Community residents split after Temple’s stadium town hall

North Philadelphia residents are conflicted about how stadium conversations will continue, after a town hall hosted by President Richard Englert about Temple’s proposed on-campus stadium ended early due to audience disruption.

Over 250 people, including community members, faculty members, alumni and students, attended Temple's town hall meeting on Tuesday night in Mitten Hall. | ALYSSA BIEDERMAN / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Audience members said they are left with split opinions about how stadium conversations will continue, after a town hall hosted by President Richard Englert about Temple’s proposed on-campus stadium ended early due to constant audience disruption.

Some residents said that disrupting the town hall sent a strong message to the university, while others were hoping for a more constructive dialogue. During the short-lived meeting, community residents did not allow Englert to speak for more than about two minutes without interrupting his remarks.

Stadium Stomper and community member Musa Bey, 29, who initiated the first chants at the event that led to Englert stepping away from the podium, said that people had heard “enough” from Englert.

“We let them speak,” Bey said. “We heard their little plan.”

Some members of the audience yelled out chants of “lies” periodically as Englert attempted to speak. After about 13 minutes of remarks from Englert, boos and continued chants like, “Down with the stadium, up with the community” and “Whose streets? Our streets,” eventually forced Englert to abandon the stage.

But Tuesday night’s events are not the first time a university event about the stadium has ended abruptly due to demonstrations. In February 2016, former university President Neil Theobald held a Q&A with students about the proposed stadium, which also ended early due to community and student disruption.

Attendees were again split between people who wanted to listen  and those who wanted to speak out in protest. Those in favor of the town hall pleaded with crowd members who were shouting to listen to Englert’s speech.

Malcolm Kenyatta, a candidate for the state’s 181st District in the House of Representatives, attended the town hall and said in a statement after the event that this was “a tea-kettle moment.”

“Let’s be honest, there was a lot of tension in the room,” Kenyatta said in a statement. “But this tension cannot be used as a predicate to ending badly needed dialogue. In fact this tension is what results when there is not sustained conversation based on mutual interest and respect.”

After about 20 minutes, Englert retook the podium, and continued for about an additional five minutes, before the event was forced to end after Ruth Birchett, a Stadium Stomper and block captain for the 1900 block of Norris Street, interrupted Englert’s presentation.

Birchett stood up from her seat and shouted phrases at Englert like “You’re a disgrace to Russell Conwell,” who is the founder of Temple.

Because of this, Temple Police and university officials escorted Englert from the stage. This cued loud chants of “Shame” from the crowd, as he exited. A moderator then announced that the event had ended.

Many community residents were upset with how the town hall devolved.

“I got nothing out of it,” said Gavin Collier, who grew up on Susquehanna Avenue near 16th Street and is an investigator for Temple’s Campus Safety Services. “I heard a little bit of what the president had to say about the benefits for the community… but its hard when they’re being disruptive.”

“I thought it was really unfortunate that it turned into a lot of shouting,” said Darin Bartholomew, who is the president of the university’s Young Alumni Association. “I understand the trust issues between Temple and long-time residents. I hope that we can fix that, and I hope we can have a conversation on how we can make this project work both for Temple and the community.”

Soon after the event officially ended, protesters took to the stage in Mitten Hall to shout out their grievances with the university as the audience exited the room.

The Rev. William Brawner, pastor of Haven Peniel United Methodist Church spoke to the crowd using a bullhorn, criticizing the university’s community relations.

“If you want to be honest with the people, then bring the people to the table,” Brawner said to the crowd. “It starts today. We shall not be moved.”

Director of Community and Neighborhood Affairs Andrea Swan attended the town hall, but declined to comment about the event.

“Tonight is a reflection of a community voice that has not been heard,” said the Rev. William B. Moore of Tenth Memorial Baptist Church. “It’s pent up emotions, because they have been ignored by the university, and I think if we had allowed Temple to make their presentation we would be further down the road. It sets us back in really getting our message out.”

The scene outside Mitten Hall was the same.

More than 50 members of the Stadium Stompers — a group of community members, students, faculty and alumni who oppose an on-campus stadium —  protested with banners and signs outside the building. Temple Police initially prohibited people from bringing signs into Mitten Hall, but after persistence from the crowd, the officers stopped enforcing this restriction.

The group came equipped with air horns, bull horns, posters, banners and chants to disrupt the meeting. One member’s car was outfitted with speakers on the roof, so that anti-stadium chants could be better projected. At many times during Englert’s remarks, the outside protests could be heard from inside Mitten Hall.

Residents who oppose the stadium said they fear that if a football stadium is built on campus, it will aggravate existing issues between the community and Temple students, including trash and noise issues.

Charlie Leone, the executive director of Campus Safety Services, said the protest outside was kept under control and no one was removed during the event.

“The neighbors that live here, they have emotions, they have feelings, they’ve been here,” Leone said. “I totally understand that, and also from a university standpoint know that the university tries to grow, so it’s a mixed bag for me.”

Following the town hall, The Stadium Stompers said that they will hold a meeting on March 14 at 6:30 p.m. at the Church of the Advocate on Diamond Street near 18th to continue the stadium conversation.

1 Comment

  1. Why doesn’t Englert and the Director of Community Affairs get on the phone with Stadium Stompers and, in the protesters’ words, invite them to “the table” and schedule a joint town hall. What is so hard? If Temple is really serious about addressing the concerns of their neighbors and working with the community, why are they still having meetings and town halls where they are being shouted down? That tells me they must be doing this unilaterally. Why not from this point forward, have Temple officials coordinate with Stadium Stompers and community officials about meetings and Town Halls. Give the protesters equal time and let them publicly vent and discuss, in front of Temple officials including Englert. In turn, Englert can then address their concerns directly and publicly at the same time.

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