The quad outside the LSC is a designated free speech zone on campus, and over the last two weeks students have become increasingly divided over a specific group of speakers.
Things hit a fever pitch yesterday as an unnamed protestor grabbed one of the group’s banners and ran. University Police were on the scene in seconds, chasing after the suspect and recovering the banner.
The speakers are Christian Fundamentalists, preaching a specific form of the religion to campuses nationwide.
“I’ve been preaching for almost 17 years now,” said Brother Matt, one of the speakers in the group.
Brother Matt has had good experiences on Sam’s campuses before.
“I have a good testimony about a fellow who heckled me about ten years ago. He opposed our preaching, much like what happened today, and then he dissipated into the atmosphere,” said Brother Matt. “He resurfaced a couple of years ago, about two years ago. He was a student here, and he private messaged me. He apologized, said that he was born again and is in the ministry now.”
The message of the preacher’s is notoriously ill received with many on campus, but it hasn’t always been this way.
“It wasn’t that bad back then,” Brother Matt said.
One telling exchange occurred early in the afternoon, caught on video by a member of the crowd. A student yelled at the speaker, “You aren’t qualified to speak at a college campus!” Brother Matt replied, “You’re not qualified to be a college student.”
Tensions between the two groups rose and fell throughout the day, resulting in the SHSU police department officer’s presence to monitor the scene. The speaker’s rights are protected on the campus.
“There’s an open forum and we’re recognized as free speech.” Brother Matt said.
The animosity is largely restricted to the students.
“We rarely have any trouble with the administration. Every once in a while a professor will slide through, you know, and give us some food for thought.” Brother Matt said.
The other speaker whose banner was stolen pastor’s a church in Livingston.
“I’ve been preaching here for about three and a half years, since 2014,” said Josh Herridge, “Well every time we come out here people’s reception isn’t great.”
Herridge said that he expects the reaction he receives at SHSU.
“I expect them to act riled up, most of them don’t upset me, but there is definitely some of them that does,” Herridge said.
Herridge wasn’t totally dismayed by the crowd’s animosity, citing the average turnout.
“We had a bid crowd, about 100 or so all day,” said Herridge.
Over his three years talking with students Herridge says he has seen a shift in the population.
“At this campus, I have definitely seen this campus get wilder. A lot more people at this campus, over the last three years. I guess it’s just more people to hear the gospel,” said Herridge.
A large group of students were gathered around the group for most of the day, most protesting the message or shouting over them with a message of their own.
For more than an hour after the demonstration was over, two groups were still standing in the square talking about the group. One group were concerned about the message and it’s degradation of many gender identities and sexual preferences.
The other discussed the spirit with which the message was brought.
“It was trash. He was preaching hate and not the real thing, which made it trash,” said Carlos Kuiroz.
Janise Taylor, another student standing near Kuiroz, added to his statement.
“The word of God is love, and it’s truth. Anyone who desires truth, anyone who desire’s their purpose, or why they’re here needs to look for the truth. I believe that, that it was truth.”
However, whenever you do not speak about truth with a compassion, and a wanting and a yearning for other people to walk in truth and freedom, real freedom, then you are not doing the job that God has placed on you,” Taylor said.
In an increasingly volatile political climate surrounding issues of free speech and first amendment rights, the presence of the speaker’s has drawn larger and larger crowds.
At Sam Houston State University, students, faculty and staff pride themselves on offering a safe space to discuss ideas and trade information. This includes those who bring a message described by many as “hateful”.
Positive outcomes came from the speakers, the material prompted discussion of it’s validity and presentation for hours afterward among students of many diverse backgrounds.
The Houstonian reached out to the University Police Department but they declined to comment.