Coming into college, like so many other freshmen, I was a little self-absorbed. It’s easy to get distracted with your new surroundings, friends, coursework, and everything college has to offer.
My awareness of crisis pregnancies and life issues on college campus was extremely limited. Then, I spoke with a student on my campus who had an abortion because her sorority’s national rules stated that if a member was pregnant out of wedlock, then she would be kicked out of her sorority. I was shocked that her organization forced her to choose between her “sisters” and her unborn child. I looked around and realized that women on our campus didn’t seem to have much of a choice when it came to having a child and going to school, and I sought to find a group that wanted to do something about it.
At the time, the pro-life group on campus was not an official group, but more of an unofficial group that operated under the umbrella of the Newman Center. We met weekly in the Newman Center basement. Meetings were a mess. Our leaders were passionate, but were completely overwhelmed by the idea of running a full-fledged pro-life group on campus. We lacked focus, a vision, members, resources, and money. Every week we seemed to be trying to convert all 5,000 people on our campus on a different issue. Abortion, euthanasia, stem-cell research, cloning … we were trying to be everything to everyone.
The only resource we had was access to the Newman Center’s copy machine and a bucket of chalk, so we “flyered and chalked” the campus every few weeks with little to no results.
A group of Bradley Students attended the March for Life and the Students for Life of America conference in January, 2009, where we met John-Paul Deddens of Students for Life of Illinois (SFLI). John-Paul visited our campus, met with our leaders, and helped us form a vision for the group. We figured out where we wanted the group to go, and most importantly, we figured out how to get there.
After establishing ourselves as an official campus group, we started generating awareness through SFLI’s Activism Days on campus. The step-by-step guides and checklists made it easy to break down the event into small parts that seemed manageable and could be delegated. Within the next year, we implemented SFLI’s roundtable system and leadership development program. Before we knew it, we had established a base of educated and dedicated members who were also future pro-life leaders.
Looking back, we are very proud of our progress and the growth that Bradley Students for Life experienced during its initial development. It hasn’t been a perfect or easy journey. We encountered a lot of setbacks and frustrations. At some points, we started to lose sight of our vision and question whether or not our work would actually pay off. It was at these times that SFLI provided us with encouragement and guidance that kept us going and believing in the group. They put us into contact with other groups through Facebook and through leadership summits. We were able to have a venue to ask questions, share ideas, vent frustrations, make new friends, and more. I think that our leaders can agree that without SFLI’s support, Bradley Students for Life would not have existed after we graduated.
We have just transitioned into a new executive board that is full of passion and feels empowered by the massive amount of support and resources provided to them by SFLI. We can see residual growth of our initial efforts. We know that Bradley Students for Life will be thriving even after the original leaders graduate. The women on our campus won’t be left without the support they need, and awareness will continue to be generated at Bradley.
As for my personal experience with Students for Life, I am incredibly grateful. I often struggle with being a perfectionist and a people-pleaser – it is a blessing and a curse. Being involved with Students for Life taught me that I don’t have to be all things to all people. I’ve learned that things don’t often go as planned, but it is essential to keep going and seek out positive aspects in every situation and outcome. Now I’m more comfortable voicing my opinions and tactfully standing up for what I believe.
The support and education I received from Students for Life of Illinois empowered me to inspire and motivate others. A major part of that was learning how to create and pursue a vision for a group or project. Working with other people and visualizing the inner-workings of an organization is valuable no matter what career field you enter. As a senior, I feel like I can walk away from Students for Life not only with the knowledge that I’ve made a difference to women and children on my campus, but also with skills and lessons that I can apply to whatever I pursue in my professional career and personal life.
Hannah Antonacci is a Bradley University student.