by John Eppich
Cleveland State had a PR disaster recently. People placed anti-LGBT posters on bulletin boards on campus. Unsurprisingly, the entire student body was angered by these disgusting posters telling LGBT members to kill themselves. President Berkman was met with the rage of many LGBT members and allies after giving an inadequate first response. Many people have been protesting on campus wanting answers. This has led to people from outside of campus joining in to propel their own agendas.
I want to preface this article by saying I do not endorse the messages posted. Hate speech that incites violence — especially to a group of people — is deplorable and should be looked down upon. Freedom of speech is not the same as freedom from consequences for saying racist and homophobic things.
Looking at this as an LGBT member, my first reaction was anger and fear. My emotions were on fire. I was very angry, especially at Berkman’s first response. As soon as I started to see the protests, however, I ran into some internal conflict. I saw groups I had never seen before on campus spewing misinformation and their agendas. There were extremists on both sides escalating the situation way off topic. There were even students blaming other students for putting up the posters on social media pages. As time went on, I watched from afar as outside media sources were interviewing students and some of the outside protesters.
The story got so huge, I was even asked by my family about what was going on down here as they watched their local news back home. Suffice to say, this story has reached far out of the walls of Cleveland State University.
My Facebook page is filled with reviews of my school that are either misleading or out right lying about the original situation. Currently, there is an ongoing battle between students giving Cleveland State 5 stars and outsiders reviewing the school with 1 star complaining about issues and concerns that are mostly untrue. I fear that if this continues, this story will be completely different from how it began.
These groups were making things worse and worse to the point where the media saw what was going on here. I am all for freedom of speech and assembly, but there has to be a point where we reflect and understand what is happening. This disaster has become bigger than it needed to be.
The group of people who posted these horrible posters are in no way affiliated with the university. Berkman gave an outlet for people to vent out their frustrations, and although he could have handled everything better, he did apologize for his poor first statement and stated he was open to suggestions on how he could make this better. The university gave out multiple statements saying they do not endorse the messages posted.
When we fight amongst each other, things are not going to get done. We have people from outside of the university fighting for complete freedom of speech without consequences and telling all people who identify as LGBT to go to hell and repent. We had people pushing for Berkman’s removal from office and calling him a white supremacist. This is in no way helping to alleviate the mess Cleveland State has been facing. People started to miss the point as to what is going on.
Currently, the administration wants to hear what students have to say and help them come up with solutions to continue to make the university safe for everyone no matter your race, gender, sexual identity or background. They plan to work towards training the faculty in Safe Space training. Some people I have talked to are working on a pro-LGBT movement on social media.
With all the protests, many of these solutions have been silenced or ignored. In order for anything to be accomplished, students should go to the administration calmly to discuss what would make them feel more comfortable on campus.
Sadly, I find that all of the media coverage, all of the protesting and all of those who have made public statements on this topic have done a favor for the bigots who put the sign up in the first place. By making the situation bigger than it ever should have been, we gave fuel to the fire these bigots truly wanted.
This is an extremely emotional and heated topic. To everyone affected, understand that your emotions, your anger and your sadness are valid, but we must remember to keep a level head and not sink to the bigots’ level. Unfortunately, we cannot prevent negative media attention and outsiders coming in to protest, but we can take away their podiums and work to improve our university’s reputation. This was a rough week for Cleveland State and its LGBT community. To all my LGBT siblings, know that love is greater.