A Disturbing Night on Main Street

Marie Sykes masykes@ursinus.edu

Instead of relief for the weekend, what greeted the Ursinus student body last Friday afternoon was a group of protesters standing on the sidewalk along Main Street, hurling hateful slurs and verbal abuse. Before long, counter-protesters from the student body gathered on the Berman Lawn, attempting to “Defend the Den,” as they have been instructed in literature plastered around dorms, classrooms, and facilities. That is when things took a turn for the worse.

By the time of the events captured on video and posted to Instagram by Claire Burke ’24, an Ursinus senior was on the lawn, being handcuffed and subdued by Collegeville police while he squirmed and shouted, his mask on the ground beside him. Bystanders told The Grizzly he had approached the police, two of whom are seen maskless in the video, and asked them to put their masks on. In a statement, Collegeville Mayor Aidsand Wright-Riggins and the Collegeville Borough Council said, “a male student instructed by an officer to step away from the area, failed to do so. When directly ordered by the police officer to step aside, the student refused to do so. This led to his arrest, which he resisted.”

Ursinus College has released two statements to the student body on the matter as of Monday, April 12, condemning the hateful speech by the protesters and stating that the school has been in contact with the Collegeville police chief, the family of the student arrested, the mayor of Collegeville, and other local officials. The school also stated that since the sidewalk is private property, the protesters had a legal right to be there. The statements did not address the manner of the student’s arrest. Some students claim the school’s response is not enough.

Because this particular group has come to Ursinus (and other campuses in the area) before, students have argued that the school needs to do more to prevent their presence. One student using the handle “molly.blume” on Instagram wrote, “Do something. They have been here for years and you tell us to just turn our heads. That’s teaching us to ignore racism, homophobia, sexism, ableism, etc. instead of fighting against it.” 

On Saturday night, the Ursinus College Student Government issued a response to the events of Friday and Ursinus’ reaction, stating that there is an “expectation” when students come to Ursinus that the college “will do everything in its power to ensure our security, our wellness, and our foundational growth,” and that they are “confused and deeply disturbed” by the fact that protesters could gather and spew hateful speech.”

In a joint statement, Missy Bryant, associate vice president and dean of students, and Mark Schneider, vice president and dean of the college, replied to The Grizzly’s inquiries Monday by stating that the school has “already committed to one significant change: Whenever we become aware that groups who espouse hate appear on campus, we will issue an alert to the community letting students know to avoid that area.” They also wrote that students who “feel threatened or unsafe… should immediately contact campus safety.” Noting that a variety of campuses are dealing with this issue, they said, “it is unfortunate these hate-inspired protests occur with such frequency on public property.” They are “moving quickly to learn more about what occurred on Friday night” and “as the process unfolds over the next few days, we’ll share information with the campus.”

In the aforementioned statement, Mayor Wright-Riggins and the Borough Council wrote that they are “grateful to our police officers and the Ursinus security officers who were on the scene …. In accordance with Collegeville Police Department policy, the incident is under investigation.” The Council confirms the officers on the scene were unmasked. “Both officers have been fully vaccinated, and because they were in a situation that required clear communication with two groups, one of which was using bullhorns, they needed to be heard clearly,” they wrote. 

In a separate email to students, the mayor states that “Freedom of speech and peaceful assembly is foundationally important to me. Yet, I wish I could ban hate speech.”

Claire Burke, asked for a follow-up comment after her video circulated in the Ursinus community, said, “why are people so preoccupied with the circumstances around [the] arrest? It is not necessary to know the context to recognize that what these officers did was unacceptable.”

Asked for comment, the Collegeville Police Department referred The Grizzly to the Borough Council’s statement.

With these events still unfolding and more details yet to come, the Ursinus College Student Government voiced exasperation. “We are exhausted of [“Defend the Den”] being merely performative.”