Dear USF President Judy Genshaft,
I write to you on behalf of us members of the USF community who feel as strongly about the subject as I do. I will begin by saying that this is not a petty complaint, I love being a student at the University of South Florida. The faculty and staff are unlike any other professors I've had at other institutions. And the passion and genuine love for the school that I and the student body possess is truly one of a kind. There is no other thing I would rather be than a USF Bull.
It is because of my love for this school that I would like to address the growing issue of extremist conservative groups that have congregated and harassed students on the USF property. In the recent months, there have been two groups in particular that have harassed and attacked students over their beliefs in an aggressive manner. These groups have established grounds in front of the two busiest places on campus, the library and Cooper Hall, and have gotten more hostile to students in the recent weeks. In an institution who's goal is to promote a safe and fun learning environment, I feel that these groups are hazardous to the students and faculty.
The first group I would like to address is a radical Christian organization that gathers on the lawn between the library and Cooper Hall once a month. To begin with, I am in full support of the First Amendment, in which we are granted the right to the freedoms of religion and expression. I am not complaining about all religious groups, as that there are several religious organizations who gather at USF to peacefully and respectfully spread the word of their beliefs and conversate with the faculty and students. This particular group, however, has not taken this approach. This extremist Christian group gathers with large posters to warn and condemn students that they will be going to Hell if they participate in actions that are but not limited to homosexuality, premarital sex, recreational alcohol consumption, and not abiding by the rules or acknowledging the existence the Christian God. Not only are some of these actions common among college students, but this group specifically targets members of minority religions and the LGBT community.
This past week, a man speaking on behalf of the extremist group proceeded to call all of the female students "whores" and said that they "should not be spreading their legs to every frat boy and lesbian who walks by them." The man also began to attack a Muslim student after he began to defend his religion. The bigot from the church group began insulting the Muslim student by saying that his religion promotes terrorism and rape. The extremist also asked the Muslim student if he was a terrorist or if he supported ISIS, then he also continued to mock his foregin accent. The University of South Florida is comprised of a large amount of foreign students and professors from different cultures, as well as a diverse local student and staff population. I feel that it is not fair to those who do not believe or participate in Christianity to be persecuted for their beliefs. And as a member of the LGBT community, many of us already face harsh criticism for our lifestyle choices in public, and for some, at home. In a place that many of call our second home, there is no excuse for students and faculty to feel attacked or that they should hide who they truly are in fear of groups like these.
The second group I will address is a Pro-Life organization who recently made an appearance the Wednesday following Spring Break. The Pro-Life group, who appeared on International Women's Day, gathered on the lawn in between the library and Cooper Hall. The Pro-Life organization set up massive graphic photographs of dismembered fetuses as the result of late-term abortion operations; images that were so graphic and disturbing, that they should not have been advertised in such a public area. The group also had photos demonizing women who chose to have abortions, including their personal information such as their names, pictures, and dates they supposedly had this procedure. The organization members then proceeded to hand out flyers with these graphic images and wanted to engage in conversations with students and staff about abortion. In my personal experience with this group, after I respectfully declined to engage in a conversation with a man from this organization, the man continued to follow and harass me and ask why I did not want to conversate with him and repeatedly said, "I just want to talk about abortion." It wasn't until I firmly told him no and to stay away from me that the man from the Pro-Life group walked away. Throughout the day, I've heard several complaints from predominantly female students who have had similar interactions with this group. Though I believe that everyone is entitled to their opinions on such a controversial subject, no person should ever have to be harassed or exposed to graphic images if they do not choose to. The Pro-Life organization did nothing but upset and make the students and faculty feel uncomfortable with their straw man argument.
The University of South Florida praises themselves to be a community that is accepting and celebrates diversity among their faculty and students. Following the implementation of President Donald Trump's travel ban, USF issued a statement to their faculty and students saying that they will not tolerate hate on their campuses. However, actions speak much louder than words. And the lack of intervention between USF and these extremist organizations leads me to question how genuine the school's statements about safety and diversity truly are. If the University of South Florida does care about the safety and wellbeing of their faculty and students, then they should not allow these extremist groups to gather on their property. While I share a deep love and passion for this school, it is because of these extremist groups that I cannot truly feel proud to be a USF Bull.
Ashley R. Schiedenhelm
For those who are reading this letter and want to see USF stop these hate groups from congregating on their campuses, please sign the petition on the blue link provided to show your support for this cause. The more signatures added, the more recognition we will receive from President Judy Genshaft. https://www.change.org/p/university-of-south-flori...