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LVC students, faculty walk out, march against hate

Written by Merriell Moyer/Lebanon Daily News | Nov 17, 2016 7:57 AM
lebanon_valley_march.jpg

Hundreds of students, faculty and staff at Lebanon Valley College participated in a march to demonstrate against hate on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2016. Earlier in the week a racist message was written on the Women's Services and Gender Resources Center. Jeremy Long/Lebanon Daily News

(Annville) -- Lebanon Valley College (LVC) students, staff and faculty participated in a walkout and march against hate Wednesday afternoon.

The event was sparked in part by derogatory, racist graffiti found scrawled near the main entrance of the Women's Services and Gender Resource Center Monday afternoon, and in part by a protest college students nationwide participated in called "sanctuary campus," which is meant to pressure lawmakers into making campuses safe zones for immigrants by restricting the school's cooperation with immigration authorities, according to organizers.

"When this incident happened, it sparked a lot of outrage on campus, and other students were going to plan a march of their own, so we put the two events together so we could address the state of the country right now, and also the social climate of the campus that is not new to many of us here," Tamara Baldwin, an LVC junior and one of the event's organizers, said.

Sunday, before the graffiti incident, about a dozen signs for a white supremacy website were posted around the campus, according to a college spokesperson. The signs on the campus were removed, but not by police.

"The sign alone without any evidence that it is a public safety issue is a First Amendment thing," Bernard Dugan, chief of the Annville Township police, said. "We have to be careful because even a subject that people don't agree with could still be a First Amendment right."

However, laws regarding graffiti are not as ambiguous.

"That is criminal because you can't just write something on property that doesn't belong to you - that is criminal mischief, and no matter what you write, that is part of the violation," Dugan said. "The graffiti incident is still under active investigation."

The graffiti incident sparked outrage among the college's faculty as well as its students.

"It breaks our hearts that the center was vandalized and that people who once found refuge in the space may feel scared or threatened," Theodora Sakellarides, a professor who teaches both Introduction to Gender & Women's Studies and Sociology, said. "Now more than ever, the center must remain unapologetically committed to its message of inclusiveness. We are proud of our student activists - many of whom are Women's Services and Gender Resource Center volunteers and residents - who are brave enough to fight for that mission."

Sakellarides worked with a group of other women to establish the center in 2010.

"In 2010, we proposed a need for a center based on recent violent attacks against women and LGBT people in colleges across the country," Sakellarides said. "Our absolute number one priority was to establish a safe space for all LVC students."

With that safe space threatened by the appearance of the graffiti, Baldwin and many of her fellow students wanted to express their outrage in a peaceful and constructive manner.

"We met with student government, and they spread the word to all of the students and faculty," Baldwin said. "The women of the center and some other groups on campus spread the word, and then the administration caught wind of it, and they spread the word even more and encouraged faculty to be involved too."

"We started a hashtag, #lvc4change to help promote it through social media, and show that there are students supporting it," Laura Schmidt, student government president, said. "We've gotten such positive feedback, and I haven't heard one negative thing from a student yet. We are hoping that this protest shows unity and support on our campus."

Lewis Thayne, the president of LVC, confirmed that the event was organized by students, and supported by the college's faculty and staff.

"It was organized by our black student union, and student government was asked to support it, and they did," Thayne said. "The administration and faculty were also asked to support it, and we did, but only to participate. The students organized the event, and you could see how well run it was."

Thayne was pleased with how the students responded to the graffiti incident.

"I have not seen the kind of visible strength and support in the community that I saw here today," Thayne said. "This event is as good as I could have ever expected it to be. I saw engaged students asking for support, offering an emotional message, but one of empowerment. I couldn't be more proud of our students."

The march began at the Allan W. Mund College Center, went down Route 934, and crossed Route 422 before cutting down a side street and crossing Route 422 a second time down the street from the Women's Services and Gender Resource Center located on College Avenue.

In addition to Annville Township police, Dugan requested assistance from South Annville Township police, state police and the county sheriff's department for both traffic control and safety.

"I think we had a responsibility to be sure the folks taking part are protected as well as the general public, so we had a few more people out today just to be sure that those taking part in the march were also protected," Dugan said. "The kids did a great job out there. They were respectful, and they stayed on the sidewalk. We closed part of Route 934 down as a safety measure, but I thought it went pretty well."

As the march came to an end at the center, students gathered in front of the building to hear speeches from their peers.

Erick Lofton, an LVC senior, was one of the students who spoke.

"I spoke because I've heard people saying we need change my entire life, and I've often been disappointed when that promised change doesn't come about," Lofton said after the event. "When I spoke, I wanted to make it clear that I was tired of letting other people say they were going to make that change for me, and it was time for me to help make that change for myself and everyone else."

Baldwin was pleased with the turnout for the event - the organizers said they were hoping for at least 200 people, but there appeared to be about twice that many present - but feels there is still much more to be done.

"There is so much more work to do, and this is just a small speck on the mass painting we need to create for a better world," Baldwin said. "I'm going to keep some hope that even if just one student was sitting out there who had this burning passion for change that finally felt, 'Now I can do this,' then we have someone else to work with now that we didn't have yesterday."


This story is part of a partnership between WITF and the Lebanon Daily News.

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