For hours, Oliver Vazquez watched a counter-protester silently hold a single flower up to homophobic and sexist protesters.
“He just stood up and he held a sunflower or something for about three hours,” said Vazquez, a sophomore Spanish major. “He was still there when I left.”
Posters reading, “We stand for justice,” “Love conquers hate” and “Temple students against bigotry” filled the sidewalks outside of Ritter Hall.
On Sept. 11, about 30 to 40 students gathered to challenge the homophobic and sexist groups that have been speaking on campus for years. These speakers are often Evangelists who come to Main Campus to preach.
For junior finance major John Miles, these are more than just statements on a poster. Miles joined this counter-protest to promote inclusivity on Main Campus.
“Sticking up for people who are marginalized is both ethical and just,” Miles wrote in an email. “Inclusiveness, diversity and a mutual respect for others is what makes us strong as a collegiate community.”
“By counter-protesting this repulsive behavior, we show as a student body that we honor free speech, but we have no [tolerance] for bigotry, homophobia or xenophobia,” he added.
This, however, was not the first counter-protest on Main Campus. Several protests have popped up randomly since last year.
This month’s counter-protest was created by the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, Advocacy and Leadership. IDEAL tries to create a secure and inclusive campus and celebrate diversity among students and community residents.
Tiffenia Archie, IDEAL’s assistant vice president, said the office is “thoughtful of our neighborhood, our environment [and] our neighbors.” Archie said she couldn’t be happier with the peaceful, but effective nature of the group’s counter-protests.
“I think [the counter-protest] really conveys the message that [hate] is not acceptable,” Archie said. “We really are working toward inclusivity and social justice for people on campus.”
Miles is not the only student hoping to encourage inclusivity and diversity on campus.
Vazquez stayed at the counter-protest for three hours. Although he began the morning as a bystander, he quickly joined in the action.
“The first hour wasn’t so lively, it was really quiet,” Vasquez said. “People came and went, screaming things, yelling things at the protesters. After the first hour, people just started piling up, a crowd started to form.”
“Some guy came in with a speaker, like a sound system and he started rapping and talking back at the protesters,” he added.
With these protests occurring, administrators find safety to be a top priority on campus. Director of Emergency Management Sarah Powell said she maintains campus safety by assessing risks and threats to the university.
ASSISTANT VICE PRESIDENT, IDEAL>
Powell said that although the university is on a college campus, the public streets on campus are accessible for anyone, including those who initiated the protests.
“Our streets and sidewalks and open spaces are considered public spaces,” Powell said. “In that sense, we have no ability to remove people whose speech offends members of the community.”
Powell advises students and community residents disregard the religious groups that they find negative and hateful.
“The best thing students can do in these situations, honestly, is to ignore the speaker completely, as that speaker wants nothing more than attention and confrontation,” Powell said. “The police are present to protect all parties, as they must do in the name of public safety, and they will ask a controversial protester to leave the premises if, and only if, there is a potential or realized threat to public safety and law and order.”
Although free speech is granted to both parties, violent protests are banned from campus. Archie also added that safe and peaceful protesting is the only way for IDEAL’s message to be heard louder than any other protest.
“We wanted to put a different message out there,” Archie said. “[The protester] has a right to be on that corner, but we also have a right to say, ‘No, this is not what our campus is about and we don’t support your message and we’re gonna show people that we don’t support your message.’”
Miles said he and other counter-protesters refuse to let the intolerant beliefs define their university.
“The Temple community becomes stronger when we fight for justice and inclusion,” Miles wrote in an email. “When we stand together, there is nothing we can’t accomplish.”