Binghamton University students chanted “no justice, no peace” on Thursday morning in the parking lot next to the Vestal Town Court in support of a student who was arrested for taking down paid Birthright International advertisements from an Off Campus College Transport (OCCT) bus.
Birthright International aims to provide a nonjudgmental confidential zone to pregnant women seeking help, according to their website. But student groups at BU are protesting the organization, arguing that it is a threat to people seeking helpful clinics, presenting pregnancy options with an anti-abortion view and misleading the public with their advertisements and website.
Dheiva Moorthy, vice president of BU Progressives, member of the Frances Beal Society and a sophomore double-majoring in environmental studies and sociology, was arrested by Binghamton’s New York State University Police Department (UPD) on Oct. 21 after she allegedly tore down Birthright International posters on several occasions across multiple OCCT buses.
Following Moorthy’s arrest, student groups that aim to fight oppression, including the BU Progressives and Frances Beal Society, created an event called “Pack the Court.” When Moorthy appeared before a judge at Vestal Town Court and set a pretrial date, approximately 60 students, faculty and community members came to support her actions and protest Birthright International and Moorthy’s arrest.
“Clinics like these often prioritize their religious ideologies over the health of the people seeking help, delay pregnancies and do not provide comprehensive and accurate information about all the available options,” the event’s description read on Facebook. “Many students have been outraged by these posters and have also removed them, but this student is being targeted because of her involvement in campus and community organizing.”
In February 2019, the Women’s Student Union (WSU) also vocalized their opposition toward the posters, removing them from OCCT buses. But Moorthy’s arrest marks the first time that someone has been arrested for taking down posters. According to Mack Conan, ‘19, public relations coordinator for OCCT, OCCT will continue to press charges against individuals who tear down advertisements on their buses.
“When OCCT last spoke to Pipe Dream, we stated that if the situation were to escalate, we would begin pressing charges,” Conan wrote in an email. “Since individuals have continued to vandalize school property, we have decided to take the next step in pressing charges. From now on and into the future, we will continue to press charges if any more advertisements are vandalized, regardless of who the individual is or what the advertisement is.”
After her appearance in court, Moorthy gave a speech discussing the importance of community organizing and alleging she was racially targeted.
“As organizers, our job is to ask people what they don’t like about their lives, ask them to change with us and understand what systems are at play all the time,” Moorthy said. “In this case it is misogyny. In this case it is whiteness [and] Christian fundamentalism. They shouldn’t have a clinic here.”
In an email, Frances Beal Society executive board members said Moorthy’s arrest is not the first instance of racial targeting on campus.
“For many white students, they never imagine facing criminal charges on campus,” members wrote. “This arrest illustrates that’s not the reality for students of color, who are suspended and expelled, sometimes even jailed on the whims of [UPD].”
According to a BU Progressives representative, their group agrees UPD has persecuted students of color unjustly on multiple occasions.
“White students, encouraged by professors, have routinely ripped down posters and sustained minuscule repercussions,” a BU Progressives representative wrote in an email. “Out of the testimonials we have gathered, the worst punishment was a phone call from UPD. Because the posters have become more robustly secured, they are now laminated and posted behind glass, it is clear that UPD hopes to punish active students of color in order to protect financial interests.”
Multiple faculty members have also shown support for the activists. Last semester, following the WSU’s opposition to the advertisement, a faculty member wrote an opinion piece for Pipe Dream supporting the WSU’s opinions. Dara Silberstein, an associate research professor of women, gender and sexuality studies, recently created a Change.org petition demanding that UPD drop the charges against Moorthy.
According to Conan, Moorthy was the only individual who committed the act multiple times. She was arrested by UPD after they viewed video footage of her tearing down the advertisements. OCCT will not be removing the posters, according to Conan.
“We have heard the concerns of some students,” Conan wrote. “However, under legal advisement, we will not be taking them down. Denying a group the right to advertise may be considered discrimination. Advertisement requests are open to on- and off-campus organizations as long as they are not displaying anything inappropriate.”