Street preacher, Keith Darrell, came to the quad on Wednesday afternoon to practice his first amendment right with hopes of getting a reaction from Slippery Rock Students. Darrell has been to Slippery Rock University in the past, but this time he received a different reaction called “Silent Witness” from the LGBTQIA organization, RockOUT.
“The purpose of Silent Witness is to silently protest hate speech by ‘street preachers’ that may be directed at the LGBT community,” Catherine Massey, associate psychology professor and one of the faculty advisors for RockOUT, explained. “It allows a supportive environment to protect freedom of speech and religion. Essentially, Silent Witness participants turn their backs to the speaker with an open rainbow umbrella resting on their shoulder.”
The umbrellas and signs were funded by the President’s Commission on Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation, Massey added.
“Silent Witness was developed by Blaise Liffick, professor at Millersville University, and his spouse Alanna Berger,” Massey said.
Massey coordinates the Silent Witness program at SRU where students and faculty can be trained to take part in these demonstrations.
Massey felt the silent protest went very well. She said Silent Witness trained students instructed and guided other students who wanted to join the protest, while other students thanked the protestors for peacefully protesting.
Kris Hawkins, fifth year psychology major and president of RockOUT, is a student trained in Silent Witness. He was trained by Massey.
“Silent Witness trainings are offered once a semester for students who seek to promote a peaceful campus climate and encourage an academic environment free of biased, hateful speech,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins explained that the training is open to anyone and it takes about an hour to complete. He said during the training, students also sign a pledge agreeing to uphold the standards expected of a Silent Witness.
As a Silent Witness trained student, he held a sign by Darrell that said, “Ignore them!! You won’t change their minds.”
Sara Habraken, junior psychology major and RockOUT’s Ally public relations officer, and Mandy Feldbauer, junior criminal justice major and secretary of RockOUT, are not Silent Witness trained, but hope to be in the future. Regardless, Habraken and Feldbauer actively participated in the silent protest.
“He doesn’t get to stand out there and tell everyone that there’s no hope for them when there is,” Habraken said. “He doesn’t get to disgrace our world because he feels uncomfortable.”
Despite her feelings, Habraken said nothing to Darrell and kept her back towards him the entire time.
“The man had some comments towards our act, but people who weren’t even in RockOUT helped to support the cause by picking up an umbrella and taking a stance. A lot of people applauded us,” Feldbauer said.
Massey hopes that Silent Witness at SRU continues to grow creating a hate-free environment at Slippery Rock University.