During the GREAT Day poster session in the College Union Ballroom on April 17, political science and international relations double major junior Gregor Malkasian presented his research project titled, “Women’s Reproduction is Not a Right: Abortion Prevention Through Education, Insurance Expansion, and Foster Reform.” The poster sparked debate and exchange amongst the Geneseo faculty, student body and administration.
Many attendees felt that the project should not have been permitted to be featured at GREAT Day and many students were left questioning the process for determining credible projects, as well as the GREAT Day review process.
The project’s research question was “how to decrease the amount of abortions due to economic issues of the mother,” according to the poster.
“The reactions, I guess, were to be expected,” Malkasian said. “People got a little emotional, but you know when you are talking about issues such as abortions, it’s polarizing. It wasn’t meant to be a political attack or a partisan hack job. It’s a topic that I feel passionate about and that people should know the other side to it.”
The submitted poster was a project completed for a PLSC 312 course, or American Social Welfare Policy instructed by assistant professor of political science and public administration minor coordinator Enuju Kang. Students were tasked with creating a project on any social work policy topic they were interested in.
Kang, as the course’s instructor and the project’s faculty sponsor, addressed students’ reactions.
“I understand that people feel uncomfortable when they face any ideas and then policies that they do not approve,” Kang said. “But you have to overcome that uncomfortableness and then try to reason yourself, and the other person as well, by having a constructive conversation or debate.”
The poster session is one of the more candid presentations on GREAT Day. The session’s attendees can approach presenters to ask questions and engage in conversation.
“He did his own research and then he came up with … his own solutions, which doesn’t necessarily have to be agreed with by everybody else,” Kang said. “I saw that some people came up to him and said that your research is just based on your opinion. I found that that accusation was very immature and irresponsible because they do not know what he has done to complete this project. Just the fact that you do not agree with him doesn’t give you the right to discredit his research.”
GREAT Day coordinator Patty Hamilton-Rodgers said the situation stands alone as a rarity for this event.
“This is my ninth year being in charge of GREAT Day, [this type of issue] rarely happens,” Hamilton-Rodgers said. “I would say this is the first time that anything like that has ever happened.”
Hamilton-Rodgers spoke further to explain the nature of reviewing submissions.
“We rely on the faculty to review the student’s project that they are submitting for GREAT Day to make sure it is something that should be presented,” Hamilton-Rodgers said. “We trust that the faculty have our best interests at heart.”
Student opinion regarding the project was mixed and students generally agreed that the project was controversial; some felt it was offensive, while others named it provocative.
“Above all, I feel uncomfortable,” a student in Kong’s PLSC 312 course said. “I feel uncomfortable that my professor would allow my classmate to do a project on abortion. I am uncomfortable that we were supposed to clap for him as a class when he did that.”
Psychology major senior Leslie Tetteh said she doesn’t agree with the precedent the poster sets.
“I think this was a problematic thing to even do,” Tetteh said. “But it also gives people the platform to try and do other problematic posters in the future.”
According to the poster description in the GREAT Day program, “this research explains how increased aid to low-income mothers and preventative measures will help the policy to ban abortions. A ban on abortions is necessary because approximately 880,000 babies are killed every year and one of the government’s roles is to protect life.”
“I think people have a right to be entitled to their own opinions,” psychology major senior Adnan Ahmad said. “I think it is okay to present research on this topic just without being offensive.”