From May 15 to May 19, a group of preachers gathered on the UC Davis campus spreading various inflammatory messages. This ranged from them saying "women are selfish if they choose not to have kids" to "homosexuals are rapists." They would also use various slurs toward students. They appeared every day in front of the Silo, a central location where many students grab lunch and study.
There were three men, a younger one, an older one and another who only held signs admonishing behaviors they viewed as sinful, such as drinking alcohol and homosexuality.
The younger man admitted to the crowd to being jailed twice, once for alleged battery and assault and another time for hate crimes and hate speech.
Jordan Crowley, a freshman double majoring in microbiology and psychology, was there to witness many of these actions. On the first day, he said, "I didn't stay long, so I couldn't note much that the older man said aside from: 'women with big breasts won't be as smart as the smaller breasted folk.' Or 'most of the women on this campus are whores because they've lost their virginity before marriage.' I didn't take it too seriously, and just left. It wasn't until the second day that I actually got involved."
Crowley went back the next day, when one of the preachers addressed him directly.
"The very first thing he said to me was 'your blue hair and the way you are sitting makes me believe you are a ho-mo-sexual'," Crowley said. "We would ask him questions, trying to catch him up on something and find a hole in his argument, but every single thing we asked, he would either choose to answer half-way, in a round-about way, or pretend to not hear us."
The words of the older preacher were even more abrasive.
"The older man has literally no filter," Crowley said. "He made several remarks with a few racial slurs toward Chinese individuals, and at one point, tried to recruit a black person to join his private prayer group because they 'need more diversity.'"
Crowley said he had to control his emotions at times around the men.
"As far as my feelings about their presence on campus, I understand that they have a right to be here, and I also understand that a lot of people yelling at them isn't going to be productive for anyone," Crowley said. "I, too, am guilty of letting my emotions get the better of me, especially after one of them (the older man) directly asked if the reason I am gay is because I was raped as a child. I kept my cool, but swore at him under my breath, and didn't let it become a big scene like some other people."
Regarding the impact of the preachers, Crowley said the UC Davis students won't be swayed. "I wish that these men would realize that they are wasting their time by trying to 'spread the light' at one of the most liberal universities in the west," he said.
Michelle Occhipinti, a first year with Communications and Managerial Economics majors, had her own views on the preachers' presence, which she shared on Facebook:
"These men have every right to stand on our campus, and practice their freedom of speech. It is important to acknowledge that everyone has their own opinions on how to live life, how to practice religion, and make decisions. If you agree with their ideas, that is fine, that is your life and I fully respect you for that. If you do not agree with their ideas, then be the bigger person and walk away. Do not follow their example of attacking individuals, or forcing your opinion onto them because I promise you they will not change their mind, and will probably begin to attack you too. If you feel the need to speak up, go for it!! Just remember that you are an educated student at the University of California Davis. Be the bigger person by debating their ideas and not their person."
"In no way am I trying to defend these people or their actions," Occhipinti clarified. "Their words are hateful and harmful to many groups of people and that is NOT acceptable. However, progress cannot be made if we attack people, instead we need to fight the ideas, show compassion to the people that deserve more respect and understanding, and make real progress ... That change will not come from attacking individuals, but instead from challenging the ideas."
The preachers who showed up at UC Davis said they travel the country, spreading their ideas. These preachers are not the first to come to the campus, nor will they be the last, but it is clear that their message focuses mostly on tearing down those whom they encounter.
Lead image: Will Dueease via Flickr Creative Commons