MANHATTAN — Students who were angrily confronted by a Hunter College adjunct professor as they manned a pro-life information table at the school — an incident captured on a video that went viral — are back on campus and ready to continue their advocacy.
“One hundred percent we will be back tabling, and we’re very excited,” said Sol De Leon Cruz, president of the college’s Catholic John Henry Newman Club (formerly known as the Catholic Students Association).
Since the May 2 incident, Hunter College has implemented a change aimed at protecting students. From now on, when groups like the Catholic John Henry Newman Club (also known as the Newman Club) notify the Student Activities Office of their plans to set up a table, they will be given the option of having a security guard on hand.
While the students, who talked to The Tablet Aug. 29, a few days after classes began, have yet to schedule dates to set up a table, they said they definitely plan to do so at some point during the fall semester.
The outburst from now-former adjunct art professor Shellyne Rodriguez won’t stop them, they added.
Patrick Rubi, a junior, said the pro-life fight must continue because abortion is too big an issue for them to sit on the sidelines. “The fight against abortion really is the civil rights cause of our time — with my generation for sure,” he said.
In the infamous incident, students from the Catholic Students Association, the Catholic Center at New York University, and Students for Life of America were standing at an information table in a hallway at Hunter when Rodriguez approached the table screaming, cursing and accusing them of “triggering” her students.
Rodriguez also angrily tossed informational pamphlets off the table.
“She was a little over the top,” recalled Sidney Borland, an NYU student who was at Hunter that day to help out at the table.
Borland said she and the other students were determined to avoid escalating the situation. “We stayed with our calm response and loving response. I’m so proud of us,” she added.
The incident was captured on a cellphone video by a member of Students for Life in America, who posted it on social media. It quickly went viral.
As the video showed, Rubi was a target of Rodriguez’s ire. She is seen berating him for speaking out about abortion, pointing out that as a male, he cannot give birth.
Looking back all these months later, he politely disputed her assertion. “The fact of the matter is that abortion is a women’s issue. It’s also a man’s issue, a family issue. And ultimately, it’s a human rights issue,” he explained.
Hunter College fired Rodriguez — but not for the tirade.
She was terminated after a bizarre May 23 encounter in which she held a machete to New York Post reporter Reuven Fenton’s neck at her Bronx apartment after he and a photographer had gone there to ask her about the Hunter College incident.
Rodriguez turned herself in to police and was charged with menacing and harassment. At an Aug. 14 court hearing, Judge Matthew Bondy indicated that a plea deal might be worked out. Rodriguez’s next court date is Oct. 2.
Despite the ugly incident at their school, the students said they hold no bitterness toward Rodriguez. Rubi for one, said he prays for her.
Still, the incident left some emotional scars. Jorge Tavares, vice president of the Newman Club, said students “experienced a lot of stress” because of the way Rodriguez addressed them.
While the students said they have gotten used to being yelled at by pro-abortion students at tabling events, the fact that Rodriguez was an adjunct professor made the encounter more serious.
Because of the video, the incident is known far and wide. For example, the topic came up when Borland took part in a Students for Life fellowship program in Washington, D.C., this summer.
“Their reaction was one of shock, but not too much shock because they’re facing similar situations. Free speech is something that’s being attacked on a lot of campuses right now,” she explained.
The students, who said they prefer to look ahead rather than ruminate on the past, kicked off the fall semester with an ice cream social on Aug. 29 in the basement of St. Vincent Ferrer Church on Lexington Avenue, two blocks from Hunter College, where the Newman Club holds its meetings.
They are busy finalizing the official name change of their group and rewriting their charter. The club currently has 60 members.
The students feel it’s important to show that there are pro-life college students out there, De Leon Cruz said. “We know that when people see us, they’re alerted. They don’t think people on CUNY campuses believe in pro-life. But we’re here,” she added, referring to the City University of New York by its initials.
The pro-life fight has an added urgency to it in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, according to the students, who said they are aware that the 2022 ruling overturning Roe v. Wade has galvanized the pro-abortion movement across the U.S.
Tavares is relieved that moving forward, the club will have the option of requesting campus security the next time they set up a table.
“We’re more at ease with proceeding, even though there’s still a chance that students will yell at us. But I’m determined that we can get across the message and maybe a few people can change minds,” he explained.