About 140 students, alumni and local clergy protested silently during the weekly convocation at Samford University Tuesday, Sept. 20.
The group stood outside the university’s Wright Center — some bearing posters — to protest the administration’s recent decision to exclude from campus ministry churches and organizations that affirm same-sex marriage. Convocation is the weekly worship gathering, what in past days would be have been called “chapel,” that all students are required to attend.
Inside the hall, students heard a sermon from Miles Fidell, lead pastor of Auburn Community Church in Auburn, Ala.
The silent protest was organized by students and supported by alumni and clergy, said Katherine Mullen, minister of community engagement at First United Methodist Church in downtown Birmingham and a 2019 Samford graduate.
“This protest was student led and student organized,” she explained. “They extended an invite to clergy and alumni and surrounding supportive folks to show up with them. It was all created and started from the students.”
The hour-long protest in silence amid 90-degree weather on a bright sunny day “was really powerful,” she said. “They say sometimes silence is the most powerful form of protesting, and it really was.”
The protesters were about two-thirds students and one-third others.
“It was very important for us to be there to support them,” Mullen said. “But to see that they’re capable of being on their own and showing up was really cool to see. I was happy to be there to show our support for them and their work.”
Nevertheless, on a campus where even student social media activity is monitored closely, some students were fearful of joining the protest, Mullen acknowledged. Even for those who didn’t stand with the group, the scene was emotional, she added, “either because of the overwhelming amount of support was making them emotional or their new lived reality was hitting them.”
The goal of the silent protest was to continue the conversation about Samford’s new exclusionary policies, Mullen said. “Their whole goal is that more and more people on campus can know that the LGBTQ community here is thriving and deserves to have its space.”
As a recent graduate and now as a community member, Mullen believes the number of Samford students who identify within the LGBTQ community is larger than most administrators would admit.
“The community is not just who was standing on those steps today,” she said. “You can’t sweep an entire community of people on your campus under the rug.”
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