If you think Woodworth’s proposal should be turned down by the committee hearing it, write to your MP, or stage a protest of your own.


As a UBC student, you have an enormous amount of protection in the form of your fellow students and professors. I have been overwhelmed by the number of people who have said they would support me in any way they can should the university try to take more aggressive action against me. The university can expel you for plagiarism, but they can’t kick you out for expressing your opinion – in fact, that’s what we’re supposed to be learning how to do. Do not be afraid to speak up when you see something that offends your humanity. Don’t let the threat of campus security or the police stop you from speaking truth to power, or the fear of breaking with social norms stop you from standing up for what you believe in.


Oh yes, and ride a bike, it’s good for you. Do it naked if you have to.



Peace,


Justine Davidson








89 comments:

  1. In regards to the issue of "pornography," why is content considered only "obscene" if it pertains in any way to sex? What those (*insert adjective of severe defilement here*) GAP activists were portraying was was absolutely obscene. Is Chad Hyson suggesting that more people were offended by seeing a partially naked (living) woman, than images documenting multitudes of destroyed corpses? If Hyson has lofty puritanical beliefs that's fine, but he should not be allowed to integrate such views into the University. I'm writing him a scathing letter right now!

    Your Pal,
    Simón

    P.S. An idea for the next demonstration: a horde of nude cyclists storming the campus? Like the Undy Run, minus the undies... and the run? (...and adding bikes...)

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    1. My query: How is that "nude" automatically equals "sexual" or "pornographic"? That is a disturbing idea as it relates to children, the elderly (shudder, lol, no offense intended to the wrinkly bums), mentally challenged or physically incapacitated individuals, etc. etc. Ask any hungry baby and they will tell you, in gerberspeak, that Mommy's naked breasts simply look like lunch.

      I do agree that obscene is obscene, and the description of the images used by GAP activists are what I consider obscene. But perception is perception, and even tasteful, decidedly non-porno erotic images (a.k.a. sexy art) are perceived as obscene and pornographic by some.

      All 'round, Justine's protest is one of the most inspirational displays of courage I've seen in a while. Thanks!!

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  2. Emailed! What an absurd situation. I have many pals who are UBC alum, and every single one of them complains and still talks about the horrible anti-abortion group... And yet UBC continues to allow them to take up space. So disappointing. Hopefully the higher ups listen to everyone's feedback!

    And naked bike rides are already a hit in Van - there's a pretty serious massive naked bike ride through downtown every year to make a statement about traffic issues and bike lanes... Maybe the ride could extend to campus:)
    Emily Farrell

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  3. Emailed and posted/shared through every medium I know.

    In support,
    Caylin Glazier

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  4. Way to go, Justine. That was an amazing act of courage, to speak up there and then, in a powerful and peaceful way. C'mon, UBC, it's not too late to do the right thing and drop the charge (for lack of a better word) of student misconduct.

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  5. if someone wrote up a petition i and I'm sure many others would gladly sign it...

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  6. You are a refreshing individual who i deeply admire! THANK You for stepping up and taking a stand!

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  7. I would just like to say thank you Justine, from the bottom of my heart, you have my full support.

    Robyn Brown

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  8. I like that you did this. I relate to it. Thank you. Love.

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  9. You have guts woman!! We had these annoying individuals (GAP) at our own campus not long ago, thankfully I avoid most student public areas and was therefore not around to troll them, otherwise I would have. Although the thought of getting naked for it never crossed my mind, so you are far braver!! Well done!

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  10. What about a naked protest in front of Chad Hyson's office?

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  11. What a brave (and eloquent) post. I hope this goes viral for you.

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  12. Justine. I am 100% prepared to seek out support on your behalf, in whatever manner that you think appropriate and that I can provide. I can seek out people who may be able to provide legal assistance on the campus, and institutional support, like the Feminist Legal Center, Critical Studies in Sexuality or Women's and Gender Studies. Contact me anytime: mary dot bryson at ubc dot ca
    I have asked my colleague barbara findly about who might be best to provide advice in this scenario amongst the many talented legal folks in town. Take good care. Mary K. Bryson, Professor, UBC

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  13. Thank you, Justine, for your courage, insightful, and passion...

    This is AWESOME!

    One caution---altho i write from a distance and do not have a good feel for the intensity of ridiculousness / hurtfulness of the GAP stance/demonstrations/tactics, I would think that the univ banning them from demonstrating would stifle important public debate on the issues you've outlined so well?

    respectfully,
    Chad B
    Whitehorse, YT

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    1. Hi Chad,
      My goal is not to have GAP banned from campus -- but I do not think it is appropriate for the university to be sticking up for the group when it hasn't even complained of any "disruption".
      What I would like to see is UBC applying the same standards to my demostration as to theirs. If they can show the naked bodies of murdered Cambodians as a way to express their idea that abortion is genocide, then I should be able to show my naked body as a way to express my belief that a woman's right to physical and moral autonomy is completely non-threatening.
      See you in the Yukon!
      Justine

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  14. Thank you for your courage, Justine! You are a reproductive rights hero. I also want to offer my support from here in Toronto - if there's anything I can do, let me know!

