This is a developing story and will be updated as information becomes available.
By Ben Pontz, Staff Writer and Jamie Welch, Editor-in-Chief
More than a dozen students have been sitting on the steps of Penn Hall since around 3:30 this afternoon to protest what they see as an atmosphere of exclusion, isolation and hate that pervades the student culture at Gettysburg College. In a protest they are deeming “sitting down for hate” because they refuse to “stand for it,” the group plans to spend the night outdoors.
It began earlier this afternoon when senior Joseph Recupero sent a text message to several friends asking them to join him in protesting what fellow protester Cait Goodlett, also a senior, deemed “increased hate speech all semester.”
Recupero penned a letter on behalf of the protesters that reads:
“I did not know it would start like this, but here we are, and here we must stay. Something has to change. Students can no longer face the mental and emotional abuse of hate speech. We should not have to fear walking across campus at night. We are here for an education but how can we focus on learning when we are constantly looking over our shoulders? Guess what? We can’t. So let’s make something happen. Together. This is a time for all of us to unite under an understanding that hate is a poison that we will not swallow. What we want know is not division, its peace, human decency, and mutual understanding. Not tomorrow, not next week, now. That is why we are out here. We know change is possible. We know that you know it too. Imagine what we can do with those two forces working together.
To be honest, I am still confused about what to do next. I have gathered all of these people, AMAZING PEOPLE, who simply want to acknowledged as equal, as worth more than the names they call us. Earlier this evening, someone told me that this is the original machine that destroys hate, and behalf of everyone out here, I am extending a hand in partnership. We can make this place beautiful. We can make this place safe, we can make this place a place for all people.
Tonight we will sit, because we cannot stand for hate. Tomorrow, we will wait for others to join us, for you to join us. Then, together, we will strive and push forward.
On behalf of the sitters on the steps.
Joseph Charles Recupero III”
“This is not a political movement,” Goodlett emphasized in an effort to allay visceral responses that this deals with Donald Trump’s recent election to the presidency. “This is just us voicing that [instances of hate speech and bias] is happening.”
The group met with Gettysburg College President Janet Morgan Riggs earlier this afternoon, and Goodlett described the meeting as positive, noting that Riggs was sympathetic and responsive to their concerns and that she offered to support the protesters throughout the night in any way necessary.
Students also entered the college’s regularly scheduled faculty meeting this afternoon to share their stories. Goodlett described the meeting as a touching event at which many student protesters and faculty members broke down in tears.
Junior Taylor Atlas, another protester, said that too often, this topic is ignored. In staging the protest, students hope to spark conversations in the coming days surround issues of isolation, exclusion and hate, all of which were prevalent in the results of the recent Campus Climate Survey.
“This is not a topic that should be silenced,” she said. “We’re not going to be able to fix it if we don’t talk about it.”
Since the protest began, bystanders have brought food and other supplies to the students who plan to spend the night. The Gettysburg Recreation Adventure Board (GRAB) has also supplied sleeping bags.
Riggs and Dean of Students Julie Ramsey visited the protestors around 11:00 p.m. Thursday night. Both mingled and chatted with the protesters. President Riggs offered her well wishes to students, and said she would be issuing a statement to the campus community “soon.”
“I was at the faculty meeting today and spoke with several members of the group outside of Penn Hall throughout the evening. I was moved by their reports of feeling marginalized and disrespected in the wake of insensitive comments of their fellow students,” Ramsey said in an email sent to The Gettysburgian Thursday night. “I was impressed by their openness and their willingness to engage the faculty and administration as well as other students, including students who may have a very different experience and perspective than theirs… My sense is they know change does not happen overnight, but they want to be part of helping us turn that corner as a community, to call us to return to our better natures. ”
The students continued their protest into Friday morning, with many having spent the entire night sleeping on the cold metal steps of Pennsylvania Hall in freezing temperatures.
Riggs released a statement at 8:30am Friday morning acknowledging the protest and commending its purpose.
“I was personally moved, as were many of our faculty who expressed their appreciation for the courage of these students in coming to the meeting and sharing their stories,” Riggs said. “I encourage you to stop by to show your support, share perspectives, and engage in discussion about how to improve the campus climate. Their goal is to assure that all students on our campus are respected and treated with decency, a goal that we should all be able to embrace. As we consider next steps, I ask each member of this community to show more kindness, compassion, and appreciation for one another.”
The protesters would like to provide input to the administration on what those next steps will be. As of Thursday night, the group was working on a list of demands that will reportedly be delivered to the campus community later today.
The protest group was tight lipped about details, but one member of the group mentioned the possibility of unaffiliated sober monitors at Greek events as one of the ways the group hopes to reduce sexual assault on campus.