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Electronic network facilitates campus-to-campus communication with others working with life issues
BY MIKE MASTROMATTEO
TORONTO—Canada's pro-life university students are embracing the latest information technology to help spread the right-to-life message among their peers. Students plan to use the Internet, electronic mail bulletin boards, and a biannual newsletter to link post-secondary pro-life efforts coast to coast.
Networking and the rapid exchange of information and strategy are important developments in a country characterized by vast geographical distances and rising travel and accommodation costs. An electronic network allows university prolifers in British Columbia to share news and ideas with colleagues 3,000 miles away in Newfoundland. Although nothing can replace face-to-face contact, electronic networking provides instant access on a wide range of right-to-life issues.
Leading the way in this effort is the National Campus Life Network (NCLN), a year-old organization working to link individual campus-based pro-life organizations across the country.
The organization provides information resources enabling student pro-life groups to educate the general university population about fetal development, the need for legislation to protect the unborn, and related life issues.
More than 50 pro-life university students from 13 post-secondary institutions took part in NCLN's second annual symposium last month at St. Augustine's Seminary in Toronto. Student pro-lifers from Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta, and British Columbia were represented at the symposium.
Students were front and center during the symposium, conducting small group discussions on networking, sharing resources, and taking advantage of the Internet for pro-life work. They also discussed some of the obstacles they face in proclaiming the sanctity of life ethic in an environment that is indifferent if, not hostile to pro-life values.
“We're constantly bombarded with secular ideas on campus, so it can be difficult to find much sympathy for right-to-life goals,” said Frances Macapagal, a second-year history student at the University of British Columbia (UBC). Macapagal and colleague Erica Heathe are members of the Life Line group at UBC. They expressed optimism that a central information network will be a tremendous boost to campus pro-life organizations.
“Students don't like to work in isolation,” Macapagal said. “It's encouraging to know information and resources will become available.”
NCLN executives say it is important for student pro-lifers to know where to find what they need.
Vanya Gobbi, coordinating director of NCLN, said, “There's no doubt that there is some hostility to the pro-life message on many university campuses, but student pro-lifers shouldn't feel intimidated by this hostility—especially when they have support and resources from their pro-life peers in other provinces.”
Gobbi, an international development student at the University of Toronto, referred to a recent case in which the undergraduate newspaper at the University of Toronto rejected a paid advertisement from the Birthright organization on the grounds that the pregnancy counseling service offered “too narrow” a focus. Meanwhile, the newspaper regularly features advertising from groups promoting “alternative lifestyles.”
Gobbi hopes to raise the profile of NCLN, not only to safeguard its survival, but also to bring greater continuity to student pro-life work.
Too often, Gobbi said, students find that the demands of studies and career pursuits limit the amount of time they can devote to pro-life work. As well, the transient nature of student life often results in the loss of experienced, dedicated leaders at graduation time.
Gobbi said one of NCLN's aims is to build bridges to existing high school pro-life organizations in order to allow students ongoing support and resources as they pass through their university years. Facilitating communication is also a priority.
“The easier communication is, the more likely it is that people will find the support they need when they need it,” Gobbi said. “By establishing and maintaining a network to obtain information, the various campus pro-life groups will be better equipped to achieve their goals.”
Gobbi has prepared a three-year strategic plan for the NCLN that lists a number of objectives, including an increase in the number of university pro-life groups, a 100% survival rate of existing groups, and outreach efforts to high school students about to enter university.
Gobbi said NCLN is now developing its own website and electronic event calendar that will put diverse campus pro-life groups into immediate contact with one another. She expects the website will be up and running by this summer.
Father Tom Lynch, a professor of moral theology at St. Augustine's Seminary in Toronto, is an advisor to the National Campus Life Network. The priest has long promoted the use of the latest information technology to advance pro-life work.
“It's crucial for pro-life students in a country of this size to stay hooked up electronically,” he said. “Why should those promoting the anti-life culture have the best technology?”
Father Lynch, who 14 years ago founded the short-lived Canadian Youth Pro-Life Organization (CYPLO), is a driving force behind student pro-life activity in Canada. He agreed that university students face tremendous obstacles in defending human life on university campuses. By taking advantage of the latest communications technology, he said, students can make a more compelling argument in support of life. At the same time, instant access to information allows pro-life students to anticipate the arguments of abortion and contraception advocates.
“The fight to defend human life must take on initiatives and a new vocabulary if we're going to make a difference,” Father Lynch said. “Students in particular should take advantage of the best communication methods on hand.”
The effort to promote respect for life among young people is crucial to the future of pro-life work in North America. And success appears to be in the offing. Students made a sizable contribution to the Jan. 22 March for Life in Washington, D.C. marking the 25th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in the United States. Several daily newspapers, including the Washington Post, cited the large student turnout protesting against Roe v. Wade.
The increasing student presence in pro-life activity is gratifying to Vanya Gobbi, who is now looking for a successor as director of NCLN. She believes student involvement in pro-life work is especially important at the post-secondary level.
“By involving young adults at this time in their lives, their knowledge of pro-life issues and activism is increased,” she said. “They will also develop other pro-life contacts, and this will result in an increase in post-secondary students remaining actively pro-life in their professional life, as well as being better equipped for future activism.”
Mike Mastromatteo writes from Toronto, Canada.