Andre Davancens | The Poly Post

Campus disruption sparks free speech debate

By Katie Priest, March 7, 2023

A preacher spouting topics bordering on hate speech clashed with students March 2 afternoon in front of the  University Library, raising questions about free speech on campus.

A crowd of students gathered around the preacher in the walkway between the library and Bronco Student Center during and after U-hour for about four and a half hours. While some students walked away from the preacher or just laughed in his face, many students felt offended by what he said.

Manal El Kamali, an international business student, watched the beginning of the demonstration with a friend.

“At this point, what’s happening is disrespect because as you can see, people are getting into it,” said Kamali. “(There is) literally nothing between them right now. They are so close to each other that the next level is fighting and hurting each other.” 

Martha Rosario, a vendor who was working in the area during the entirety of the demonstration pointed out the preaching gradually became more outlandish.

“I don’t know what happened,” said Rosario. “Noise just started happening and then he started interacting with several students regarding what he was spewing like bigotry, racism and something about murder and rape being OK. Saying all the buzzwords that you could to possibly piss off people who go to a college campus.”

Helen Schwartz, an aerospace engineering student, began watching the demonstration around the two-hour mark.

“I came out right when he was talking about how invaluable women are compared to men,” said Schwartz. “Then he started saying that God somehow loves women and gays and Jews, despite having said how inferior they were prior to that.”

Keith Darrell, known online as the “Campus Preacher,” spends his time traveling across the country to preach on college campuses. He believes college campuses are a place for debate.

“My views are not represented on your campus, at least in the same outspoken manner,” said Darrell.

Darrell started preaching at the beginning of U-hour around noon. By 12:45 p.m., a staff member from the Student Engagement, Leadership and Success office had called campus police about the crowd gathering. Four separate police vehicles surrounded the area, but officers did not remove Darrell. The University Police Department officers at the scene declined to comment. 

As U-hour wound down, the crowd ramped up with many students staying instead of going to class. Hannah Cole, a CPP librarian, stepped into the center of the crowd and spoke out against Darrell, wanting to demonstrate her own power of free speech.

“It’s hard for me to see people give something like that attention,” Cole said. “I understand that it is a free speech zone and I totally respect that, so I just decided to exercise my own right.”

Cole cited her previous experiences dealing with people like Darrell. 

Andre Davancens | The Poly Post

“To me, it is much more effective to just utilize your own voice and try and shut that down,” said Cole.

With the crowd growing larger and Darrell getting louder more staff began to watch from University Park. Since the area was close to the University Plaza, Dean of Students Jonathan Grady and Associate Dean of Students Rachel Camacho came to observe and speak to students. Camacho and Grady advised students not to engage with these speakers. 

Camacho also spoke on the campus policies surrounding free speech.

“We are a public institution and so as long as they check in with us and inform us they’re going to be on the campus, they have every right,” said Camacho. 

According to the name tag on Darrell’s chest, he did check in with the SELS office for a “Non-Student Cal Poly Permit” for the day.

While the demonstration only lasted on campus a few hours multiple students posted about the event across campus message boards. Most posters also speculated about the implications of free speech on an open campus like CPP.

Many bystanders including Schwartz felt this should not be allowed to happen on campus. 

“I think it’s really unfair that someone can spew things of hatred as if they’re from a point of love or God’s love,” said Schwartz. 

Feature image by Andre Davancens

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