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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Dealing with problematic speech on campus

UMass+Boston+students+walk+between+Campus+Center+and+McCormack+Hall+after+a+club+meeting.
Dom Ferreira
UMass Boston students walk between Campus Center and McCormack Hall after a club meeting. Photo by Dom Ferreira / Photography Editor

About three weeks ago, several members of an evangelical Christian organization from North Carolina, known as Christ Reformed Fellowship, came to visit our campus. Armed with signs, a megaphone and a whole supply of anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ+ and evolution-denialist rhetoric, they came with one purpose—not to have a conversation or spread Christian values, but to sow anger, discord and hatred. Since UMass Boston is a public institution, free speech is well protected under the first amendment and there is little that the administration can do in these situations. What that means, is that it falls on each of us, the students at UMass Boston, to decide how we respond to groups like this as they seek to spread a message that is hateful, problematic and outright untrue.

To be completely honest, speaking as a fan of the NBC Political Drama “The West Wing,” when I first saw these guys, there was nothing I wanted more than to channel President Bartlet with a three-minute monologue, tearing into the distorted form of Christianity that the folks from this organization were espousing. I soon thought the better of it and continued to class as planned—but many others decided to engage, although the reality of this response involved a little less carefully-thought-out rebuttal and a lot more yelling and shouting. In fairly short order, dozens of students had surrounded these guys near campus center and had started chanting “F— that s—,” as well as a number of other chants to that effect. Eventually, a little over an hour after they arrived, campus police even came over to prevent any possibility of escalation. Needless to say, the dozens of students who chose to speak up and reject this group’s message were more than justified in doing so, but by making a scene and giving our time and attention to their nonsense, we inadvertently chose to play right into their hands.

When this group came here to our campus, they knew they weren’t going to be changing any minds or winning anyone over to their point of view and, like I said before, that wasn’t their goal. They wanted to elicit a response; they came here to sow anger, and that’s just what they did. In delivering to them the response that they were looking for, we only served to reaffirm their preconceived narrative of our UMass Boston community, and we surely gave them plenty to talk about when they got back to North Carolina. We gave this group our time—time that could have been used for something fun or productive, but instead was wasted trying to act as a voice of reason when we know full well that anyone holding an “Evolution is a Lie” sign likely has no interest in listening.

Moving forward, I can say with almost absolute certainty that this group or others like it will come back to UMass Boston sooner or later. Such is the nature of attending a public university. But when they do, how we respond is up to us. Rather than getting caught up in the shouting matches or name-calling, let these guys shout into empty air. Don’t try to speak reason to folks who don’t want to be reasoned with. Just because they have a megaphone and signs, doesn’t mean that what they’re saying warrants our response, nor does it make it worth our time. If we really want to send a message, if we really want to reject the noise and all their hateful and dishonest rhetoric, then perhaps the loudest message we can send is no message at all.

About the Contributors
Jared Fredrickson, Contributing Writer
Dom Ferreira, Photo Editor