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  15. Thanks so much for your courageous and inspiring action Justine. WOW!! :-) Is there anything else that we can do to support you besides asking folks to email Toope and Hyson? (I'm with the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada)

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    1. Organize a naked women's counter-protest! Seriously! So many women have told me they would do this.

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  16. It is genocide when babies in the millions are aborted simply because the logical connection between sex,conception and responsibility for another life is terminated due to current social consciousness. Every time I see women advocating to kill babies it makes me cringe. We are given a womb in the faint hope that as a gender trait we will nurture the life within us. When nurturing our womanhood is twisted into the right to kill simply because it is our womb; I see the evil that killed those weaker and more vulnerable in Nazi Germany, in action again. Your naked body is yours, I don't care that you put it on display. If you had gone out there and helped a another young woman clothe and feed herself and her baby as pro-life groups do,that would impress me.

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    1. Can I ask you, do you think there's some reasonable limit to what constitutes 'life', and thus 'terminating life'? For example, the cells on our hands that go down the drain every time we wash up are, biologically speaking, alive--yet there's no movement to try to stop people from washing their hands. And it's not hard to imagine that within the next few decades we'll be able to take those cells and generate a child from them... so at that point should all women be banned from showering because they're 'terminating' potential 'life'?

      The point is, it seems pretty extreme to compare the mass murder of people with relationships, histories, ideas, stories, who consciously make decisions for themselves--namely, to explicitly decide to go on living--with the abortion of a fetus that has none of these properties.

      Yes, we should absolutely strive to protect and preserve life, but that's not the only issue here. There's also the issue of choice. And there's also the fact that, if one is truly serious about protecting life, there is plenty of substantial work that can be done that would have a far greater impact on saving lives (especially children's lives) than trying to stop women from having abortions.

      If the goal is truly to save children's lives, why not fight for women's equal access to excellent healthcare? Why not fight for better education? Why not fight for greater foreign aid to countries where preventable diseases and a desperate lack of drinking water is killing millions of children every year, according to UNICEF? Why not fight for a society where no child grows up in poverty? Those are things that would have a real, serious, positive effect, and actually save lives.

      So it depends what the goal is. If the goal is to save lives, do things that will save lives. Trying to stop women from having control over their own bodies is a highly questionable strategy if preserving life is truly the only goal, and it would be reasonable to question what other motives are at work.

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    2. Thanks Andre, that was so very beautifully well put! I sure do wish common sense and the ability to reason and utilize logic was more common.

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    3. I find to an extent though abortion is somewhat condoning a lack of responsibility. The idea of sex is to create life and to continue on the human race is it not. This can be demonstrated through all mammals. Sex is for the purpose of reproduction. Should their not be some responsibility put on the two factors who created this fetus? Though their are certain cases where abortion might be an option in such cases as rape. For the most part though sex involves two condoning people. Shouldn't this act have a certain amount of responsibility?

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    4. Elizabeth, I agree with you. Thank for for being an independent mind on this page.

      Andre, the cells that go down the sink do so because they are NOT any longer living. But there is in fact an easy answer to your question. Human life is clearly defined by the science of medicine as applied to end of life: when there is a heartbeat, or any evidence of brain activity whatsoever, the body is deemed living. It does not depend on the perfection of formation of limbs or ability to live independently. So, it is a double standard that this is not applied to determine the beginning of life. Abortion after apx 10-21 days (when heartbeats are detectable) is murder of a human being. However, with the exception of the day after pill, no abortions are performed before this stage. If this is about contraception, USE CONTRACEPTION. At the very least, use the day after pill. After that point, you have chosen to allow the possibility of a life develop in your body. Once you've chosen to give up that right, it becomes the right of the baby, not you / the woman.

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    5. Yes but that is all good and well, but that does not mean that abortion should be outlawed in any way. Abortion should always be the mother's choice, for whatever her reason may be, it is, afterall, her body. Furthermore, if abortion is outlawed women still find ways to disrupt the pregnancy - dangerous ways that can cause infection, permanent damage or even death. One of the leading causes of death for women in countries where abortion is illegal is due to these desperate women. Everyone has a right to their beliefs, whether they are pro or anti-abortion. BUT as everyone has the right to their beliefs, they should also be allowed safe options. By making abortion illegal not only does this interfere with women's reproductive rights, but it also takes away women's ability and right to choose something as fundamental as wanting to have a child. There are so many arguments about whether abortion is right or wrong, but the simple truth is, there has always been abortion. There will always be abortion (that is until strict population control is instituted) and the best thing to do is to make safe abortion available to those who wish/need it, otherwise you lose both the mother and the child.

