Last-minute changes don't tarnish conference's response
By ANDREW THAGARD
Although two of the three keynote speakers cancelled and attendance was lower than expected, attendees of the Notre Dame and Saint Mary's Right to Life clubs second annual pro-life conference expressed overall satisfaction.
Twenty minutes into the start of the conference Mario Suarez, co-president of ND Right to Life, announced that Cathy Cleaver's lecture on "How to Communicate the Pro-life Message" would not take place. He reported that Cleaver's flight from Detroit to South Bend had been cancelled earlier that afternoon. Alan Keyes, another of the conference's keynote speakers, cancelled his appearance last Friday due to a schedule conflict.
Suarez and Kaitlyn Dudley, co-president and conference coordinator were quick to recover however.
"This conference is basically on your shoulders," Suarez told the crowd. "If it's good it's your fault; if it's bad it's not our fault."
"We would have loved to have [Cathy Cleaver] come but I think it worked out much better than we thought," Dudley said after the conference. "It's not like there's only one best way to do things. We found out there's a different — but also good way — of doing things."
This year's conference was designed to be more "hands on" than the first one. The seven scheduled keynote speakers featured last year were replaced with three along with interactive workshops, moderated discussions, and feedback sessions.
"I expected more sentiments of disappointment from people about the two [cancelled] keynote speakers but it really hasn't happened," Dudley said. "People wanted to come meet people and it didn't matter who was speaking. They've said that the workshops were really good."
"Our group at St. Bonaventure is very small so I wanted to learn how to make more people more involved," said Julia Smuda. "We went to the Sean Regan workshop and he talked about how to keep people motivated in your group by setting short term goals and giving them different things to do. It was very educational."
"I thought that the speakers were very good. They were informative," echoed Nicole Muller, a freshman at St. Bonaventure University.
Other students who were not active in pro-life clubs at their schools attended the conference looking for motivation.
"My family's always been pro-life but I haven't been involved in the movement since I was 6," Theresa Wallman of Goshen College said. "This was an opportunity to find out more information on exactly what it was about."
Wallman left the conference interested in starting a pro-life organization on her campus but she also expressed a desire to discuss the death penalty, an issue not covered in this year's conference.
Students showed enthusiasm at the opportunities to network with other pro-life clubs that the conference offered.
"It's very easy to get discouraged in the pro-life movement," said Radu Mattei from Villanova University with American Collegians for Life. "That's one of the reasons why pro-lifers suffer such a high burn-out rate. It seems like you're the only one who cares."
"I wanted to be able to discuss with other students from other schools what the culture of life is and the dynamics of getting that message out," said Michael Kleissler of Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio. "Even if you don't feel that you've learned a lot you create an important sense of solidarity."
ND and SMC Right to Life Clubs intend to start planning for next year's conference earlier. They anticipate keeping this year's interactive format in place but focusing their resources on only one keynote speaker for next year. They are looking to recruit Mel Gibson or Ben Stein.
"Next year will be the third annual conference," Suarez said. "We've learned a lot in figuring out what the need for this conference is and next year we'll have a much better idea on how to do that."
All News Stories for Monday, April 9, 2001