Don’t give hateful speech attention it doesn’t deserve

Meg Trogolo

An evangelical preacher stands in a high-traffic area of campus, spewing homophobic language and surrounded by angry students.

Sadly, this is not an unexpected sight at UVM.

Evangelicals have set up shop on UVM campus at least four times in the past four years, according to Cynic articles from October 2015, September and October 2017 and October 2018. It always turns into quite a scene, too.

The preacher shouts whatever hateful phrases pop into his head until his voice gets hoarse.

Clusters of students try to argue with him even though he repeats the same five sentences.

After every visit by these unpleasant guests, the community debate begins.

What can we do to prevent professional instigators like this from coming to UVM?

What will we do if and when it happens again?

It’s a complex question, and one where no perfect solution jumps out at first glance.

One such preacher visited UVM Sept. 30, shouting anti-gay slogans and expressing support for convicted sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein’s criminal activities from a position in front of Howe Library.

Some student activists set up a counterprotest surrounding him, intending to draw the attention of the students who were debating the preacher back to their chants.

However, most students passing through simply saw two clusters of people shouting, and those who stopped simply stopped to see why.

Two days later, on Oct. 2, SGA President Jillian Scannell, a senior, stood in the same spot where the preacher had been.

She reminded students of UVM’s policy stating that speech can only be restricted when it poses a clear and present danger and urged the community to counterprotest.

“Drown out their message with our common ground values of respect, openness and justice,” Scannell said.

Sending a positive message, as Scannell and the student protestors on the scene did, is a good start. However, Scannell is forgetting one thing.

No matter what we choose to meet his message with, we addressed him. That means we gave him what he wanted.

A campus preacher may act like he wants you to convert to whatever religion he’s selling, but his ultimate goal is always attention.

Just like that D-list celebrity you unfollowed on Twitter because they spent too much time trying to pick fights, he only thrives when everyone is looking at him.

If another preacher starts using hateful rhetoric on campus, we can spread the word so that anyone who needs to avoid the area can do so.

However, we can do this over text and on social media, therefore depriving these preachers of the bright spotlight they crave.

For these preachers, any amount and any kind of publicity is good publicity.

The more attention we shower on them, no matter how negative, the more often they’ll come back to UVM for a guaranteed audience.

This is college. We’re all swamped with work, and when we pass by Howe Library we’re usually on the way to another class.

Keep walking. Keep your headphones on. Don’t let a religious narcissist make you late.

They don’t deserve that satisfaction.