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    6. Elizabeth, I have to say, you aren't really making much sense here; fetuses aren't babies, no matter how hard you want to argue that they are. Further, if you truly believe that abortion is in fact the murder of babies, then you must logically believe that spontaneous miscarriages are the moral equivalent of manslaughter or negligent homicide. We punish people who commit those crimes in our society; are you in favour of jailing every woman who spontaneously aborts?

      What about pregnancies where the mother's life is in danger? Do you believe that she ought to be tried for the crime of attempting to save her own life if she chooses to abort?

      Is a woman 'responsible' for a child conceived by rape? She did not desire to become pregnant - she didn't even desire to have sex; yet you seem perfectly content to demand that she nevertheless alter her entire life against her will, because you find the alternative personally offensive.

      Do you wish that abortion was illegal? If you do, why do you feel justified in forcing others to follow your beliefs? Do you demand that those around you stop eating because you are on a diet?

      If abortion is, in your mind, exactly the same as the Holocaust, then do you believe that women who obtain abortions - for whatever reason - are the moral equivalents of Nazis? Should we wage war on them?

      Don't like abortions? Don't have one. But don't try to take that right away from all women; like it or not, abortions can - and do - save lives.

      PS: If you think that abortion ought to be available in cases where a woman's life is at risk, then congratulations: you are PRO-CHOICE. Welcome to the club.

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    7. Hi Elizabeth,
      Putting aside the abortion debate entirely, how do you feel about the imagery used by GAP?
      I had the good fortune to hear a short talk by Dr. Robert Krell last Friday. He is a child survivor of the Holocaust and he talked a bit about the constant co-opting and trivialization of the Nazi's pursuit and destruction of his people (along with the Romas, homosexuals, handicapped people and many others). "No one is like Hitler" he said. "There is no killing machine like the Nazi killing machine. To say so is to make light of what happened in the Shoah (Yiddish for catastrophe)." Apart from being deeply disrespectful to survivors of actual genocides, GAP is misogynist. It uses shock tactics to scare and shame women into hiding and that is not something I will ever agree with -- women have been in hiding too long.
      Justine

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    8. While GAP's choice of imagery is undoubtedly over-the-top, you see where they're coming from. In order to right a bent object, you generally have to push it beyond the point you wish to achieve. Similar to how pro-choice supporters often push the horrific stories of rape to the forefront, GAP is simply pushing their own extreme.Exaggerated? For the most part. Any different from the opposition? Not really.

      @Ed: "fetuses aren't babies, no matter how hard you want to argue that they are. Further, if you truly believe that abortion is in fact the murder of babies, then you must logically believe that spontaneous miscarriages are the moral equivalent of manslaughter or negligent homicide." Easily one of the more amusing things I've read on the subject. Fetus is such a broad term, but judging by your words, you are one of those people who believes a child must exit the womb in order to be alive. You've probably heard the whole spiel before, so I likely don't need to say it again, but here it is. In Canada, a legal, and used, method of abortion is to grab the baby's (oh right, FETUS's) head, poke a hole in it, and vacuum out the contents. This can be performed right up until birth. At this point, the child has all the functionality of a person. What makes "it" a fetus? The fact that it is inside the womb still? By this same token, if we were ever able to manage to fit someone back inside a woman, would this negate that person's right to life?

      @nkari: "By making abortion illegal not only does this interfere with women's reproductive rights, but it also takes away women's ability and right to choose something as fundamental as wanting to have a child. " I've got a simple solution for you here...don't want a kid? Wear a condom and use birth control. Want to ensure you don't get "burdened" with a young life? Try getting your equipment snipped. Done. There, no problem.
      As to your saying that making abortion illegal will just lead to more women undergoing more desperate procedures, I suppose I can assume that you're a supporter of those safe injection sites?

      @Andre: Please rethink your comments. The level of ridiculousness you are aiming for fails to reach any level of constructiveness. The cells on my hands going down the sink? Really? But this doesn't need to be discussed further. And you know it.
      "The point is, it seems pretty extreme to compare the mass murder of people with relationships, histories, ideas, stories, who consciously make decisions for themselves--namely, to explicitly decide to go on living--with the abortion of a fetus that has none of these properties." Based on this point, you're saying that it is the conscious decision-making process that constitutes living? I'd like to hear your take on people in comas. They certainly make no indication that they wish to live still. So, aren't they dead? Likewise, those who function at a disabled level, we should kill all of them too right? Some can't outright express their desire to go on. They aren't alive. Or did I misinterpret your words?

