On Tuesday, September 26th and Wednesday, September 27th protesters gathered at the University of Louisville’s Campus free speech zone. The group was also at the University of Kentucky’s campus on Monday, September 25th. This group was set to protest from 11:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M. on each day. On-campus protests are nothing unusual, but the nature of this particular gathering left students troubled. The group held signs with sayings like “Women are Property”, and “Repent to Jesus or Burn.” The group was roped off and protected by UofL staff while they spouted homophobic, racist, and misogynistic rhetoric. Students report hearing slurs directed towards them as well as staff members. Protestors left on Tuesday at 4:00 P.M.. On Wednesday they did not arrive until 3:00 P.M. and left at 5:00 P.M.. The reasons they did not stay for their initially planned time are unknown.
Students gathered around the display to counter the protest with signs and chants like “God Loves Everyone” and “God Made Adam and Eve but I’m Both”. Students also blocked the protests from view by forming a circle around them. After the protest, student organizations on both campuses held discussions about the protests, with both UofL and UK students not being happy with the situation. I asked a UofL student about her feelings on the protests. “The whole situation made me feel very disturbed and anxious. As a Christian and a woman it was very upsetting…” The UK student I interviewed had a different thought. “I believe they [the protestors] are scam artists attempting to sue the school when a student assaults them.” Both students I interviewed had heard rumors that these protestors were purposefully attempting to incite violence, but these rumors could not be confirmed.
Both universities quickly responded to the situation. The University of Louisville’s Dean of Students commented,“…As a state institution bound by law and committed to the principles of the First Amendment, the university is required to provide access to individuals and groups that are not part of the campus community who wish to engage in speech activities. The university does not condone any type of threatening, harassing or condemning speech…” The University of Kentucky released a similar statement on its Instagram page stating, “The University condemns statements made today by visitors on our campus…nonetheless as an institution of higher learning and a public university, we have a responsibility to respect free speech and expression under the First Amendment” I asked students their thoughts on their universities’ response. One commented, “Even though I fundamentally disagree with these people who came to campus…you can’t ban hate speech because there is nothing formal that outlines what that even is.” Another remarked, “I think everyone overestimates how much our university cares.”
My personal opinion on this matter is that while protestors have a right to protest on a public campus, the number of students who reported being harassed and berated by these protestors, as well as students who were deeply troubled and disturbed by the actions of the protestors crosses a line. The First Amendment protects the right to peacefully assemble, and to me, these protestors were violating this right for students. A student on UK’s campus was involved in a physical altercation with one of these protestors. With so many students upset by this situation, the protestors disrupted students’ sense of safety and well-being. The University should remove not just these protestors, but any group of protestors that greatly impacts campus security.