Taking a Stand

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Taking a Stand

Taking a Stand

Taking a Stand

Taking a Stand

Taking a Stand

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After Pride Week posters were torn and all-gender bathrooms signage destroyed, more than 70 members of Stetson community took a literal and figurative stand by the fountain, at 12:00 p.m. on March 13, in the form of a peaceful protest. Their collective chant rang out, “This is what democracy looks like.”
 
What prompted this protest was the destruction and removal of LGBTQ+ signage across the campus. Posters advertising Pride Week events organized by Kaleidoscope, Stetson’s LGBTQ+ group, were torn by unknown vandals in Elizabeth, Sage, Sampson and a few residence halls. In Sampson, people ripped gender neutral bathroom plaques off the doors.
 
A torn Pride Week sign in Elizabeth Hall. Photo by Alicia Sapirman
When learning of this, Dayna Chaname-Matos, the Kaleidoscope president and psychology junior, felt disheartened.
 
“There are people who looked at these signs and felt hope, acceptance, and pride that Stetson took a step to make them feel welcomed here,” said Chaname-Matos. “Tearing them down showed that there are people here that believe I am not allowed to feel safe on campus. There are people that want to silence my message.”
 
Kaleidoscope President Dayna Chaname-Matos addresses demonstrators. Photo by Alicia Sapirman
 
Multicultural Student Council Chair Vanessa Petion addresses the crowd.
 
Seeing this vandalism as a clear intolerable message to members of the LGBTQ+ community, Vanessa Petion, Multicultural Student Council Chair and junior communication and media major, remarked that these hateful act do not represent the Stetson community. Instead, “those of us standing here today with open arms define Stetson.”
 
President Wendy Libby, PhD. also addressed the crowd. She forcefully stated that at Stetson University, “we are one hundred percent clearly and unambiguously behind everyone in this community. We are behind treating every person with respect and civility.”
 
In a statement provided to Hatter Network, Vice President of Campus Life and Student Success Lua Hancock, PhD. wrote “although Lynn [Schoenberg, Dean of Students], myself, Dr. Libby and/or others can send out a statement redoubling our commitment to inclusive excellence as it is articulated in our strategic map (which we have done in the past), I think that is only one piece towards inspiring needed cultural change. I was so proud of how the community came together today, and I was moved by the words of our student leaders and our President.”
 
Schoenberg too praised the protest, stating “although I wish we did not have to have it for this reason, the Stand-Up at the fountain yesterday was a beautiful display of Stetson support for our LGBTQ+ campus population as well as overall difference in our community. It was a near perfect example of peaceful protest and the power of a mass standing up against hurtful acts.”
 
The crowd of LGBTQ+ people and their allies was adamant that students, faculty and staff have a right to feel protected and supported on this campus. They further articulated that this solidarity must be demonstrated both in times of celebration and in crisis.
 
“The queer community at Stetson has been where I’ve been able to accept more of myself and my identity and grow as a person,” said Luis Melecio-Zambrano, a junior biochemistry student. Describing the destruction as “intentionally hateful,” Melecio-Zambrano felt his presence at the protest was important; he was proud to support a community that has always supported him. “This is family, and I need to be there in both the good and the bad.”
 
Jaira Jackson, a sports business junior, expressed that disagreeing with something does not validate hurtful actions.“We are a campus that has different types of people,” said Jackson.
 
Seeing that people left classes and took work breaks early to attend the protest, Chaname-Matos thanked the crowd at the end of her remarks. “Looking at you all here, today I feel hope,” she said. “Thank you for showing me that love speaks louder than hate.”
 
The perpetrators of the vandalism have not come forward or been found yet. Some professors are pushing for Public Safety to review any available security footage which may provide suspects. Schoenberg told Hatter Network “in situations like the one at hand, where it appears a Stetson Code of Community Standards was purposefully broken, if we are able to attach those behaviors to a student or students, they will be held accountable through our established process.”
 
In her statement, Hancock stated “I cannot speak as to the motives of the perpetration of the vandalism, but what I can say is that I am disappointed, but unfortunately not completely surprised. I just left a national conference of student affairs professionals at which many shared of vandalism on their campus towards traditionally minoritized [sic] groups and also towards publicly conservative students. History has shown that as progress happens, there also is backlash.”
 
Libby, who has previously sent reassuring statements to the Stetson Community during periods of distress, said that supporting others is what Stetson is about. “Anything that’s done here that hurts one person, hurts all of us,” she said. “I thank you for being here and standing up today, and I thank you for standing up every day. Know that your university and I are here with you.”

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