Secular Campus Group’s Office Vandalized; Group Responds
May 10, 2012This morning the Titans for Reason, the secular pro-science student group at California State University – Fullerton, found their on-campus office space vandalized, apparently by a religious individual or group.
Vice president Farah posted this to their Facebook group:
So... I walked into our office this morning and this happened in the last 24 hours. ... Someone also used the Relay For Life group's chalk to draw the arrow on our desk. (Update: the green flyers are ours (we handed them out at the Ask An Atheist Day). The *additions* by the friendly Christians are the little white flyer that is advertising a Bible Study group, the CDs of Jesus documentaries, and the chalk arrow pointing to the CDs)
Titans for Reason shares office space with six other student groups, none with an obvious connection to the items left behind.
What did the group do when faced with this vandalism? Farah started by sending a bold and straightforward e-mail to members of the administration:
Ms. V[-], Mr. R[-], and Mr. W[-],
My name is Farah [-], and I am an officer of the secular student's group, Titans for Reason, as well as a student at Cal State Fullerton. Copied on this email please find Azaadeh [-], Titans for Reason's President. We are a new group to the campus, active since the beginning of Spring semester 2012, unaffiliated with any outside organization, and entirely self funded. We have had multiple events on the campus that have been well attended, as well as multiple days of tabling. Thus far we have approximately 140 student members, with these numbers constantly rising. Our club absolutely espouses a "be and let be" mentality, and has not endorsed, promoted, or otherwise encouraged any kind of "attack" on other religious groups on campus. Quite the opposite. We have sought to establish ties with these groups in hopes of engendering some higher level of understanding of the diversity of beliefs (and non beliefs) on the campus. While there have been some detractors, we have seen our presence on the campus generally greeted with little hostility and much discussion.
And that is absolutely what we stand for. Discussion. Understanding. And a promotion of the idea that one's beliefs are their own.
Since the beginning of the semester, we have shared our office space with 6 other groups. True Vine, the Iranian Student's Society, The American Cancer Society, the Linguistics Club, Young Americans for Liberty, and the Cambodian Students group. We have sought to keep our desk space orderly and free of clutter, acquiesced to other groups' requests to temporarily use our space, and generally kept the office clean so that all others may use the space. We are highly active, and as a result we use our office frequently. Thus far we have maintained cordial if not friendly relations with the other clubs.
From time to time we will find random flyers and such on our desks. Disregarding these, we generally throw them away without much afterthought. We understand that people may put something down and forget to pick it up. In the last couple of weeks we found that a few of our handouts have made their way to the floor, or have been 'taken down'. Again, we chalked this up to just the normal course of the day and thought no further of it. However, in light of today's actions, we are beginning to think that these actions must be placed in the context of harassment by other individuals who may have access to this room.
Today, May 10th, at approximately 9:10am, I walked into the office to find that our space had been, frankly, vandalized, by some individual who clearly has strong Christian beliefs. Please see the attached photos.
Please note that the chalk arrow would have involved using chalk belonging to the American Cancer Society group, and as we have friendly relations with them, we are not under the belief that they have done this. The offending individual used another group's property without permission.
This is a gross violation of not only our club's space, but is an intimidation tactic. We will not be bullied into submission, and absolutely take this event seriously. As students we have the right to a safe environment. As a student organization we have the right to join with others who share our beliefs. Our group does not stand for discrimination of any kind by any individual, and further believes that we collectively deserve the same right applied to us.
It's quite unfortunate that the rules of conduct promoted by the Institution do not protect the rights of groups such as ours. However, we clearly intend on pursuing this as far as it can go, and will not under any circumstances allow religious groups on campus to erroneously believe they have the right to do such things to us, when we have been nothing but respectful of them. We will not be bullied, harassed, or otherwise intimidated by those who feel that we do not deserve a voice on campus. Bullies start small and grow more emboldened. How unfortunate for them that we plan to quash such moves here and now.
Had we been a religious group, and a so called "atheist" group did this to us, the School would protect us. Here, the tables are turned, and we demand the same courtesy.
I am available via email or telephone at your convenience. I can be reached at [redacted] or via email at [redacted].
I look forward to speaking with you further,
Farah let me know this afternoon that she's already received a response: "As a follow up, the director of the program for student groups took my concerns very seriously and is filing a report. They were really responsive (calling me within a few minutes of my sending the email), and receptive to our complaints."
In situations like this, I can imagine that it's easy to dismiss a student group's concerns as trivial. I can picture administrators brushing off the issue by saying, "It's not that big a deal," "Well, nothing was destroyed, right?", and "Couldn't you just have thrown those things away?" Farah's ability to frame the vandalism was excellent: she spoke about the club's open mission and demeanor, the history of flyers being put on their desk and of their own flyers getting torn down, and the fact that the group will not stand for this apparent bullying.
With this letter, Farah let the adminstration know that the group will not stand for this and demanded that the adminstration take this issue seriously. I'm glad to hear that they are.
About the Author: Debbie GoddardDebbie Goddard is the campus outreach coordinator at the Center for Inquiry and the director of African Americans for Humanism. Before working for CFI, she participated in local freethought groups in the greater Philadelphia region and helped organize and support campus groups internationally as a volunteer. She has also been involved with LGBTQ issues and progressive activism.
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