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  17. Justine were you actually naked or just topless as pictured? It's an important factual distinction for many reasons, for you - mainly because it's not illegal to be topless in BC (men or women). So if you were topless rather than nude, the cops had no right to tell you what to do! Topless is not the same thing as nude or naked, naked is obviously a lot harder to do for UBC students.

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    1. She clearly stated that she put her undies back on after speaking to campus security (I wouldn't want to be arrested bared bum either)

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    2. Hi Michael,
      The photo was taken after I put my underwear on, as the person above noted.
      For the record, however, campus security was still unhappy with my bare breasts, as was the student conduct office. They were disruptive, damn it!

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  18. Emailed, posted and shamelessly shared.

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  19. We, and all the UBC students I've talked to totally support you!

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  20. Emailed, shared, posted.
    This is ridiculous, I'm so fucking angry at our education system.

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  21. Frankly, the fact that your actions have had any negative repercussions is abhorrent. During the conversations that we had with the RCMP officer that day, I asked him if any of this attention would have come to me if I had taken my top off. Needless to say, that showing my beautiful man-nipples would have received absolutely no attention from the law and following that, I'm guessing no attention from the (surprisingly insecure) campus security, and DEFINITELY not from the university.

    To think that on international women's day, a woman who was hoping to counter a group hyperbolizing such a complicated women's issue, a woman who had naught but peaceful intentions could be punished for something that a man could not be punished for - now that is sick.

    It's the 21st century, the internet is a thing, we've all seen boobs now - all of us. Why is this an issue?

    I'm frankly on neither side of the issue in question, finding both sides of the traditional dichotomy focusing on the wrong issues entirely. But that's beside the point. The point is that your actions were in response to a visual assault on students by a very confused group of individuals. You have my support fully; should foolish people escalate this further I and I'm certain plenty of other students will have your back.

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  22. You amaze me, I emailed both of them, and shared this story to my friends.

    Here is my email:


    After reading all about the lovely young lady who took part in a peaceful protest by removing her clothes at your campus, to protest a group built upon hate and propaganda, I am disgusted by the actions of your office. This student in no way "disrupted the GAP display" as she was clearly in an area she was allowed to be in (there is photo evidence.) UBC should be proud of students who take a stand in peaceful ways, students who protest groups that are comparing women (who have to abort their child) as "Nazis." Isn't University the place where students are taught to do such things? As Justine puts it: "The University can expel you for plagiarism, but they can’t kick you out for expressing your opinion – in fact, that’s what we’re supposed to be learning how to do." The fact that you would give her three options and not one contained anything about innocence is disgusting. Everyone has the right to a trial, a right to be innocent until proven guilty. You did not exercise this basic right, found in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The fact that you have one party (A security officer) making one statement, and the actual group who apparently had their display “obstructed” not say a thing is incredibly enlightening. Perhaps the security guard has nothing better do then pick on the minority? Who knows? But the fact that the group this student was protesting did not complain leads me to believe that there is no issue, and that this student was within her rights. She should not receive any letter of misconduct on her file, and she should be apologized to immediately by your office. If you restrict the right to protest peacefully at a university, then what message does that send to every other student who will be sent out in to the world? You are the place where we go to learn about our history, our rights, and ourselves. The message Justine Davidson made when sitting in the nude was profound and inspiring. If women do not have the right to their own bodies, then does that make us no better than the same people the GAP were comparing these women to? I know I am probably one of many emails you will receive about this issue, as there is a storm heading your way in regards to what has happened; however, it is up to you to make this right.

    Sincerely,

    A disgruntled student at another university.

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  23. Justine, amazing bravery and inspirational action coupled with a cogent feminist theory. The university should be thrilled to have such a wonderful student but instead is punishing you. My letters to administration are on the way. In the meantime, I am spreading the word of your action and hope the university is inundated with letters supporting you. Jane

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  24. If you want to organize a perfectly legal protest mechanism that the university cannot possibly ignore, just flood their system with genuine and legitimate personal requests. Go and see the deans, the advisors, the legal assistance groups... Everyone. Tell them how personally offended you are, how it makes you feel about the university, and how if this continues you might even consider transferring to other institutions that actually foster an environment of personal freedom and tolerance.
    It's only an hour or two for you, but for them it's going to be entire weeks. Their time is expensive. They need it to run the university, to deal with graduations, to accept and process applications... Bureaucracies are not designed to deal with the entire population that they serve demanding their services at the same time. And this is the beautiful part, it's your right to demand these services at any time. When bureaucracy stops, people finally start making decisions with an actual accountability to their actions, because they are no longer protected by rules and policies; they are cornered and must act now, on their own, or watch the entire institution collapse.
    You can do this naked, if you like. But you don't even have to do that. Just use the system. Use it til it either dies or changes... Either way you win.

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  25. I'm in awe of your bravery and this story. You're amazing.

