On Thursday, Sept. 27, Villanova had three members of the non-denominational King of David Christians visit campus to spread religious beliefs that included such things as people should “Obey Jesus of Hellfire” and “God hates [homosexuals], drinkers and sissies”. They chose to stand on their (literal) soap box outside of Bartley Hall, megaphones and giant signs in hand. While it was nearly impossible to miss them to begin with, it was infinitely worse once they started spewing messages of hate at anyone who walked by. Their messages ranged from inflammatory, (“get these [anti-gay slur] and women away from here”) to public shaming, and insinuating harm.
After sitting in Bartley Hall attempting to get work done while this continued in the background, I decided to give Public Safety a call to see if there was anything they could do. I called to see if they knew about the protesters and could send some security over.
“We’re aware they’re here, have a good day,” Public Safety responded.
As the hate outside grew louder, I decided to pack up. That was when I noticed students frantically running to and from the protesters. Afraid of fights breaking out, I diverted my full attention from my work to the protests. As I watched, these students assembled large speakers, connected them to power, and started blasting ‘Born this Way’ by Lady Gaga. All students in the vicinity started dancing as the music slowly drowned out the hate speeches. The leader of the small assembly was visibly frustrated and moved his followers down to the corner of Lancaster and Ithan as he tried to shout at counter protester through his microphone. As if it had already been rehearsed multiple times, the students began disassembling the speakers and moving down to where our protesters were heading. As I looked on, a small group of groundskeepers with loud mowers and leaf blowers also made the move to join up with them in order to help drown out the noise the protesters were making.
While it warmed my heart to see so many peaceful counter-protesters show up on the scene to show that the members of Villanova’s community did not condone the messages these protesters were trying to spread on our campus, it begged the question: why were these people allowed to harass us in the first place with no security present to make sure their threats did not escalate into actual violence? While I am absolutely for the freedom of speech and believe that people such as these protesters should be given room to preach their word, there does come a time where threats start being made and people feel unsafe. In the couple of years that I have been going to Villanova, groups such as these make an appearance at least once a semester and it seems that each time they make it on campus, tension rises. If we know that inflammatory groups such as these will be making a comeback to the University, can we at least enact a safety plan to make sure that students and faculty alike are safe? I think that starting with having a couple of the Villanova police force members posted between protesters and students would be a fantastic place to start. As well as an email sent to make them aware of the presence of these protesters so students can actively avoid them would do a lot to make some students feel safer.
In the meantime, get those dance moves ready for their inevitable comeback tour.