Tyresha Vaughan-Blanding takes the microphone to voice her concerns about the recent protest. OLIVIA HEILEMANN / SNAPPER
As a result of the recent uninvited visitors protesting the common lifestyles of Millersville students, Carlos Wiley M.S. Ed, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at Millersville University, held a Town Hall Meeting in the SMC Multipurpose Room for students and faculty to voice their concerns.
Before Wiley gave the floor to the students and faculty, he began with Millersville’s newly created Land Acknowledgement, respecting and recognizing the indigenous people who praised the land in which our institution sits. These natives include the Conestogas, Susquehannocks, Shawnee, and Shenks Ferry people. More information about the Land Acknowledgment can be found on Millersville University’s website.
To follow these statements, Wiley spoke about how he has been in this field of work for about 20 years. These protesters are nothing new to him. He recalls the questions he asked students during the protest and how this will impact them in the future, and what engaging will do for them.
“I think there are ways in which we can combat folks that come to public institutions for the purpose of harassing good people for no apparent reason other than to try and create and get a lawsuit,” says Carlos Wiley.
According to an email sent by the main protester, Aden Rusfeldt, he warned the University Chief of Police that he would be on campus on Jan. 17 to protest. He also included information about the lawsuit he has against New York City for removing him from a public space, reminding the police that legal action would be taken if they were to physically engage.
To set the prompt for the discussion, Wiley asked some questions to the group of concerned students and faculty.
“What can we do as a community so when those folks do come, how are we going to respond?” Wiley asked. “What can we do to keep them from coming?
First up to the microphone was Millersville student Tina Marcellus, who wanted to share her personal account of the protest and how it affected her.
“As I walked by the group, I was instantly targeted for my religious beliefs and the way I dress and my ethnicity and the man was screaming really vile things at me,” Marcellus said.
She recalled how even though she was being yelled at across campus by Aden Rusfeldt, two female students unknown to her immediately went out of their way to walk her to a safer environment where she could find comfort. Those girls supporting her, even though she was a stranger, meant a lot to her.
Another student shared his experience about the protest. He has a disability in the way he walks due to a past fatal injury and was a target of the protesters who called him “crippled” and a “degenerate that will go to hell.”
Other students began to call out the university itself, questioning why the police were protecting the protesters and not the students, the EPPIIC values Millersville proudly represents, and what the school plans to do for the future when these protests happen again.
Some students even began coming up with solutions, like drowning them out with loud music or simply ignoring them, but these are only short-term and do not protect students and faculty from future harassment that could possibly create long-term mental illness.
A topic that was continuously brought up throughout the meeting was Title IX. Millersville senior Tyresha Vaughan-Blanding strongly voiced her concerns about what she believes Millersville is neglecting to do in terms of protecting its students during these events, and where Title IX comes into play.
“At some point if it’s not considered harassment, if they’re yelling at people through campus or following people through campus, like, where is the safety in that?” says Vaughan-Blanding. “Where is you being comfortable, especially a freshman?”
In response to this, Carlos Wiley went into more detail about Title IX and what can be done to possibly reduce the situation. In order for Title IX to work, one must file a Title IX complaint and an investigation will open up. A possible outcome of this could be redefining private areas on campus, like in front of Gordinier Hall, and providing information prior to these events to students and faculty on how to handle and avoid the protesters. He also encourages students to reach out to the counseling services provided on campus.
As the meeting progressed, more and more students felt comfortable enough to question what can be done legally about the situation, because simply removing them from a public space is a threat to their First Amendment right. Students began to grow impatient about the lack of straightforward answers they were being given about what was being done to legally combat these people.
“Where do we draw the line between free speech and hate speech?” said student Drake Nayler.
Around the middle of the meeting, a freshman came up to the microphone to talk about how these people impacted them, and things took an emotional turn.
“As a freshman, I came here thinking this was a safe space for me,” said Mette Corrado, “and it’s really hard to hear from my friends to not come outside because they are targeting fat people and saying fatphobic and racist things and that people are feeling completely unsafe just walking and trying to get food.”
Tina Marcellus then returned to the microphone to speak more about what the protesters told her, and how she believes that she was threatened and that it should be addressed. Unfortunately, it was concluded by an officer that the violent nature of the threat would need to imply that Pastor Aden himself would carry out the threat, not overlook it.
“He told me that if I was in an airport, he would support the guards blowing my head off. Does that not sound like a threat?” said Marcellus.
This comment silenced the room, and a professor from the back made a comment about it saying “that’s crossing the line.”
Carlos Wiley then talked about what needs to be done following this response, and it even brought him to tears.
“I am here for you! Believe that when I tell you that. I am looking at you right now and it is taking all of my energy not to cry,” Wiley said. “It is taking all of my energy not to come hug you, believe that. I am very passionate about what I do, and what I do is protecting you.”
While there is no certain solution right now, the Millersville Office of Diversity and Inclusion strongly suggests that any student should file a Title IX complaint, and reach out to on-campus counseling services if needed. Wiley’s current priority is ensuring that all students and faculty feel safe at Millersville University, and is working to provide QR codes for important information regarding Title IX and the Behavioral Intervention Team around campus.