Photo provided by Franciscan University IDEAS club
Advocating for traditional family values is not what most college students think about as a way to spend their spring break, but that’s exactly what a small group of students from a small Catholic university in Ohio did.
Members of the Intercollegiate Defense of Equality and Solidarity (IDEAS), a student club at Franciscan University of Steubenville, made the trip to New York City from the eastern Ohio university for the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), an annual event held at the UN headquarters “dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women,” according to the event’s website.
IDEAS was one of the thousands of non-government organizations (NGOs) that attended CSW but one of a handful that promotes a “pro-family, pro-life agenda.”
The group’s website says that it was founded on the belief that “human dignity must be kept at the center of all policy and governmental action,” and is “committed to training and encouraging students with a passion for justice in international advocacy and politics.”
While still relatively small, IDEAS currently has four campus chapters. The original chapter at Franciscan University, and chapters at Ave Maria University, Ave Maria Law School, and Florida Atlantic University.
“We seek to unite, educate, and mobilize collegiate and post-collegiate youth in an educated and effective defense of human life, subsidiarity, and pro-family values on college campuses and in the international political arena,” reads the group’s mission statement.
Adam Basinger, a 21-year old finance and economics major, is the co-president of IDEAS at Franciscan University, and 2018 was his 3rd year attending CSW with the club.
In an interview with Red Alert Politics, Basinger explained that the main goal of IDEAS’ mission at the UN, is not to cause confrontation, but seek to promote thoughtful discussion by asking critical, thought-provoking questions that highlight contradictions in the statements made by speakers and panelists.
Basinger said that the 11 members of the club who went on the trip would split up and go to different panels covering a wide range of topics relating to sex education, contraception, gender identity, abortion, and others.
The members of IDEAS didn’t hide their mission from people who asked, but they didn’t advertise it either. However in one particular exchange Basinger recalled, he explained to two women from Sweden what the club did and its purpose, who promptly responded by saying that the club was “so privileged.”
In a change from previous years, the club was accompanied by Ronald McNamara, the director of student leadership at Franciscan University. Before accepting a position in the Franciscan University student life office, McNamara spent more than a decade working in diplomatic affairs, making the UN a somewhat familiar environment, and making him a valuable resource for the students.
McNamara said that some of the things he witnessed were shocking even to him, but he encouraged the students to seek out the events that seemed the most extreme and attempt to ask questions in order to force conversation. He specifically said that any event hosted by Norway, Denmark, Sweden or the Netherlands were of particular interest and ensured that the Franciscan University students were in the audience for them.
McNamara explained that there was “a great divide between the developing countries and the developed countries” when it came to issues of sex, sexuality and gender identity.
In a session on “gender stereotyping,” McNamara said that during the question period, Basinger quickly shot his hand up and was called on.
“Adam raised a question regarding the dignity of children and the fact that in the comprehensive sex education program that’s being shoved onto these developing countries, that it includes materials for the education of children from 0-4 years old, and includes things that I wouldn’t even be interested in being quoted on in terms of the aberrant behaviors that they are promoting for the education of these children.”
But after Basinger asked the question, three-quarters of the crowd, which McNamara estimated to be about 125 people, busted out laughing, and “somebody barked up, ‘well they’re gonna do it anyway so you might as well teach them.’”
In contrast to the mocking laughter, McNamara said that about half a dozen people came up to him and Basinger following the session and had “reasonable conversation,” noting that for him, as a parent, he felt it was important to consider the parent’s role in the education of their children on “sensitive matters.”
Basinger was not the only member of IDEAS who had attended the CSW before. Ana Victoria Haddad, originally from Chihuahua, Mexico transferred to Franciscan University in Fall 2017 but attended the commission in 2017 with a Mexican NGO.
“[That experience] gave me a little taste of what was going on in the world,” Haddad said, adding that it gave her a desire to learn more about important issues and become more informed about the positions she held.
Haddad said that 2018 was a much different experience because of the faith background she had by going with a group from a Catholic university.
The group stayed at a Dominican monastery in Manhattan for the week and attended daily mass.
Tonianne Zottoli, a freshman English education major, said that pornography was presented as a means of education, as was promiscuity. Event facilitators also would not answer any question that raised the issue of abstinence, she said.
One particularly interesting fact for Zottoli was that Emma Holten, a Danish-Swedish debater, who had nude photos of herself stolen, was among those people advocating for the use of pornography while saying that “right-wing patriarchy is the way we lose democracy.”