The Westboro Baptist Church (of funeral-picketing infamy) plans to protest at Vassar College this afternoon from 1:45 until 2:30 p.m. Citing the college’s LGBT-friendly attitude as the “satanic zeitgeist” it aims to protest, the Topeka, Kansas-based church (WBC) announced its intentions to picket at the Poughkeepsie, New York campus on its website earlier this month.
The protest plans have inspired massive response from the Vassar College community. Within hours of the WBC’s announcement, 2008 Vassar alumnus Josh De Leeuw had started a fundraising effort on CrowdRise.com, a web tool for charities, aiming to raise $4,500—$100 for every minute of the protest—to benefit The Trevor Project, an organization aiding at-risk LGBT youth.
As of yesterday evening, De Leeuw’s initiative had raised over $91,000.
Social media have propagated widespread awareness and response among the campus community. Over Twitter, students and alumni expressed pride in their school’s having gained recognition as an LGBT-friendly institution, and encouraged donations toward The Trevor Project.
Current Vassar students, including Cory Epstein ’13, organized the group Do Something VC in the spirit of countering the protest’s efforts. According to its website, the group “takes peaceful and thoughtful action to promote equality, acceptance, and social justice through dialogue, outreach, education, art, and the media.”
According to one Vassar student who asked to remain anonymous, the campus community, especially the efforts of Do Something VC, have reflected a response “supporting [Vassar College] values and not about bashing WBC.” Do Something VC has organized a variety of counter-protest initiatives, including theater and visual arts pieces to reflect faith-based values of love and acceptance. They intend for this afternoon’s counter-protest response to be “peaceful and inclusive.” Indeed, the events slated for the day, including keynote speakers, forming a human chain around Vassar’s Main Building, and a collective “joyful scream,” reflect a community-oriented attitude.
The possibility stands that the Westboro protestors will not show up at all. Some of their past plans never materialized. If they do protest Vassar today, they will not be allowed on campus, and a recent editorial by Vassar student April Levins in Vassar’s Miscellany News advised students to expect a “lethargic protest” featuring few protestors and not much panache.
Regardless, response both on- and off-campus to the possibility of a protest has reflected the Vassar community’s dedication to the very values to which the WBC objects. With over $91,000 raised for The Trevor Project and the establishment of a campus group to facilitate discussions on acceptance and awareness, recent weeks have served as a reminder to Vassar students of the strength of their community.