Over the past few weeks, a group of individuals has been seen at least twice gathering on campus with hateful signs, harassing students as they walk to class. They have specifically been targeting women, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and people of color. No matter who they are and what religion they identify with, they are causing harm toward the student population, and they are not representative of what Penn State stands for.
After recent events involving this group, it is critical to understand what they are doing, and what you can do to prevent them from spewing hate speech on Penn State’s campus and in downtown State College. It is important for all Penn State students to feel safe and comfortable, which is why the actions of this group cannot be tolerated.
Who are they?
It is unclear what name the group identifies with, or what church they directly belong to, but many students believe that they are Mennonites, which is an Anabaptist Christian denomination. Mennonites are commonly associated with the Amish, because of their conservative lifestyle and way of thinking. This specific group is very aggressive about their hateful values, which does not exactly align with what Mennonites practice, but they could still belong to that denomination.
Based on their speech, the group seems to identify as “Christians,” but for many people who actually practice this religion, their hate speech is the opposite of having true religious values. The group has been known to reference God, and they have been heard telling students that they are going to hell for their beliefs.
“It saddens me to see individuals use religion as an excuse to spew hatred on others. As a religious person myself, I feel embarrassed to be associated with people who feel the need to belittle and attack others for no reason. We should be using our religion to bring light and kindness into this world, not add to the negativity that it is already too much of,” said Katie Mardirossian, a sophomore.
Many religious Penn State students are disgusted by the actions of this group and believe that they are using religion as an excuse to be discriminatory toward others. This type of behavior is sadly becoming more and more common in our polarized society.
What have they been doing on campus?
A month ago, the group showed up on campus for the first time this semester. They were seen holding hateful signs across from the HUB-Robeson Center with statements such as “Whores deserve STDs” and “Homos Go to Hell.” Along with their signs, they were also harassing students passing by, calling them inappropriate slurs.
Sophomore student, Katie Ache, called campus security after being called a slur by the group but was told that they could not do anything about it.
Throughout the day, students gathered to protest back at the extremist group. Despite the group disregarding the campus mask policy, they were still not told to leave by the campus police who were at the scene. Campus police were seen intervening when students got too close to the group, but they did not do anything about the group themselves.
“I think that the police should have done more to intervene the first time they showed up on campus, they were yelling at people as they walked by and using hateful language and it made many students feel unsafe,” said Gillian O’Neill, a sophomore.
A couple of weeks later, the extremist group appeared again outside of the HUB-Robeson Center. They continued to harass students and spew hate speech. This time around, campus police told them to leave Penn State property. The group moved downtown and chose to stand outside of the Waffle Shop. They were met with dozens of students protesting back at them throughout the day.
The group has been heard saying extremely homophobic comments, racist comments, and sexist comments toward students. At one point they were even talking about how a woman should never be president because they have a menstrual cycle.
“Passing by the ‘protestors’ on campus and seeing campus police stand by and do nothing was incredibly upsetting to me. I heard one of the male protestors say to a black female student ‘you are the reason black lives don’t matter in America today.’ I find it incredibly disturbing that this kind of language is tolerated on Penn State’s campus towards its own students by random people,” said Abby English, sophomore, adding “Additionally, the signs they were holding had completely false information regarding abortion and homosexuality. I felt incredibly uncomfortable, and I’m sure other female students did, passing by the men as they made comments about my weight and how my clothing was too slutty for me to warrant talking to.”
Each time the group has come to campus and downtown State College, they have been actively videotaping students and anyone else that they come in contact with. It is unclear what videotaping is for, but there are a few theories. Some students believe that the group is trying to provoke students to get close to them, so the group can sue Penn State for any damages. Others believe that the group is filming so they can try to claim that students and State College residents are the ones being hostile toward them, despite their ongoing harassment and hate speech.
What you can do about this.
Obviously, the views of this group are completely inappropriate and discriminatory. Penn State as an institution, and the majority of the student body, do not stand by the values of this group. Most people find their presence to be scary and unsettling, especially in a space where all students should feel safe.
If the group comes to campus or downtown again, it is important to know what you can do if they harass you specifically, or if they harass other students. Whether they are saying anything to you or not, the signs they hold are enough to make most people angry and uncomfortable.
Given the current pandemic, an easy way to report this group both on campus and downtown is by reporting them for not wearing masks. Each time they have been seen on campus or downtown, most of them are seen without any kind of face covering. Campus and downtown both have mask policies, and the Borough of State College is able to fine people if they are not wearing a mask within six feet of another person.
Unfortunately, the group is protected by the first amendment, since hate speech is considered part of free speech. Due to their harmful agenda, it is a good idea to email Penn State administration and campus police if they harass you directly. The issue can also be brought to the student government, but it may be difficult to proceed with action due to the first amendment.
If you come in to contact with this group, whether it is on campus or downtown, be mindful of your actions. They clearly want to engage in conflicts with students and other members of the community, and from previous interactions between the group and students, they do not seem to listen to any opposing viewpoints. The best thing you can do is report the group for mask violations and refrain from getting too aggressive with them. Since they do film all of their interactions, it is important to be careful around them, so they are not able to use anything against you.
VALLEY encourages all of our readers to help create a more comfortable and safe environment for the entire student body. If you or someone you know feels targeted by this group, we encourage you to speak up and voice your opinion to the university and campus police.