Speakers object to ‘sinners’ on campus

Emily Pagel

A group of six evangelical pastors and additional congregational members caused an uproar of student complaints on Tuesday, Oct. 1 in NMU’s academic mall.According to NMU police officer Jesse Wernholm, the group was registered to be on campus.

Chad Stephens, a senior history major, addresses a “soapbox” speaker on Wednesday, Oct. 3 in the Academic Mall. The speaker, one of six who was on campus throughout the day, created a heated debate with students, mostly on the grounds of religious or moral beliefs, but also addressed world issues. (Kristen Koehler NW)
Chad Stephens, a senior history major, addresses a “soapbox” speaker on Wednesday, Oct. 3 in the Academic Mall. The speaker, one of six who was on campus throughout the day, created a heated debate with students, mostly on the grounds of religious or moral beliefs, but also addressed world issues. (Kristen Koehler NW)

“They got the appropriate permits through the Dean of Students to do this, so they are approved to be here,” he said.

Wernholm said Public Safety was called out to the academic mall to oversee the protest.

“We received a couple of complains around 1 p.m. and I responded,” Wernholm said. “A couple people called to say that it’s getting a little heated. I’m just here to maintain the peace and so far it’s been good.”

ASNMU President Amber Lopota said ASNMU was not informed of the protest beforehand.

“It was brought to my attention by my Facebook feed and several text messages that I received,” Lopota said. “Also, Vice President Roche received a number of calls by students.”

Lopota said she informed the dean of students shortly after about several student harassment complaints that were brought to light.

“I addressed the fact that there were some allegations from a number of students about hate speech,” Lopota said. “Specifically, there were a couple of gentlemen called ‘faggot’ and there was a young woman who was referred to as a ‘dike who would burn in hell.’

“(Accociate Dean of Students) Mary Brundage verified that because this is not a captive audience situation, that people can advert their route, that they can’t be removed for that.”

Junior theatre major Ryan White said he joined the group of students outside the LRC after hearing about the protest.

“I was working on a paper and saw something on Facebook about someone spewing about the word ‘faggot’ and that kind of urked me,” White said. “So I dropped my stuff came down here to see what it’s all about.”

White said the group was within their right to preach but thought that they were a bit abrasive in their approach.

“I think it’s kind of ridiculous that they’re taking a soapbox approach and really just yelling at people,” White said. “When people are wanting to ask them questions and see more of their views on it, they say that ‘we’re not taking questions, no, just listen’.”

Ken Lightsey, congregational member of First Baptist Church of Patterson, Calif., and speaker at the protest, said their mission was simple for coming to Northern’s campus.

“We’re here just to preach the gospel, pass out some tracks and talk to kids,” Lightsey said. “We’ve been in Michigan the past week. Marquette was one that we prayed about and felt lead in our heart to come here, to share the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Lightsey said the group travels every day, visiting campuses five days a week across the U.S. while campuses are in session.

“Some campuses we go to there’s quite a few Christians, in others there’s not many,” Lightsey said. “It all just depends on the size of the campus, but the response we received from students today was respectful.”

Chad Stevens, senior history major, said he was one of many students that spoke out against the group.

“If they’re going to come out here and insult everybody and their beliefs instead of preaching and respecting everyone else then the reaction they’re getting is a fair reaction,” he said.

Stevens said he doesn’t think controversial campus visitors should all result in protests.

“I think they should be peaceful gatherings, but its individuals such as these that aggravate everybody and cause these protests,” he said. “It’s freedom of speech. I mean if he wasn’t here to say that I wouldn’t be able to stand infront of everyone else and tell them how I thought, why should that be suppressed?”

Lopota stressed the importance of students reaching out to ASNMU when these kind of occurrences happen across campus.

“I think that nobody should try to suppress the fact that anyone has the right to free speech but they don’t have the right to abuse us,” Lopota said. “We’d love to hear from students about how they would like to see this handled in the future, because we are a public university, they legally registered to be here, what can we do?”

Students who have concerns regarding the protest are encouraged to contact the Dean of Student office at [email protected] or by calling (906)227-1700.