For the second time this year, Pastor Aden Rusfeldt and members of his Matthew 24 group paid a visit to West Chester University’s North Campus last week. Fenced off by an orange barricade, the group spent many hours shouting hate-filled rhetoric to students and other passersby. Their many shouted claims included: “Sluts are going to hell” and “[Weak men are] the reason that women become lesbians.” Amidst the distasteful words, West Chester’s students spoke out for unity and respect.
“This is nonsense,” Alexis Jennings, a history major minoring in anthropology, said. “We are, as a school, we’re so diverse. And to see, like, a group of people that are so extreme and radical, it’s crazy.”
Hayley Chilanski, a biology major, said the group’s presence was also unwelcome. “We do no need this on campus. West Chester is definitely much stronger than any of their hate. We can either choose to give them the attention they want, or we can just move on and continue with our day.”
“The problem is… classes change every hour and a lot of times they’re curious and or some have a different view and think it’s funny in some way,” the chief of staff and executive deputy to the president of West Chester University said. “That’s exactly what they want.”
A few in the crowd of students walking by did exactly that. One man in a salmon-colored shirt stopped to confront Pastor Rusfeldt and other members of Matthew 24. The man shouted, “Which one of y’all called my girlfriend a slut?!” He proceeded to taunt the Matthew 24 group, telling them to, “Step out here,” meaning outside the orange barricade.
Another woman later spent nearly half an hour shouting and cursing at the group. West Chester University police were on hand in case events turned potentially violent.
The Student Government Association helped in curbing any potential violence by marching with signs, one of which read, “WCU Does Not Stand for Hate, #WCUStands.” SGA President Ryan Long gave the WCU Senate’s perspective, saying, “We need our students to understand that that is not West Chester University. That’s not what we stand for. And we’re going to take strong stances as a senate and as a student body against all forms of hate on our campus.”
Alex Garcia, the senator for sexuality and gender equity, made his stance very clear. “This is a school [for] freedom of speech. But I think even there, there should be a line drawn when it comes to the safety of our students and how they feel. Personally, as a gay man, hearing these thing is a little hurtful, but at the same time it’s kind of nice to see the unity of the school.”
That unity was demonstrated by students writing on posters that summed up what West Chester stands for. One poster depicted Pastor Rusfeldt that let students finish a t-shirt slogan that read, “Why Don’t I…”
Despite the attention the Matthew 24 group drew, students took the event in stride. A WCU criminal justice student who declined to be named said, “I don’t support this. It doesn’t make sense to me. It’s just… [narrowminded].”
“This is stupid. He’s annoying,” Syd, a physical therapy major, said. “He’s been coming here for at least three years… probably longer than that. I think he’s just ridiculous. I get a laugh out of him, honestly. I don’t believe in anything he says.”
Unlike Matthew 24’s appearance in April of this year, this demonstration passed without incident and with, one observer noted, a much smaller crowd confronting them.
Pastor Rusfeldt and his group may return but, as another SGA poster read, #WCUStands for Respect. So if they do return, West Chester will greet them with a much smaller crowd because, as chief of staff Vilella said, “The best job is done by our students.”
Dave Aston is a student at West Chester University.