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  26. I could not love you more than I do today. You are an amazing, brave, charismatic, intelligent woman and I am so proud to have you as a member of my family. Standing up for what you believe in - a tradition begun by our amazing Grandmother who protested a forced retirement from her beloved teaching career (although she did keep her clothes on!). xxoo

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  27. You are awesome! I sent this email to Stephen and Chad:

    I am writing in response to the university's reaction to the peaceful protest of Justine Davidson against the Genocide Awareness Project's posters and message that were displayed on campus. These posters, through the use of images of genocide, including images of naked corpses in mass graves, compared women who abort their fetuses to Nazis. While the group had a right to their opinion, Justine also had a right to peacefully protest their message about women, through the use of her own nude body as a symbol.

    The university has alleged that Justine disrupted the GAP display, and is taking disciplinary action on these grounds. However, this is assuming guilt without even a chance to prove innocence, which is completely backwards in Canadian society. In fact, Justine did not disrupt the GAP display, and was not asked by the group to leave. You can read Justine's account at http://nakedubc.blogspot.ca/2012/03/why-hell-did-that-woman-take-her.html#comment-form

    The university should retract any disciplinary action it is intending to take, and instead look at the offensive images and messages of the GAP group and reflect on whether this type of misogyny is really in the best interest of students and society at large. The university has control over which groups they allow to display materials on campus, and I strongly suggest that this group be denied access in the future.

    I have been considering a graduate program in Psychology at UBC, but may have to look elsewhere if the university is committed to repressing women's voices, stigmatizing women's bodies, and assuming guilt instead of taking the time to fairly consider what actually happened.

    Sincerely,

    --
    --
    Asheya Hennessey
    Whitehorse, YT

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  28. Oh, and I say get the media involved if the email campaign isn't enough :)

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  29. I respectfully disagree that this student has anything to complain about whatsoever. First, she says that she "was presumed to be guilty", but the first of the three options given her was "a hearing before the president and a council". That does not presume guilt, it proves an opportunity to prove innocence or guilt. That is exactly how the justice system works. Secondly, she is complaining that she is accused of "disrupted the GAP display", which is exactly what she set out to accomplish! And her only complaint here is that the GAP group (to her knowledge) did not complain themselves. So, to summarize, she is complaining that she is offered a hearing (but chose to "plea" by accepting a letter in her file) to determine whether or not she is guilty of doing exactly what she set out to do.

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    1. A hearing to determine what her punishment would be. She did not set out to 'disrupt their display' she set out to make a peaceful counter protest, in a far less obscene way than GAP. Their tactics are anti-semitic at best. I don't know why the University finds racism less distasteful than nudity.

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  30. It is also somewhat ironic that she says she was spurred to action by looking around at her classmates who were unwilling to risk expulsion by taking action to limit others' free speech (i.e. knocking / tearing down their banners), and now is all up in arms because she was asked to come in for a hearing (not even disciplinary per se at this point).

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    1. The right to free speech does not incorporate the right to hate speech, which is what this display entailed - hate speech against the Jewish people, and against women. I find it upsetting that this display was allowed AT ALL.

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  31. Emailed. Thank you so much for being amazing and giving such a courageous and beautiful contribution to the protest. I was there both days, it's obscene that your actions are the ones that are remembered as offensive.

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  32. Hey just wanted to say way to go! What you did took a lot of courage and determination. I stand behind you 100%

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  33. You're so brave and so right. I am appalled at the University for targeting YOU. I don't know why a naked woman would be deemed "obscene" while a horribly offensive display which promotes hate and even violence against women who have abortions is deemed okay. That's so fucked up. Especially on International Women's Day...
    Anyways, way to go, I will definitely share this and send out emails and sincerely wish you all the best, in your dealings with the University and otherwise. You're awesome.

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  34. A balanced, nuanced and eloquent approach in a debate where such things are scarce. It's not just the bravery of your convictions that impress, it's also the poise and strength you demonstrate to both overcome your own reservations and to recognise and comment on the implicit fears and false assumptions that you made.
    This popped up on my Fbook feed in Australia which shows the breadth of the impact you are making. I hope this is not the last thing we see you do.

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  35. Hi, Justine - I am a professor in biology. You have my support and letters sent on your behalf. I'm proud to belong to a University where students are passionate and unafraid.

    Celeste Leander

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  36. You have my full support.
    Is there an online petition or something like that I can refer other people too?

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  37. Thank you Justine for your courageous and passionate protest.

    I've written an email.

    You have all my support and gratitude.

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  38. you are strong in all the ways i hope to be.

    good girl.

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  39. You rule. Keep on rocking in the "free world".

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  40. Justine - I am glad to know that courageous, outspoken and informed citizens like yourself continue to intelligently and actively participate in the exchange of ideas in our global public square. The world needs more serious people like you to speak up for serious issues.

