We assure you, SFL has female members too!
The Fall 2011 edition of Students for Life is officially under way! Last night, SFL once again participated in Escapade, the University's self-described "biggest welcome back party." The event--which boasts free food, live music, and thousands of attendees--is geared especially toward acquainting freshmen with their new campus. Along with the other student organizations, SFL had an informational table in the Union basement. Starting at 7pm and for the next four hours, we displayed our club's promotional billboard, handed out fetal development self-quizzes, and engaged with as many other students as possible. The goal was simple, and by no means unique to our club--get the names and e-mails of as many freshmen as possible!
Let me tell you, the art of recruiting potential new club members is always far from an exact science. Here, the freshmen-dominated crowds contributed to an atmosphere of simultaneous enthusiasm and timidity, orderliness and confusion. Attentive to the delicate balance between the necessary assertiveness and the off-putting overinformality when engaging strangers, we set to work filling up the lines in our clipboard-backed sign-up sheets. After an hour or so, most of us had automatically developed a sort of mental script for conveying the basic details about the club. My conversations, for example, often went something like this:
[Random freshman walks by]Me: Excuse me, are you interested in Students for Life?RF: Huh? What's that?Me: We are the pro-life group on campus. [slight pause] Would you consider yourself...[ever so slight of a pause, trying to look as nonthreatening as possible]...pro-life? [watch reaction on face]RF: Err...Ummm...Yeah. I guess so.Me: Great! [handing clipboard and pen] Our first mass meeting is on Monday, September 12 at 7pm, but you don't have to remember that 'cuz we'll be sending you an e-mail with all the details in it. In the meantime you can take our fun little fetal development quiz. [trade clipboard for half-sheet quiz]RF: OK. Thanks.Me: Sure. It was nice meeting you...[glancing down at clipboard]...Suzie.RF: You too. Wait...how did you know my name?Me: Uhh...I...[sheepishly]...looked at the clipboard...I'm Joe, by the way.RF: Oh, OK. Nice to meet you.Me: [mental note never to do that again]
Too forward, right? Especially the pro-life inquiry. That's a personal question, a definite no-no when talking to strangers. Or is it?
OK...I'll admit the whole clipboard incident was pretty clumsy. But that was just me; the other SFLers were much smoother while retaining a very similar approach.
In all seriousness, I think our approach worked very well. Yes, asking complete strangers whether or not they're pro-life is quite bold, but I'd be willing to bet it was more uncomfortable for us as the questioners than for them as the respondents. In any event, it allowed us to "cut to the chase" and immediately assess the interest level of a given individual. If someone was pro-choice and not at all interested in the club, a response in the negative provided an easy and polite out. If, on the other hand, someone was pro-life, or at least mildly interested in the pro-life position, a simple affirmative answer created an instantaneous bond with the club and its purpose. Finally, it's important to remember that we asked the question only after being requested to explain what SFL is. One of the advantages of having an ambiguous club name is that people don't form judgments just by hearing it. In fact, we've even had people think that "Students for Life" is composed of people who love going to U-M so much that the want to be--literally--students for life! No joke!
All in all, we got about 50 freshmen signed up for our first informational e-mail and at least talked to about 50 more. Not too bad, especially considering we didn't get a ton of traffic in our area of the Union. Even more encouraging, though, is the number of people who identified as pro-life. I'd estimate that about 70 percent of the people we asked reported being either pro-life or leaning in that direction. So much for the Culture of Death's stereotypical stronghold at U-M! The tide really is turning, and it gives us all so much hope that this generation--our generation--will finally be the one that makes abortion unthinkable.
Finally, I have to hand it to the pro-choice and undecided students who heard us out last night. Only very rarely did we receive snide or otherwise rude comments about our club and its work. Hopefully, this tolerance and open-mindedness is a sign of things to come, and we're optimistic about the possiblity of engaging in respectful, intelligent debate with the other side throughout the year. After all, it is only by taking our message to the world--by being true missionaries for life--that others will come to know and embrace the truth of the dignity of the human person that we are both blessed to hold dear and called to spread.