Over the past couple of weeks, students at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga have endured “fire and brimstone” preaching from a fanatical woman in the middle of campus. This woman overwhelmed the area with her abrasive sermons by screaming damnation to the students.
Once the preacher, Angela Cummings, acquired the appropriate documentation, UTC allotted a central place of land on campus for her accompanied by a security detail. After about seven minutes of obtrusive preaching, Cole Montavlo, a UTC student, entered Cummings’ circle and voiced what many other passersby were probably thinking.
“Hey ma’am,” he said, “If you’re trying to spread the good word, maybe you shouldn’t be telling everyone that they’re sinners.”
Two officers then restrained Montavlo, and as he tried to resist their arrest, the officials forced him to the ground.
During the struggle, several students verbally defended Montavlo. “What the [expletive] did I do?” Montavlo continually yelled.
And, in the grand scheme of things, what the [expletive] did Montavlo actually do?
Just as Cummings was speaking her mind, Montavlo decided to chime in and speak his as well, but he entered the area that was designated for her. Both were on public property at a public university and speaking in open air. The difference, however, is Montavlo was forcefully restrained by police officers and charged with obstructing justice, while Cummings was simply able to carry on.
What, then, can we say about the role of Cummings’s rhetoric?
Though this is a public university and a public space, Montavlo and other students came to UTC to be taught by professors and trained professionals, not a woman who expresses her ideals with violent imagery. She is not affiliated with the university, and based on the backlash seen through petitions, the general student population is not too pleased with her presence.
Of course, in America, everyone is entitled to his or her own religious beliefs, and this woman had just as much right as a passionate environmentalist, animal lover or anti-abortionist would have to spread his or her ideas. And, if given the space and opportunity, obviously she will take advantage of it. In this case, her centralized location on campus interfered with students and their daily routines.
Given the liberal nature of Boston University, it is fair to assume most students here would not particularly appreciate such an aggressive expression on Marsh Plaza. But, at the same time, we do have our share of protesters and preachers on BU’s campus. People are often seen handing out Bibles to students walking down Commonwealth Avenue, most of whom respectfully decline the offer. Other times, when people are seen holding up posters with U.S. President Barack Obama sporting an Adolf Hitler mustache, students simply turn their heads and carry on their ways.
Though a university is expected to provide a place for the expression for diverse ideas on campus, it still does have a say of who and what are permitted to use its space. In this situation, seeing as UTC is a public university, it is worth noting that the school must abide by Constitutional rules in terms of free expression. But the university also has a responsibility to keep theology and education separate. Officials should at least be mindful of where they place potentially controversial figures. Students traversing a common area on campus should not have to hear that they are “sinners” and will be “damned to hell” with such troubling language.
Radical and outspoken preachers and protesters on college campuses teach students the valuable life lesson of tolerance. This trait is among one of the most important skills a student can have upon entering the real world. Though college campuses should create a safe and stimulating environment for students, they are by no means are compelled to be a sheltered realm. Wherever a student ends up after college, he or she will encounter people who do not share his or her same ideals. As a country based upon freedom of speech, this is something with which we must deal. As long as people do not exercise their freedom of speech in a violent or dangerous way, it is justified.
However, a university is a place for professors and students to teach one another, and non-affiliates should only be welcomed if they add to the university environment in a productive way — not verbally damn its students to hell.