    Regardless of where one falls on any given issue, we must not allow ourselves to demonize the other as it is abruptly ends the opportunity for understanding. In this specific case, one side of the discussion not only likens any woman who chooses to have an abortion as perpetrators of genocide, but also implies that anyone who is pro-choice is a willing participant in that genocide. Such statements are seen for what they are - inflammatory and demonizing. As such, it shifts the conversation from a difference of opinion to an assault of one's character and thus systematically ending the conversation. What I believe that you so brilliantly did in your peaceful protest was to try to re-engage others in the conversation! Your bare body should have shifted protesters on both sides of the debate to stop and to ask, "Why is this woman naked?" Perhaps, the demonstrators did not approach you that day to gain a deeper understanding of your act. However, your act has gone beyond your campus and has reached others who may have never known about the discussion.

    It is often that a person does not recognize how one act done organically in a single moment of time will impact others and reignite the discussion in the public square. Whether it's a student in Tiananmen Square, a Chilean woman who dances alone, a "Colored" woman who refuses to give up her seat on a bus and yes, even a naked young woman on a university campus provokes us to ask, "Why?" The answer to that question creates the opportunity for healthy debate that has the potential to facilitate understanding and provide a call to action in the global public square.

    Thank you for demanding that we ask "Why?" I think you will be surprised by how many will be interested in hearing the answer!

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  41. I applaud your courage. We live in dangerous times where neo-conservatism, extremism and fundamenmtalism - of all sorts - are rearing their ugly heads again. It takes people like you to stop them. Emails sent!

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  42. In solidarity with you, sister.

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  43. Justine, you possess courage and insight, unlike the security guard who approached you, lord have mercy on any children he may have. I am middle aged and I am inspired by the courage of your convictions. Courage is sadly missing from our society, and you are one seed among many that may well evoke change in Canadian the perspective... Not only about "life", but your statement about nudity not being "indecent" as well. U go girl!!

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  44. Thank you everyone for taking the time to write out heartfelt and intelligent conversations on an issue that may or may not ever be resolved. One point I have always found interesting that is seldom discussed, is the economics. As a country that is driven by capitalism and consumerism; the market state revolves around sex.

    A quick segway, there is an amazing short documentary by Jean Kilbourne called killing us softly which talks about how women have been objectified in advertising since forever.

    Many arguments I have heard against abortion, usually factor in the woman taking responsibility for her actions. However, this is usually just a gainsay. Similar to, 'if I ever won the lottery.' If we explore this to a logical conclusion; that women have to keep the baby. This means that the child will be raised in poverty and usually be involved in crime. A fantastic book, 'Freakonomics' by Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner explores what happened when abortion became legal. They wrote a fairly well documented argument showing how abortion may have contributed to a drop in crime rates across the country.

    Now back to the economics. If a woman has to have an unintended child, that means she will most likely not finish college. How many people actually finish college as it is, without the burden of trying to support another life? So this means that the woman will have a menial job. let's say thirty thousand a year.

    As we all know the government and the state usually take at least 20% of our earnings. so that cuts it down to twenty four thousand. The average cost of raising a child is roughly ten thousand dollars a year. Which takes us to fourteen thousand. So that gives roughly twelve hundred a month to have a home, gas for work, food and groceries.

    My basic point is that abortion is about economics as much as a woman's right to choose for her own body. In order for a healthy human being to be raised in a caring environment, it requires more than just the woman 'manning up' so to speak. It's a community effort, a family effort, and all about the money. Until we as a society have a solution for that, abortion will be done with or without the consent of the law. Especially in a society that sells us on the idea of being an individual and achieving status and 'living life as it's meant to be'.

    Thank you Justine for taking the time to speak in the loudest way possible, with your actions. And Ed said it very well, you have made something memorable. This is something that is bigger than just you, it started because of one action on a sunny afternoon. I hope in the end that you are acquitted, as everyone should have the freedom to express themselves. And again, thank you everyone else who has taken the time to make a statement and stand by what you believe.
    ~Josh Parker

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  45. Done and done! I hope all of these emails have an impact. If there is anything else we can do, let us know! (perhaps a Canada wide campus protest - naked! in support of the right to abortion...and the right to protest...naked!)

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  46. I would like to point out the irony and double standards that will be happening all week while UBC Storm the Wall goes on. I tried to include a picture in the post and couldn't. You'll just have to walk by to see quite a few bare chests scrambling over the Wall.

    I hope this all works out for you!

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  47. I extend my support to you. I was deeply offended by the Anti-abortion group on March 8th, which also happened to be my birthday. I wish I'd gone and sat there naked with you in opposition. Will write a letter.

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  48. This is regarding the female protester who disrobed at the site of the Genocide Awareness Project.

