Today, a protest broke out as a group of church members showed up on I Heart UD Day to verbally harass students. They began on the Green, near Gore Hall, where they shouted at female students, telling them to close their legs and that they were whores. Sophomore Liv Rogal saw what was happening, and decided that she would not stand by and let this happen. She called the police, who then escorted the church members to West Delaware Avenue, where they were able to continue standing while holding signs that said “Jesus is Truth,” and promoting hate toward Muslims, the LGBTQ+ community, and others.
Luckily, more students had the same thoughts that Liv did.
I walked toward the Green and saw a huge crowd of students surrounding the church members. They were chanting and holding signs and standing together in what seemed like a beautiful moment of unity and pride. People waved rainbow flags and threw tampons in the air – a wonderful sight for me as a Women & Gender Studies (WOMS) major. I stood in the crowd with some friends, chanting along at first, but then slowly moving toward observing instead. I found myself wondering, What is really happening? What are we trying to do here? Those I knew in the LGBTQ+ community were standing in one corner of the protest, trying to shout but not being heard. Men held up signs that made no sense – they said things like “Cigs Inside” and “Harambe was an Inside Job.” They were blasting music from speakers and lifting up a giant blue tarp while chanting “Tarp, tarp, tarp!”
At first it was pretty humorous to see these G-d-fearing preachers being trolled by a bunch of young people. However, after some time it got tiring and upsetting. Immediately surrounding the church members was a group of young men, men who had the privilege of being able to stand in front of the church members and challenge them. Instead of using this privilege to make heard the voices of the very students being targeted, they seemed to take joy from the attention they were receiving as the men on the frontlines. Dr. Pascha Bueno-Hansen, a WOMS professor, worked her way through the crowd, speaking to student after student in an attempt to get us to cross the street and convince others to cross with us. She said that if we remove ourselves from the situation and take the attention away from the church members, they would have no audience and eventually leave. As someone with social anxiety, I found it difficult to approach strangers to convince them to leave the area. I was still able to fulfil her initial request, though – my friends and I crossed the street and joined the other students protesting instead of staying in the crowd that surrounded the church members. Most people ended up coming to this side of the protest; however, a group of men remained where the church members stood, continuing to chant and take videos.
I eventually left with a friend and we reflected upon this as we walked back to our apartments. While it was wonderful that these men felt compelled to join the protest, it felt insincere and lacked a focus that was needed in successful activism. It was not an organized protest at first, but over the course of the two hours that I was there, these men did not seem to try to listen and raise up the voices of those who were being targeted. Instead, I saw members of the LGBTQ+ community standing in the back of the crowd, being ignored and overlooked by many of the students there. I saw them trying to strategize and collaborate, but no one wanted to listen. At this point, those men were staying around simply because they thought it was fun or funny. They did not realize that this affects the daily lives of so many students on this campus. They did not think to listen to others who may have had actual experience shutting down people like these church members.
Of course, I do not want to assume the intentions of these men. They very well may have been aware of what they were doing and thought that they were helping in some way. Maybe people felt safe seeing so many students standing together in opposition to hatred. But as a WOMS major, someone who has been spending my capstone course studying activism, I felt that they were not being productive and instead were helping these church members gain momentum.
Another fellow Honors WOMS student, Rebecca Glinn, sums up this takeaway perfectly in one Facebook post:
“Hello blue hen friends! Remember that engaging in protest of blatantly homophobic/racist/sexist speech with 200 of your closest friends is the easy part. Engaging in dialogue about how we internalize those homophobic/racist/sexist attitudes and then act on them is the hard part. If you think you did your part to dismantle these systems of oppression by chanting next to a sign held by a heterosexual white boy that makes a joke about hockey, you’re wrong! Engage in dialogue, ask people not like you how you can help, do the hard part!”
I will acknowledge that standing in a crowd can be extremely difficult for some people, and I applaud those who were brave enough to step up today and stand for their fellow Blue Hens. At the same time, for most people this is a relatively easy form of activism, and can be especially counterproductive if we are not engaging in the proper dialogue and using our privilege to promote the messages that are often unheard. Next time, let’s truly think about the messages we are sending by protesting, the perspectives that are being held at the center of the protest, the people who are being left out, and the ways that we can truly move forward and make positive, lasting change on this campus! It is not enough to hold up a sign for an hour and then go home and never mention it again besides asking your friends if they saw your snapchat story. Keep those conversations going, bring these topics up in your classes, engage in groups on campus that have similar missions, and do what you can to promote an inclusive campus environment. This fight is not close to over – I am sure those church members will be back the next chance they can get, so let’s be ready.