By Michelle Lampariello
A single microphone was placed atop the steps leading to Green Hall’s main entrance, with a buzzing crowd of campus community members below waiting to speak and listen. The building’s long hallways extending past the central clock tower were reminiscent of outstretched arms in a supportive embrace as the upbeat background music was lowered, and several speakers prepared to discuss their personal interpretation of the phrase, “When they go low, we go high.”
The growing crowd sought to foster a sense of inclusion in the face of discrimination for marginalized students, but they were not the only group hoping to draw attention that afternoon. On the other side of Green Hall, members of the Philadelphia chapter of the radical religious group Bible Believers returned to campus less than a week after their first appearance this semester to remind students to “stay on the straight and narrow — emphasis on the straight.”
The College’s Administration was notified on April 17 that the Bible Believers, who previously spewed insults about homosexuals, women and Muslims during a heated on campus demonstration on April 12, planned to return on April 18, according to a campus-wide email from Angela Chong, interim vice president for Student Affairs, and Jackie Taylor, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs.
Instead of providing the Bible Believers an audience, the College’s Division of Student Affairs, in conjunction with Student Government, hosted a celebration of diversity called “When They Go Low, We Go High” on Quimby’s Prairie at noon on April 18.
Representatives from several student organizations, as well as College President R. Barbara Gitenstein, discussed the importance of maintaining a supportive on-campus environment that does not stand for hateful speech.
“Any impulse to objectify, deride, fear, debase someone who is different from you — we live in a time where that kind of impulse has become normalized,” Gitenstein said. “It is our obligation as members of a community that not merely tolerates, but embraces and celebrates diversity and inclusion, to stand firm against that kind of impulse.”
Joseph Ballesteros, a junior nursing major, represented TCNJ Barkada, a Filipino cultural organization at the College. He explained that he was not present for the Bible Believers’ initial demonstration, but gained an understanding of what happened through social media. He initially disagreed with how students interacted with the Bible Believers on April 12, but later changed his stance.
“When I first thought of the quote ‘When they go low, we go high,’ I thought ignoring them would be the best choice — I thought just walking by them would be the best idea,” Ballesteros said. “But after seeing everybody consolidate and support each other, I realized that I could say that only because I wasn’t there, only because I wasn’t being attacked, only because if I was there as a heterosexual male who is Christian, I wouldn’t feel attacked by their words.”
Andrew Fenwick, a senior political science major and president of PRISM, shared his candid thoughts on the importance of inclusivity.
“This past week, PRISM has had a rough week,” he said. “We have experienced ignorance, and it has made us question if this is a safe place on campus — but after seeing this today, I can say that this is a supportive campus.”
After a moment of silence, the microphone was opened to any audience member who wanted to share their thoughts. As students continued to discuss countering intolerance with inclusivity, SG and Student Affairs unrolled a large banner for attendees and passersby to sign with a message of encouragement.
“Please walk away today with the intent to actively, not passively, identify how you can contribute to building a more inclusive community,” said Rosie Driscoll, a senior history and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies double major. “Challenge yourself and your friends to understand, identify and confront your biases, and educate themselves when they don’t understand a community or a social issue.”