Student response to demonstrator inspired, lacked civility at times
We as an editorial board put out a piece earlier in the semester which implored those in the community not to stand for hate on our campus. Those who responded to the religious demonstrator in the quad last Wednesday did just that.
For people not familiar with the situation we are referencing, a self-proclaimed Christian demonstrator showed up on campus wearing a shirt that said “Jesus said go and sin no more,” while holding a sign with bible verses and the phrases “repent or perish” and “God is angry with the wicked,” emblazoned on it. The man also shouted anti-gay remarks, verbally attacked a gay couple walking through the quad and made the ridiculous claim that all SU represents is sex, partying and drugs.
More than 100 students congregated around the man confronting him, singing, chanting and locking arms. For those who stood together in solidarity and conducted themselves in a respectful manner, we commend and support you.
In an email addressing the incident, SU President Laurie Carter thanked students for their showing of unity, reinforced SU’s commitment to free speech and stated the goal of making sure speech does not escalate into physical violence.
“I was so proud when I learned of the efforts of a group of students who locked arms in a show of solidarity against hate,” wrote Carter. “What’s more, [students] respected the rights of someone they didn’t agree with and protested peacefully at a distance. Their actions epitomize our shared goal of peace, civility and respect for all people.”
We agree with a majority of her sentiments, but think it is simply inaccurate to portray the response as a whole in this manner. There were plenty of instances of students who engaged the man using profanity and threats of violence. The mounting tensions even prompted SU police to put a barricade around the demonstrator and eventually escort him off campus.
This is where we raise most of our issue with the response. While we denounce the demonstrator for his hateful views, we also do not advocate fighting fire with fire. Maintaining civility is the best way to change minds. Those who responded by throwing a water bottle or threatening the man only serve to make him a martyr in his own mind. These actions are indefensible.
Free speech is near and dear to every one of us at The Slate. We realize that hateful people like this demonstrator are a byproduct of that freedom. We completely support his right to express himself just as we do the students who wished to drown him out. With that said, that right ends when violence is imminent.
Keeping that in mind, we would like to thank our SU police officers who ensured the safety and protected the rights of the demonstrator and students involved. They remained calm, cool and collected in the face of a tense situation. Without their presence, it is impossible to know how the incident could have potentially devolved.
Save for those who did not conduct themselves in a civil manner, we are incredibly proud of the university community for standing up for what is right. Bigoted ideas have no place here or in society in general. It is amazing to see so many people come together to express our common values. It is yet another reminder that being a Raider means being part of a family.