CMU demonstrates importance of standing against hate

Credit: Ik Choi/ Credit: Ik Choi/
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Unity. Many times, it is hard to witness unity within a given community, especially one that is large, international, diverse, and heavily occupied with individualistic pursuits. However, it is often the case that in times of pressure or situations of confrontation an entire community can be brought together in unity and in respect for its proud, communal values. Such was the case last Thursday, Oct. 5, on the intersection of Forbes and Morewood.

It was a gloomy day, at best; shadowy clouds covered the skies, producing a murky, sunless atmosphere in Pittsburgh. Light rain began to fall around noon. Despite the usual weather, the Carnegie Mellon community was alert and tense in preparation for the unusual visitors that were to drop by in the afternoon. As students crossed Forbes Ave. to get to their morning classes, they noticed the abnormal number of Campus Police officers that were lined up on both sides of the street. A few hours later, Campus Police was joined by a squad of Pittsburgh City Police vehicles.

Around 1:30 p.m., four members of the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), a hate group identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League, had set up as expected, on Forbes and Morewood. The members had come to Carnegie Mellon to protest the acceptance of LGBTQ individuals on campuses around Pittsburgh, including the University of Pittsburgh and Duquesne University.

Their presence and motive, however, was no surprise to the CMU community. The four members of the WBC were met with hundreds of students, faculty, and staff that had organized a counter-demonstration called “Time to Shine.” While the four WBC protestors were cornered by heavy police presence, the entire intersection was bursting with members of our community. In midst of the rain, the street shined with students with rainbow banners and flags, dancing, playing instruments, chanting slogans, and standing in solidarity. Bystanders took photos and watched in awe.

During the demonstration, a bystander watching “Time to Shine” naively expressed his curiosity regarding the purpose of the event. “If there are only four protestors, what is the point anyway?” he asked. This point I must address.

With all due respect for this bystander that I overheard, “Time to Shine” has a paramount purpose: to support LGBTQ students in our community and to reaffirm our values of diversity and inclusion. While completely ignoring the WBC members may be a seemingly smart response to undermine the intention behind their protest, that is simply not the point. Frankly, “Time to Shine” was about neither the WBC nor its protest; it was about our school and our values.

Planned by the Social Impact Coalition, the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, and numerous other student organizations, “Time to Shine” was a student-led effort that amalgamated into the execution of a successful counter-demonstration. From the planning meeting on Sept. 30 to the preparation event on Oct. 3 to the demonstration itself, I was proud and amazed that the CMU community was able to mobilize so swiftly and efficiently, spreading the word and coming together in the face of hatred.

Furthermore, the actions taken by the student government — composed of the executive branch (the Student Body President and Vice Presidents) and the legislative branch (the Undergraduate Senate and the Graduate Student Assembly) — to help promote “Time to Shine” and to reaffirm its support for LGBTQ students was appropriate and representative of the values within our community. “We, the members of student government, want to convey our utmost support for the LGBTQ+ community at Carnegie Mellon and any other groups affected by the hurtful speech and actions of the Westboro Baptist Church,” wrote student government officials in a statement released on Oct. 4. “We want to reaffirm our commitment to ensuring Carnegie Mellon is a safe, diverse, and inclusive community. We call on our fellow students to support, engage and help one another.”

In an interview with The Tartan, Maitreyee Joshi, the chair of the Undergraduate Senate, commented that “the role of student government in the demonstration was twofold: one, providing support to those who may have felt hurt or unsafe during the demonstrations and, second, getting important information about the demonstration to the student body.” She added that the statement issued by the government “[reiterated] CMU’s values for diversity and inclusion and how [the government was] standing in solidarity with all the communities that were being directly targeted by WBC.”

The success of “Time to Shine,” the extemporaneous alliance of student organizations and the student government, and the passion that the hundreds of students displayed on Oct. 5 are testaments to the unity of the CMU community. It is through these times that the community is brought closer together, strengthening the community itself and our values in the process. We should all be proud of the actions that we have taken to show our support for fellow students, regardless of their sexual orientation. A lack of such demonstration would have prompted confusion and uncertainty, permitting WBC protestors to hold free ground without contest at our university.

“Thank you to each of the volunteers that stood in the rain and helped manage all of the calamity and commotion. It was great to see a mix of undergrad, grad, faculty, and staff all lined up to help,” wrote Victor Tavarez, a member of the Social Impact Coalition, in a concluding email sent out to the “Time to Shine” preparation team on Oct. 5. “Even though things did not entirely [go] according to plan, CMU [out-shined] hate.”

By 1:45 p.m., the WBC protestors left the scene, 15 minutes earlier than scheduled. Despite their original plans, they never visited Pitt or Duquesne.

Indeed, Carnegie Mellon out-shined hatred.