    As I am sure you are already aware, Ms. Davidson has gathered support from a large body of students at UBC campus. I proudly support her campaign of direct and peaceful protest, as is our right as Canadians, for the following reasons.

    1) The United Nations has declared genocide "mass rape, torture, and murder consciously targeted towards a specific group of people based on ethnicity." Abortion is not genocide, because if it were, that would mean that women who have abortions for health reasons are conscious perpetrators of genocide. This highly offends me, since my mother was forced to get an abortion due to life threatening circumstances. It is also offensive to victims of genocide and undermines the seriousness of the word itself. The Genocide Awareness Project, in my opinion, is not exercising freedom of speech but instead spreading slander. This was confirmed in 2011 when I asked protesters about the circumstances under which my mother needed an abortion, and they did not have an answer for me as to how it constituted genocide.

    2) Although initially Ms. Davidson took off all of her clothing, she did put her underwear back on once she was asked by campus security. If men can protest shirtless, why not women? This is blatant discrimination against the female sex that is sincerely offensive to me.

    3) Ms. Davidson was exercising her right to peacefully protest, a right that we as Canadians must fiercely protect. If she in any way obstructed or disrupted the Genocide Awareness Project, then she was not exercising that right. However, it is my understanding that she was not in any way a violent protester, and under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms should not be treated as such.


    Thank you for your serious attention to this matter, and I trust that leaders at UBC will come to a well thought-out and fair conclusion to this issue.

    Sincerely,

    Courtney

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  49. I have emailed. I hope your stand against anti-semitism and misogyny is okay.

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  50. I have emailed. I hope your stand against anti-semitism and misogyny goes well*

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  51. I got a reply from your campus. Since I don't have an email for you, I will post it here! This is what they are saying in response to my questions: how is what you did considered misconduct if you did not disturb the display? (and do they seriously have a problem with toplessness?) Apparently the security guy was unhappy that she claimed she wasn't a student. Right. Big big problem.

    -----

    Dear Erika:

    Thank you for your comments. While I appreciate your opinion in this matter, I would like to frame what happened in the context of Professor Stephen Toope’s March 3, 2009 message to the UBC community regarding respectful debate. Professor Toope writes, “As a university community, we place a paramount value on the free and lawful expression of ideas and viewpoints.”

    In the case of Ms. Davidson’s choice to remove her clothes as a form of protest, it is the notion of “lawful expression” that is the pertinent issue, including the choices Ms. Davidson made when asked to put back on her clothes by a Campus Security staff member.

    The reason that Ms. Davidson was invited to speak with the Student Conduct Manager was not only because she chose to take off her clothes, but also because she refused to put them back on, and further that she informed Campus Security that she was not a student, when in fact, she was.

    It was because of these choices that Campus Security, quite properly, brought the allegations of a breach of the Student Code of Conduct to the attention of the Student Conduct Manager, who in turn, met Ms. Davidson to discuss the allegations.

    Ms. Davidson is not being disciplined – under the University Act, the President is the only person who can discipline a student. Before the President could make such a decision, the case would be heard by the President’s UBC Vancouver non-academic misconduct committee. As part of this formal process, the student would be invited to attend a hearing to fully explain/defend her/his actions. The complete rules for the Committee process can be found here: http://universitycounsel.ubc.ca/files/2012/02/Rules-for-the-Presidents-Non-Acad-Misconduct-Committees.pdf.

    I believe our actions in this case demonstrate that common sense was applied - the student was not disciplined. Moreover, the new Student Code of Conduct, and the way in which it was implemented, demonstrates our ability to be flexible and respond in an appropriate way to the specifics of each case.

    We are not debating one form of free expression versus another. We are simply applying a code of conduct with the kind of care and understanding to which our students are entitled.

    Best wishes,

    Louise Cowin, Ph.D.
    Vice President Students | Office of the VP Students
    The University of British Columbia | Vancouver

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    1. Thanks for posting this, Erika.
      I got a letter today informing me that they are not taking and disciplinary action. I have no doubt that you and many others played a big part in that decision.
      I love this bit: "The reason that Ms. Davidson was invited to speak with the Student Conduct Manager was not only because she chose to take off her clothes, but also because she refused to put them back on" Fabulous! Even though technically, I did cover that most offensive and disruptive part of my body when they asked.
      Ah well, keep fighting the good fight, everyone.
      JD

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  52. I received the same form letter in reply to my complaint.

    I had to laugh at the Orwellian nature of the provided quotation by Professor Troope. Doublespeak ftw.

    Furthermore she continues with the notion of lawful expression. Of course, protesting topless and lying to rent-a-cops is legal in Vancouver.

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  53. I received the letter as well. I was wondering why it seemed to ignored roughly 3/4 of the things I actually said in the email I sent.

