Ahead of Rowan’s Pride Week 2019, several religious-affiliated demonstrators showed up to campus Thursday with signs and rhetoric that singled out groups they deemed were out of favor with their beliefs, including gays, Muslims and modern women.
The small group was led by Aden Rusfeldt, a pastor of a congregation with fewer than 20 members, according to Philly.com. Rusfeldt is a former competitive snowboarder accused of defrauding investors with a foreign exchange market business he ran. He has become infamous in the Philadelphia region for visiting college campuses and drawing large protests with his rhetoric.
A social media post rocketed around the Rowan community proposing a theory on the group’s motives.
While it’s unclear if these were the exact intentions of the group, Penn State and Ohio State were both sued over denying a speaker deemed a white nationalist from speaking on their campuses, according to Centredaily.
The demonstrators’ signs included language like “Warning: homos, whores, porno freaks…Muslims, drunks…obey Jesus or hellfire.” They also came equipped with a megaphone with which to broadcast their views toward passersby.
“I don’t think he has anything to say when it comes to people who actually can present evidence with their arguments,” said senior philosophy and psychology major Gina Magliocco. “I’m a satanist, and I’m telling him he’s practicing his own religion wrong, and that’s sad. I would never act this way to people.”
News quickly spread around campus that individuals stationed near the Campbell library were singling out particular groups with their rhetoric. Social media posts highlighted the happenings and drew a large crowd of protesters to the adjacent Chamberlain Student Center back patio.
As the crowd grew and words were exchanged between the religious demonstrators and the protesters, a large police presence arrived to act as a buffer between the two groups.
A Rowan advisory to students stated that “there is police activity near the Campbell Library and Student Center Patio on the Glassboro campus. Please avoid until further notice.”
Protests were largely peaceful, aside from several students throwing objects at the demonstrators, as seen in a Barstool Rowan Instagram video.
According to 6 ABC, two students were arrested for throwing soda at the protesters.
Many of those protesting the religious demonstrators donned pride flags or carried signs supporting those in the named groups.
One sign, scrawled on a piece of cardboard, read “F*ck that guy,” while another read “Make your wife cum and then we’ll talk. Homo-sex is the best.”
Several student protesters brought a speaker and began playing music to drown out the words being spoken by the religious demonstrators. The Student Government Association coordinated with the university to give out free ice cream in an attempt to have the students bring their attention away from the targeted rhetoric.
Elijah Olumakin, a senior Africana studies major who brought the speaker and music to the protest, thought it was important to drown out the hate with a message of positivity.
“I felt as though, to protest the poisonous words they’re trying to infect our minds with, we need to infect the heart with positive messages,” Olumakin said. “Whether you’re black, white, Spanish, Indian, broke, poor, gay, straight or non-binary, you love good music.”
Rowan President Dr. Ali Houshmand updated the university community in a school-wide e-mail.
“Rowan is obligated as a public university to allow freedom of expression, but we do not endorse or condone hate speech in any form… Rowan is committed to providing a safe and inclusive environment for all members of the community and rejects the abhorrent sentiments expressed by the protesters,” Houshmand wrote.
Vice President for Student life and Dean of Students Richard Jones approved of student actions at the protest.
“I think students coming out to support one another against hate is a great thing,” Jones said. “That’s a part of the Rowan spirit and tradition.”
Joe Cardona, vice president for university relations, commented on the event.
“This professional protester goes from college campus to college campus. Today, he just picked us,” Cardona said. “We’ve had a lot of faculty saying they’re proud of how the students are handling the situation.”
Student Government Association President Rbrey Singleton participated in the protest and gave a speech to the crowd.
He later wrote a message to the university community via email.
“We’ve been standing in the face of hate today, and many in our community have been standing against hate their entire lives,” Singleton wrote. “Let’s be bigger and turn our backs on hate. If we don’t give prejudice and bigotry our attention or power, it WILL leave.”
-Reporting by Joe Gramigna, Jaryd Leady, Miguel Martinez, Alex Heller, Chris Connors and Kalie VanDewater
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