Mardy Harding and Ali DeFazio
Last Wednesday, the National Park Services issued a permit to Patriot Prayer, a conservative group aiming to promote freedom of speech, to hold a rally in Crissy Field the following Saturday. While the group had condemned white supremacy, many feared the event would attract white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other hate groups like those seen in Charlottesville, Va. less than two weeks before.
With the prospect of a Charlottesville-like rally on San Francisco’s horizon, students looked to their university for a response. Less than 24 hours and three drafts later, an email was sent from Provost Heller’s office to all students and faculty. The email accomplished three things: it cancelled all USF programs taking place near Crissy Field that weekend, offered peaceful off-campus alternatives to the Patriot Prayer event and announced the on-campus event, “USF Against Hate.”
Tempest Paulding, a freshman at “USF Against Hate,” said she came because, “I didn’t just want to sit and not do anything.”
“I think it’s always nice when the place where you go for education acknowledges things like social justice and standing up for minorities,” said Paulding. “Where I come from, you don’t get that.”
The email from Provost Heller was drafted with input from university departments and programs affecting all areas of student life. Representatives from Public Safety all the way to SHaRE sat down together to draft the USF community-wide email to address the potential right-wing rally.
Both Provost Heller and Vice Provost for Diversity and Engagement Mary Wardell-Ghirarduzzi, who were part of the meeting that decided the content of the campus-wide email, emphasized the importance of giving students an alternative to counter-protesting at the Patriot Prayer rally. Heller and Wardell-Ghiraduzzi were concerned about student safety, especially considering a week-old freshman class new to the city of San Francisco.
In the days following the permit announcement, the status of the Patriot Prayer event fluctuated until leader Joey Gibson cancelled his event. Nonetheless, USF went onward with its planned event, “USF Against Hate.”
Associate Vice Provost and Dean of Students Shannon Gary explained the purpose of “USF Against Hate,” “[We wanted] something here on campus where you can still express your feelings and your thoughts without having to worry about being in an environment that can become violent or may get caught up in some type of danger.”
At the event, students were able to write messages of love and support on a white banner to be hung at future anti-hate events on campus. “Immigrants are welcome here,” and “Peace and Love, Justice, Mercy, No Greed,” were written in magic marker across the white background. The ultimate destination for the banner, according to ASUSF President Reyna Brown, is the UC 4th floor, with hopes that “students feel more integrated into the space.”
University Ministry member Cara Annese read an opening prayer that called back on Father Fitzgerald’s assertion that USF is the “counternarrative” to hate.
Annesse read, “Where there is hatred, let me bring your love… Where there is sadness, let me bring hope.”
Two therapists from CAPS were also in attendance in case anyone needed help processing emotions stirred by speakers.
“USF Against Hate” wasn’t the only USF-organized response to Patriot Prayer. Shannon Gary, Associate Vice Provost and Dean of Students, helped host walk-in hours to discuss the events of Charlottesville. Patriot Prayer happened so soon after, the walk-in hours just continued.
It is in the context of events like Charlottesville, draped with racist rhetoric and hate-filled violence, that USF decided to take a concrete position against white supremacy and address the Patriot Prayer rally head on.
Featured Photo: Two students embrace at the “USF Against Hate” event that took place Saturday in Fromm Hall. Racquel Gonzales/ Foghorn.