An advertisement on Off Campus College Transport (OCCT) buses ignited controversy last week after the Women’s Student Union (WSU) spoke out against a flyer advertising the Binghamton chapter of Birthright, a national pregnancy center.
The advertisement depicts a young woman using her phone to make a call and features text prompting pregnant women to call the local chapter if they are in need of help or support. According to Birthright’s website, the organization aims to provide nonjudgmental support, resources such as pregnancy tests, maternity and baby items and referrals to housing and legal assistance. According to WSU and other student activists, however, the nonprofit crisis pregnancy center does not offer referrals for abortions and is known for its anti-abortion sentiments.
According to Sharon Elkouby, senior advisor for the WSU and a senior majoring in sociology, WSU contacted OCCT last semester and asked for the advertisements to be taken down. OCCT receives most of its funding from the Student Association and Graduate Student Organization, but receives additional funding from advertisements.
“Last semester, when members of WSU started noticing the posters, we emailed OCCT about our concern for an advertisement for an anti-abortion, fake clinic that provides misinformation,” Elkouby said. “OCCT told us they don’t have a political agenda and are keeping them up.”
OCCT’s refusal to remove the advertisements has prompted some students to take action by tearing down the Birthright advertisements and violating OCCT’s rider policies. Binghamton’s New York State University Police Department (UPD) is currently investigating the situation. According to police, taking down the posters constitutes vandalism.
According to Glenell Jaquez, public relations coordinator for OCCT and a first-year graduate student studying accounting, OCCT’s advertising policy accepts both on-campus and outside groups. Jaquez said OCCT will typically not deny advertisements unless they are outwardly inappropriate.
“Mainly, if it doesn’t have anything inappropriate — no curses,” Jaquez said. “If it’s something with no bad intent that’s obviously in display, I would take it in. I have no problem with that.”
To submit an advertisement, outside organizations have to fill out a form on OCCT’s website and pay $60 a week to have their advertisement displayed. According to Jaquez, an advertising contract can last for a varying amount of time depending on the customer.
OCCT currently has no intention to press charges against those tearing down the posters. However, Jaquez said they could press charges if the situation escalates.
“Sometimes they rip it off and then they’ll say something mean to the driver like it’s the driver’s fault,” Jaquez said. “If it gets very nasty we might [press charges].”
Elkouby said the WSU will continue to promote other resources for pregnant women.
“WSU is going to try to spread better information about Family Planning of [South Central NY], as it is a real women’s health clinic based on science and respect for people’s choices,” Elkouby said.