You don’t need to like it to learn from it – how a surprise visit brought our campus together

Danny Fisher / Editor-in-Chief

On Thursday, over the course of the five hours I was supposed to be working in the Sun Star office, I found myself staring intently out my third-story window at the gathering of students that took place in Constitution Park in response to a few visitors to our campus.  Three men from out of state had taken up a post on the concrete, holding up their bibles and preaching loudly at passers by.

At first no one seemed to listen or care.  Students walked by, some throwing glances in the direction of the men, who were taking turns at the “pulpit.”  As time went on, people became more and more involved with the situation.

I watched as a few students walked up to the men to speak with them.  A few interactions seemed pleasant, from my perspective, and a few appeared to be heated.  As the men spoke louder, I saw a few students from the United Campus Ministries take a sign and a bible down into the park and sit on the concrete a few meters away, quietly reading verses.  I went down to get a closer look at what was happening.

A student had shaken the hands of the group who had begun to quietly express their faith, and was being badgered by the preachers as a friend tried to calm everybody down.  More people were watching.  Other students had begun to play loud music out of the window of KSUA, shouting that it was time for a “dance party.”

A student approached the men, spoke with them for a few minutes, and left with his cell phone against his ear.  A few minutes later, a Community Service Officer came to the scene and spoke with the men, the caller, and soon after with KSUA to have them turn their music down.

After a few minutes, some members of the Gender and Sexuality Alliance began to congregate on the benches surrounding one of the men who was preaching.  They listened intently, occasionally shouting back alternative perspectives.  A few short-lived arguments ensued.

As I circled the park, I found several clusters of students and some individuals standing far from the men, but close enough to listen.  Some were amused, some angry.  Mostly, I saw students confronted with an idea they did not agree with or find attractive.

Honest discourse had ensued within the clusters; people discussed whether they agreed with the men, what their thoughts on religion and Christianity were, how this affected our campus as a safe place, and how love and kindness are more powerful than alienation.  A group of students in front of Constitution Hall exchanged hugs.

I left the park for about an hour, and noted a CSO vehicle parked on the edge of the park.  When I returned, it was still there, and a shouting match had started between one of the men and a student.  Viewers who had once stood far away had clustered around the group of men, while still more had gathered afar to take their place.  One CSO stood against the wall of Gruening, watching, while another walked in close proximity to the gathering.

A young woman intruded on the shouting match to speak quietly with one of the men.  When she had finished, she addressed the crowd, explaining that if people didn’t agree with these men, they didn’t need to listen to them or engage with them; all people have to do is walk away and the preachers would have no reason to be there.  Another student shouted at her that they would just remain on campus and she was wrong.  She left.

I left soon after, followed by the sounds of a small acoustic band that had gathered on the grass in front of Gruening and begun to play.

During my time in college, I have found that much of what students learn is how to listen to, examine, and either accept with understanding or knowledgeably argue against new concepts and ideas.  However, as is often the case with institutions of higher learning, more students find themselves learning to accept or argue against liberal practices and ideologies than conservative ones.  When, suddenly, the student body of UAF was confronted with a sterner, more traditional perspective, reactions were more raw and untempered than usual.  I wonder if we’re simply out of practice.

In any case, although the methods these men used to share their cause were considered by many to be harsh and confrontational, their presence helped UAF grow as a community and institution of learning.  Without the aid of an organized event, students gathered, interacted, and discussed with one another a number of touchy subjects.  We learned from and supported one another.  For a moment, when confronted by these visitors, we thought about things a little more deeply than a classroom could have caused.  And isn’t that what’s supposed to happen in college?

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