Student leaders respond to hateful rhetoric by preaching positivity


Dylan Harris for The Easterner

ASEWU president Key Baker engages students in response to anti-abortion activists on campus Nov. 20. Students and faculty held a "positivity event" to try to draw attention away from the demonstrators.

By Dylan Harris, Managing Editor

When anti-abortion activists arrived on campus Wednesday, it appeared the scene on Nov. 7 might repeat itself.

The demonstrators shouted their disapproving messages about abortion and the LGBTQ community. Some students shouted back at them. Police were spread out throughout the campus mall ensuring everyone’s safety. But the overall response from the student body was far different this time.

“When we found out that … this group was coming back, we wanted to do something that was intentional and not give him attention,” ASEWU legislative affairs representative Mikayla Beeler said. “We thought that focusing it around hopefulness and loving would be a better approach.”

Beeler, ASEWU President Key Baker and other ASEWU members ran back and forth from the PUB to the campus mall encouraging students to stop giving the demonstrators attention and instead go to the PUB NCR for a “positivity event.”

Earlier this month, members of this same religious group were met with a much larger crowd of much angrier students. Some students exchanged words with the demonstrators yesterday, but the efforts from Baker, Beeler and others seemed to keep the crowd outside from growing too much. Loud music in the background played its part in drowning out the yelling as well.

“Obviously, you have free speech and you can do this, but it doesn’t get you anything to be hateful.” – Jessica Holcomb, EWU student

The “positivity event” included karaoke, voter registration opportunities and a poster that read, “What issues do you care about?” Beeler said that they wanted to give students a chance to express their opinions and be heard.

Other students and student groups chipped in to keep a more positive atmosphere.

Members of the Black Student Union made signs, some that read, “Free hugs,” others that had the names of transgender people who have lost their lives in acts of anti-transgender violence. Nov. 20 is the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, which prompted the latter signs.

Dylan Harris for The Easterner

“They were posting how we were an angry mob at Eastern and that we were preaching hate and that the LGBTQ+ community were just a hate mob,” EWU student Emonni Clemmons said. “We decided to fight back with love, so we got the ‘free hugs’ sign.”

Clemmons said she is really proud of how the students handled themselves yesterday.

Keeping that positive attitude when confronted with what many consider hateful rhetoric wasn’t easy for everyone, however.

“The school, they can’t really do anything, so I think that having the positivity is a really good thing,” EWU student Jessica Holcomb said. “Because there’s obviously a lot of people (that) are just going to be frustrated not being able to do anything about that.”

The anti-abortion activists announced on social media that they would be on EWU’s campus Nov. 20, so police officers were able to make it to campus sooner than they were able to on Nov. 7. Fortunately, they didn’t have to do much more than observe. 

While yesterday’s events didn’t escalate to the level they did on Nov. 7, they still had an impact on some of the students who were there.

“They say things against LGBT and abortion,” Holcomb said. “Obviously, you have free speech and you can do this, but it doesn’t get you anything to be hateful.”

Richard N. Clark IV for The Easterner