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  54. Justine, could you please give us an update? I've received a response from the University that indicates you are not being disciplined. I am unhappy with the response on other levels, but I want to know what your current situation is before I reply.

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    1. Hi Jane,
      Please see the update above
      JD

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  55. I am writing in support of Justine Davidson's right to assert her independence as a woman and promote an opposing point of view to the anti-abortion GAP display. I have seen similar GAP displays at my present university (Trinity Western) and past alma mater (University of the Fraser Valley) and believe that both sides of the debate have a right to support their side of the issue in any way they see fit, as long as it retains the property of non-violence. I know that my view may differ from you, the administration, who have other priorities to protect. However, I believe the protection of individual freedom of speech should be at the top of this list. Though, I am not a student from your university, and actually attend a university which is on the whole quite a bit more conservative and strict around many issues, I write as a fellow university student entitled to my own views and opinions and with the same charter rights to protest. I also thought UBC was one of the institution's that prided itself on individual expression, perhaps unlike other universities? I hope this letter gives notice to you of the quick and wide-spread impact of Justine's story and the level of support she has acquired.
    --
    Richard Tatomir

    Trinity Western University

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    1. This is the letter I sent to Chad and Stephen at the email addresses you listed.

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  56. Justine I just wanted to say that you are incredibly brave. I have no idea why people are so afraid of nudity. I find it appalling that GAP is allowed to put such contentious and graphic images that are, in essence hate speech, and yet there is action against someone being nude. If I remember correctly, someone ran Storm the Wall naked a couple years ago. Not that I think it should happen, but where is his reprimand?

    This makes me extremely disappointed in UBC. You have my support.

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  57. You have my full support, for what it is worth. The human body is not obscene... What UBC is doing, is. Thank you for sharing the story and I hope to hear that UBC will reverse its position in the near future.

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  58. You have my full support! I'll be writing letters to both Stephen Toope and Chad Hyson to let them know this sort of bullying tactics are absolutely unacceptable.

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  59. Hello Justine, I'm writing as one of the Graduate Student Society Advocacy Officers--our mandate is to support graduate students in conflict with the university, including disciplinary issues. It sounds like you may no longer be facing disciplinary action, but feel free to contact us at advocacy@gss.ubc.ca if we can help. (If you are not a grad student we could put you in touch with the AMS counterpart and I would also suggest you contact the UBC Ombuds Office (ombudsoffice.ubc.ca). Best wishes, Brenda Fitzpatrick

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  60. Justine I fucking LOVE YOU!!!!!!!!!!!! I want to be in touch with you. Here's me: http://www.loolwa.com Here is an article I wrote that you might like http://www.moxiemag.com/moxie/articles/style/grand.html

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  61. This was very pleasant to read, and I stand with you in solidarity over your actions and your response to the group on your campus. It is absolutely ridiclious that they are allowed to be called the Genocide Awareness Project, if our anti-abortion group ever took that approach on campus I am unsure of how myself and others would react. I am from University Of Waterloo and saw you mentioned Stephen Woodworth. He gave a lecture for our 'UW Students for Life' group and a bunch of us protested him. He is our MP in Waterloo-Kitchener which makes me sick to my stomach. Our schools newspaper covered it briefly: http://theimprint.ca/archives/9315 and there is a petition going around that you should spread to all the people you know: http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/oppose-motion-312-rejetez-motion-312.html.

    It is women like you that are a threat to patriarchy and the ignorance that comes with it. In Solidarity from UW.

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  62. Inspiring. Thank you so much for your courage and also, for the articulation of your actions. This was an emotional read and I would join you in front of the student union building, naked like I am.

    I will write a letter and spread this essay.

    Nicole

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  63. I don't know you but I am incredibly proud. Thank you for sharing your experience, courage, and follow up. I will be writing UBC as a letter as an alumni.

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  64. For the record, I support the GAP and the abolition of abortion but I don't think your post is really a debate on the subject of abortion but rather your right to freely demonstrate and protest just as this group has. And I agree, you have every right to publicly demonstrate you views. It does seem absurd that the university is condemning you for this and standing up for the GAP when they didn't even make a complaint. The GAP uses shocking photos to gain attention and get their message across and it sounds like you were going for the same effect. I hope you won this battle against the university's attempt to keep you from the free speach you are entitled to just like every other citizen and although I don't agree with your position on the issue it still is encouraging to hear about a woman like you who is unafraid to stand for her sincerely held beliefs.

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  65. why exactly did you have to use God-Given in your write up? What the Nazi's did had little if anything to do with a god, plural gods. While I understand what you are trying to convey, there is no sense in attacking others beliefs however veiled your attack might be. This idea that abortion rights is some how a staple of women's rights often confuses me. When exactly was it okay to be irresponsible, whether a man or a woman?

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