On March 14, demonstrators from the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP) set up outside of Reisner Dining Hall. While the waves of students passed by for lunchtimes, the group played bagpipes and chanted different phrases to bring attention to their group’s message.
Several TFP members held a large red banner that read: “God created them MALE & FEMALE (Gen. 5:2). Stop the ravages of transgender ideology.”
The TFP consists of self-described Catholic Americans that aim to inform others on issues they view as detrimental to society, according to the organization’s website. The group explains on their website that they oppose different societal movements that they find are destructive to tradition, family and property.
Soon after arriving, the group had to put away their bagpipes as university officials informed them of a university policy regarding noisemakers on campus while classes are in session. However, the group did not stop trying to spread their message and continued to chant “Purity is the answer,” the Lord’s Prayer, “transgender ideology contradicts basic biology” and even a rendition of God Bless America.
The TFP members that came to campus handed out pamphlets to students titled: “10 REASONS WHY Transgenderism is the Family’s worst enemy.” The demonstrators that students saw on Monday focused on conveying their belief that transgender people are harmful to society. Demonstrators attempted to engage with students in debates revolving around gender and transgender people.
“They aren’t here to cause any issues, they have their freedom of speech, just like we do,” Manuel Ruiz, the SU director of diversity, equity and inclusion, said. “If we are able to walk away from them and not respond, then they will leave. If we give them the ammunition, then they will stay here. We as an institution do not support hate speech.”
As their time on campus progressed, a member of the group posed questions to students. “Shaquille O’Neal — wanting to play women’s basketball, is that okay?” he asked. Though, no student answered.
A few students interacted with members in taking pamphlets or asking a question or two. However, many students chose not to directly interact or only interacted with the Peacekeepers Alliance, a new initiative by the university created to help offer support to SU students during these situations.
The Peacekeepers serve as a nonconfrontational resource between students and demonstrators that are trained to help students debrief and process after an emotionally taxing event such as hateful demonstrators.
“One of the things we noticed in the fall was that there was no support for our students,” Ruiz explained. The Peacekeepers were trained in the late fall semester in a program hosted by Stephanie Jirard, the SU Chief Diversity Officer and led by Blaise Liffick, a Millersville University professor and the program’s Operations Director.
“Shippensburg University is a public institution that receives federal funds,” Ruiz explained in response to a student concerned about demonstrators on campus. “As such, we cannot tell these groups they cannot come to campus.”
He continued by explaining that the Peacekeepers group will stand in front of groups holding the “Hate Has No Home Here” umbrellas.
“Further, our office is keenly aware these outside groups will say things that are offensive to members of our campus community,” he said. “To that end, we will be offering a time for students to debrief/check-in after such groups visit.”
The Peacekeepers handed out small cards with a short list of do’s and do not’s when it comes to these sort of groups on campus. It outlines that students should not interact, should not yell and should not make physical contact. It also encourages students to take care of themselves and detox after an emotionally taxing event.
“It’s important we take these measures to ensure our student’s safety and sense of belonging on campus,” Ruiz said. After the demonstrators from TFP left, the Peacekeepers provided a support system for students and additionally, Ruiz spoke with affected students in the PAGE Center to allow them to debrief.
The pamphlet outlines their stance on transgender people stating that: “What the transgender revolution wants is self-destructive, tyrannical, unscientific, immoral, abusive and unhealthy.” The pamphlet sites fearmongering opinions, transphobic arguments and sites two doctors who work for religious institutions.
“I went to a Catholic high school, I was raised as Catholic my whole life,” Molly Burns, a SU student, said. “I’m aware of the viewpoints that they have and their side but this, in my opinion, is just spreading hate. They can say that it is not hate, but you can’t say that you are a true Catholic and spread hate like this and contradict other people’s opinions. They shouldn’t go to college campuses with a bunch of people who are still figuring out who they are when they are grown men and women — notice how they have no women here.”
After three hours and dwindling student engagement, the demonstrators left campus. Students who feel distressed or would like a resource to talk to can reach out to the Etter Counseling Center at 717-477-1481.