By Raymond Arke | News Editor
Matthew 7:25 reads, “And the rain fell, and the floods came.” The Bible verse is an accurate description of the scene that was set on Thursday as Pittsburgh experienced a torrential downpour and campuses throughout the city braced for protests by Westboro Baptist Church.
The Church, described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group, had announced last week that they would be appearing on the campuses of Carnegie Mellon, University of Pittsburgh, Duquesne and others on the afternoon of Oct. 5.
Westboro members began protesting on Carnegie Mellon’s campus around 1:30, where they were met with a large group of peaceful counter-demonstrators. Duquesne Police reported around 3:30 that the WBC protesters had left the city, rather than continue on to Pitt and Duquesne.
A contingent of about 35 Duquesne students and faculty informally gathered outside of the Power Center on Forbes Avenue planning to protest Westboro.
One hopeful counter-protester was Caroline Combemale, sophomore education major. She has been aware of Westboro for quite sometime.
“I’ve been following the Westboro Baptist Church for a number of years, following what they’re doing. I first heard about them when I was 12, and I was really disgusted with what they were doing protesting the Marine’s funeral,” she said.
Combemale was dressed in a unicorn onesie while she handed out flowers with Bible verses about peace and love to fellow Duquesne students that came down. She had been hoping to hand some to the Westboro members.
“I just want to spread peace and let [Westboro Baptist Church] know that they can forgive. Hopefully, it will resonate with them a little bit,” she said.
Another of the counter-protesters was Johanna Burnett, a part time faculty member.
“[I came down] just to support any students that may be down here and support their message of peace and love,” Burnett said.
Victoria Dadebo, junior pharmacy major, came out in the rain because she was opposed to what Westboro stands for.
“They are hateful, and I’m not, and the school isn’t. I just don’t agree with what they stand for,” she said.
Morgan Connell, also a junior pharmacy major, said that this was the opportunity to have her voice be heard.
“The reason I came is… I’ve heard a million times that if you’re silent on something then you’re part of the problem, so I don’t think it should be something I’m silent on,” Connell said.
Ryan Campbell, a freshman economics and accounting major, hoped that the students demonstrating against Westboro would show the power of positivity.
“The fact is God loves everyone. We got to come out here and overcast their hate with love,” he said.
On campus, SGA and several other student groups hosted an event titled “DUnited: Duquesne Doesn’t Hate” as part of the university’s Heritage Week. The goal of the event on the Mellon Patio was to “embrace diversity and kindness in the Spiritan tradition,” according to the event description on Facebook.
Well over 150 faculty and students attended, taking advantage of the free food, t-shirts, trinkets and a chance to sign a banner rejecting discrimination hate. A local band, The Uptown Woods, provided live music.
Several campus officials gave brief speeches, as well. SGA President Olivia Erickson thanked students for attending and said she was happy to see everyone, “come together and say hate has no place here.”
Rachel Coury, president of Lambda (Gender Sexuality Alliance), was very pleased with the turnout at the event.
“I’m just glad everyone came out for this cause,” Coury said.
Coury was especially happy that the shirts handed out, which read “Duquesne doesn’t hate #DUnited,” will memorialize this event.
“You’ll probably see someone wearing the shirt at least once every day, and it’s a good reminder for everyone that we are one campus community,” Coury said. “And even if we have our differences, we can still unite together and be this singular community.”
Rev. Dan Walsh, University Chaplain, spoke about the importance of working with the marginalized. President Ken Gormley made an appearance at the end, thanking everyone for their attendance and support.
In a brief interview with The Duke, Gormley said that the event has, “really been wonderful.”
“I’m proud of the students and faculty coming together in a positive way… to celebrate all the things Duquesne does to serve others,” he said.
Gormley was relieved that the Westboro protesters ended up not appearing near campus.
“A protest did not occur, and I was happy about that… [A protest] detracts from the educational mission,” he said.
Gormley said he believed a protest would have distracted from all the positive things being done on campus.
“[Focusing on the positive] is the best antidote to the negative things going on in the country,” he said.
He was particularly happy that the “DUnited” event occurred during the leadup to Homecoming as alumni begin to return to campus. Gormley recounted seeing a couple in their 80s, who had graduated from Duquesne 55 years ago, who were impressed by the campus community’s response.
“They have seen the Duquesne University that they love right here,” Gormley said.
Jeff Mallory, the director for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, was also in attendance and applauded the, “great showing.”
“Anytime you can get the community together, it’s a great thing,” he said. “Cherish these moments.”
Zach Landau contributed reporting.