Students may have noticed advertisements on their Facebook and Twitter feeds this week for a “Bowdoin Pro-Life” group. The ads read, in part, “Join us as we start up a new pro-life group at Bowdoin College!” and link to a page for the group featuring a photo of the Quad. While the post and group appear to be associated with the College, or at the very least organized by Bowdoin students, they are not. The ad was paid for by Students for Life of America (SFLA), a national 501(c)(3) organization and pro-life advocacy group that has chapters on 838 high school, college and medical school campuses. 501(c)(3) organizations are tax-exempt nonprofits that serve religious, educational or charitable purposes. According to Beth Rahal, the regional coordinator of SFLA, the organization is using targeted Facebook advertisements to solicit students who may be interested in starting a chapter at Bowdoin. 

SFLA is misleadingly portraying itself, through the post’s design and rhetoric, as an existing, student-led organization. The ads on Facebook list “Bowdoin Pro-Life” as their author and mimic the Bowdoin brand in order to create the impression of an affiliation with the College. While the post could easily be mistaken for one of the many advertisements targeted to college students that permeate social-media, it is part of a concerted effort by SFLA to reach the Bowdoin community. According to this week’s front-page article, the organization has already made direct contact with students and College officials in order to advance its mission.

When three students attempted to launch Polar Pads, a franchise of Roomie Rentals, the company that rents beds and futons to students, Bowdoin refused to authorize the enterprise over concerns that it violated the College’s solicitation policy. The policy states,  “No outside organization may proselytize, distribute, or sell products without direct sponsorship of a student organization recognized by the Bowdoin Student Government or an administrative office.” Director of Student Life Allen Delong remarked at the time, “There are a lot of people, corporations, businesses and philanthropic groups who would love to have access to Bowdoin students, and we really are cautious about who has access.” While the College does its best to prevent unsolicited contact with outside groups, targeted social media advertisements come as a new and unregulated means of reaching Bowdoin students.

In 2012, the Orient spoke with students holding conservative values who reported their discomfort and unwillingness to express their views on Bowdoin’s campus. A Bowdoin Pro-Life club has the potential to provide a more welcoming environment for campus conservatives to voice their opinions and could foster dialogue on a divisive social issue. However, SFLA’s misleading method of reaching out to students only discredits its commitment to free and open discourse; a national pro-choice advocacy group using the same approach would be equally dubious. By circumventing the official channels of Bowdoin’s administration with targeted advertising on social media, SFLA undermines the spirit of Bowdoin’s solicitation policy and leaves us wondering: Would Bowdoin Pro-Life be a student-run group, or the instrument of a national organization?

This editorial represents the majority view of the Bowdoin Orient’s editorial board, which is comprised of Garrett Casey, Ron Cervantes, Natalie Kass-Kaufman, Sam Miller, Leo Shaw, and Kate Witteman.