When students feel more of a duty to protect each other than the university there is an issue.
Disclaimer: The contents of this article may be disturbing to some readers.
By: Nick Hawks
It was a typical Wednesday afternoon when I got off the elevator on the second floor of the Student Center. I was running late to class, per usual, when I saw it: students lined up near the window overlooking the courtyard. I went to get a closer look, and students were hovering over the stairs and balcony outside like seagulls at a picnic. I’ve been covering arts and entertainment for two separate campus newspapers this year, so I’ve been to my share of campus events. I’ve never seen anything quite like this.
“There are no strap-ons in heaven, ladies,” the man with the “Jesus Saves” jacket taunted at the crowd. “No strap-ons in heaven.”
“The homos want to shove their sexuality on all of us,” the same man shouted shortly after. “Don’t accept that dirty mess. That’s disgusting to God, and it’s disgusting to any natural man or woman.”
“It’s not disgusting to me,” a student fired back at the man.
“Well you’re perverted, I get that,” he responded.
Hatred. Bigotry. Outrage.
That was the message that roughly seven different churches came to Cleveland State University’s campus to spread on Nov. 6, a chilly fall day that had students bundled up in winter coats and gloves. Zach Humphrey, from the Public Proclaimer Ministry, said they can typically call colleges about a week before they would like to come to campus, and the universities typically arrange protection, although he did not make the arrangements for this visit to Cleveland State. A big issue with his ministry is homosexuality.
“One of the big issues on college campuses today is homosexuality, so we’ll come here and preach about that,” he said through his southern accent.
I tried writing this article without bias, but that simply isn’t possible. So I won’t. I’m not going to get into what is or is not legal to say, or what’s technically considered freedom of speech — somebody smarter than me can write that article. Maybe lawfully they had a right to be here. But you know what?
I don’t care.
Everything Cleveland State represents was violated on that afternoon. Inclusion, diversity, even the right to pursue an education. At one point, I witnessed a girl walking away from one of the “preachers,” and he didn’t like that. So he harassed her.
“Where are you going? Don’t be intellectually dishonest. You asked a question, now you reveal your bias and you don’t want the answer. Hypocrite!” he shouted while pointing at the girl.
“How am I a hypocrite? I just want to leave, I’m cold,” the student said.
At one point, while one of these “preachers” was standing on top of the stairs and yelling down at the angry mob of students, a male student, who identified as gay, stood up right next to him and shouted words that I cannot type. I waited for something to go wrong, as the police sipped on their Starbucks coffees and made nonchalant conversation roughly 50 yards away.
In that moment, I did not feel safe. The air was toxic and full of hatred. I stood feet away prepared to try and break up a brawl if I had to.
What if a student threw a punch at one of these people and got expelled? After all, if somebody called you a “dirty f–,” which they did (and we can’t even actually print that word), it would not be an unreasonable reaction. Smart? No. Justified? You can make an argument.
And that is where this university failed its students. It put 18-22 year-olds in situation they should never have to be in on a college campus, testing their restraint and judgment. It made them endure hours upon hours of harassment and slurs.
Many of the students were chirping back, yelling profanities at these “preachers.” What if somebody captured it on YouTube and became internet famous? What if this student’s future employer came across this and terminated the student’s job? As much as I chuckled when I saw a student stand up on the stairs and yell out, “You’re a cunt!” at the “preachers,” I thought of the potential ramifications if anything like that went viral. Truly, it was no laughing matter.
I was appalled by what I was witnessing, but not at these so-called religious types. I was appalled by the university, allowing this to go on at their campus. I was not the only one.
“They’re not coming here to try and convert us, they’re coming here trying to get a rise out of people. Because it does get very confrontational. One guy called this girl a tramp.” – Kenzie Saunders, freshman.
“I don’t like it. I feel like they’re being rude and disrespectful to everybody that’s being here.” – Anthonya Fox, freshman.
“I just think sometimes they get a little disrespectful. I wasn’t here so I can’t say anything to it, but apparently one of the guys called some girl a tramp, and just out of the blue.” – Nick Coleman, sophomore.
“It’s frustrating because the things that they talk about are more than just queer issues, they were spewing a lot of hate towards muslims and Buddhists and hindus and other groups that are prevalent on CSU’s campus.” – Sam Motes, senior.
Apparently, this is nothing new, according to student Ren Kauffman. He told me about an incident that happened a few years ago.
“Someone ran around the school and posted these fliers,” Kauffman said. “They had a person hanging on them and it said, ‘follow your fellow faggots’ on it. And it was obviously hate speech. The university took the stance and said that they are protecting the freedom of speech and it was not hate speech because constitutionally it wouldn’t be considered hate speech.”
When The Cauldron reached out to Cleveland State’s Chief of Police, Anthony Traska, for comment, he said that they cannot interfere with free speech as a result of the First Amendment. However, they realize the situation raised issues and their policies are now being reviewed.
As the face of our university, the buck ultimately stops with President Sands. By not condemning this type of behavior, he’s ultimately allowing it to happen. I’m not calling for his job or anything like that. After all, it’s not like he did anything horrific, like lead the Cleveland Browns to a 2-6 start. But now, President Sands, you’re aware of what exactly happens at these “sermons.” The question is, what are you going to do about it? This doesn’t have to be negative, if we can all learn from this and do better moving forward.
But if the answer is nothing, and the university once again wants to hide behind the “freedom of speech,” shield, then I guess we have no choice but to accept that. Our student body is strong and can endure a few words.
But my challenge to you, sir, is to come to the courtyard the next time they come so you have to endure it with us. See what it’s like to see your students be called homos that are going to hell. See what it’s like when young women are called whores. See the outrage on their faces, and the pleasure it gives to the “preachers.” Feel the powerlessness with us. Because on Nov. 6, Cleveland State left its students out alone in the cold, and I’m not talking about the weather.