Tag Archives: Syracuse University

Hate-fest protest comes out of the closet, turns totally gay

The scene at Waverly and University avenues

(A quick note from the writer: I was considering what tone I should write this article with, whether I should, for the sake of journalistic integrity, pretend to be objective and uninterested in the subject. But my gay sister and a desire not to mislead the reader wouldn’t want it that way, so if you want to file this baby under “Opinions” or “Disgruntled reporter at the last day of work,” go ahead. ‘Cause this sucker isn’t objective, even if I pretended it was. To the story.)

There was probably a commandment on one of the tablets that Moses smashed that read something like this: “Thou shalt not protest against gayness near the SU campus. The gays will make fun of your corduroy skirt, hold up signs much more clever than your own, and take your shit over.”

That was the lesson that two “evangelical” “Christian” demonstrators—holding signs that cast homosexuality as a sin—learned on Wednesday afternoon on the corner of Waverly and University avenues.

Dozens of pro-gay counter-protesters encouraged cars passing by to “Honk 4 Gays,” held signs that read “Fabulosity is not a sin” and “I ❤ my gay friends,” and quickly overwhelmed the anti-gay protesters and their supporters who, by my rough estimatory method of counting to three, numbered three.

The impromptu protest, and its size, surprised many of the counter-demonstrators.

“It’s incredible,” said Chris Pesto, who held a sign that said “Corduroy skirts are a sin.” (One of the gay-bashing protesters, who held a sign that said “Homosexuality is sin,” was wearing a corduroy skirt.) “Honestly, I just thought I’d get a couple laughs.”

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Chris Pesto, 20, junior, acting/drama major, holds a sign protesting the protester while Michelle Deferio holds a sign protesting the homosexual lifestyle. "I felt the signs made people like me uncomfortable, so I made a sign to make them feel uncomfortable," Pesto said.

Pesto was first at the scene, and the counter-protest’s raison d’être. The signs the two anti-gay demonstrators were holding made him feel uncomfortable, he said, so he wanted to return the favor. He got some markers and poster board, and made the sign.

Soon enough, he wasn’t alone.

Drew Sullivan got constructive when he saw one anti-gay protester holding a sign that said, “Thousands of ex-homosexuals have experienced the life-changing love of Jesus Christ.” Sullivan made a sign that read “Thousands of ex-snowmen have melted.”

(Story continues below.)

Counter-demonstrator Drew Sullivan

It was his second run-in. Sullivan was on his way to get a burrito, he said, when he saw the same man with a sign that said “Islam is an evil, oppressive, violent, murderous religion.” Sullivan made his own sign: “Voldemort is evil. Islam is not.”

“To be anti-anything is just wrong,” Sullivan said.

If the guy with the crazy exhortations and the signs and the shouting and the anti-gay/Islamic/abortion stuff is sounding familiar, it’s because he’s out there about once a week, he told me. Jim Deferio is a member of different evangelical organizations, and visits colleges with his signs and a booming voice that warns people of the fires of Hell. “I’m an open-air evangelist,” he said.

And, amazingly, he does it full-time. Wednesday, he started on the street corner at about noon. He doesn’t have a job. His wife supports him.

He said that the reaction at SU was typical of campuses elsewhere. “Students get riled up at first, then they settle down. They’ll raise their hands and ask questions.”

But he gives little credence to their views. “They could not grasp the laws of logic and inference,” said the man who, as a full-time job, professionally tries to make people feel like shit. Apparently, the “God loves all his creatures” deal, the stuff most Christians (i.e., rational people) believe, is a Biblical typo.

And then, the question I really wanted to ask: When he holds those signs, does he worry that he’ll make people feel bad? “You should feel bad about doing bad things,” he said.

Praise Jesus!

The woman who was demonstrating with him was his daughter, Michelle, a 27-year-old nurse’s aid who, like her father, answers many questions by quoting Biblical verse (interestingly, she did not quote Leviticus 19:19, which prohibits believers from wearing clothes of different fabric. Leviticus is the same source that inspires corduroy-mixed-with-fleece wearing whack jobs to believe that gays are sinners).

Aside from people driving by in a car who she said threw candy at her—there were crushed peppermints at her feet—the counter-demonstrators were civil and much more interested in discussing the nature of the eternal, paleographic dating, what makes a Christian a Christian. Bo-ring.

It started heating up—and turned from “What the hell are these people talking about” to “Gay people rule!,” when reinforcements arrived. One person brought trays of coffee for the demonstrators, who, in turn, got more markers and posters at the LGBT Resource Center.

The spattering of people had turned into a sea of gays and allies, and the anti-gay signs were lost in the mayhem. At about 7 p.m., the counter-demonstrators were still out, holding their signs, chanting, yelling when cars honked. The anti-gay protesters had already left.

John Crandall, the president of Pride Union, a gay support group at SU, happened to be walking by, and also happened to be wearing a t-shirt prominently featuring a rainbow. Divine intervention, I asked? No. “I am that gay,” he said.

Crandall was holding a sign that describes the university’s position on bias, he said: “No place for hate.”

“People know this is a place where they can feel safe and feel loved,” he said. “This is a safe space.”

Crandall was pleased with the student reaction. “We have come together as a campus community,” said Crandall, who is a licensed Unitarian Universalist minister. “It makes me feel great. This is how it should be.”

Amen to that.



Tim Hogarth, 25, graduate, television, radio, and film; and Kendal Cooper, sophomore, acting/drama major

-Brian Amaral, Features Editor

(Photos by Jonathan Snyder, Contributing Photographer)

SA candidates Iyer and Barnhart debate

The two candidates for Student Association president debated Wednesday night in Maxwell Auditorium, and aimed most of their criticism at the university.

Hari Iyer, a finance major, and Jonathan Barnhart, a current SA member, discussed campus safety, finances, wiretapping the chancellor, and, of course, MayFest.

Barnhart considers campus safety a key issue of his campaign, and told the crowd of about 40 people that he would improve campus lighting, work to better differentiate where the Department of Public Safety has jurisdiction, and start a campus watch program.

Iyer reiterated his campaign promise of fiscal transparency at the university, and defended his widely criticized and what he called unconventional campaign tactics. After Iyer “called out” Chancellor Nancy Cantor for “blatantly inaccurate” financial statistics, the university put its budget numbers online, Iyer said. “The approach was unconventional,” Iyer said. “But it got results.”

On the unconventional tactics, Iyer said he “wiretapped” the chancellor, secretly recording the in-person interview he had with her. He also said that the e-mail he sent to Cantor–and 2100 students, the Daily Orange and CitrusTV–was helping bring financial transparency to the university.

Most of Iyer’s ire was reserved for the administration. He agreed with much of what Barnhart proposed–more campus lighting, an intergroup dialog-type program run by SA, and the general sense that students use DPS for a taxi service.

It was Barnhart who sharply criticized Iyer. Iyer said that financing for the Connective Corridor is a mystery; Barnhart railed off statistics, defending the program. “Not a dime comes from our tuition,” Barnhart said.

Iyer and Barnhart showed their different campaign and personal styles. Iyer quoted Thomas Jefferson, psychological studies, and called for “bold, inquisitive solutions.” Barnhart cited his time as a resident advisor, a floor president, and the SA outreach officer.

MayFest demonstrated an stark example of their opposing styles: Iyer questioned whether a petition drive would be effective in getting the attention from the university and getting back MayFest. Barnhart said that MayFest brought together people from different groups on campus, no matter what they chose to do on the day. As for what Barnhart has done the past two years: “I’ve presented projects to empty classrooms.”

REACTION: SA meets with student body to discuss SU Showcase

Student Association President Larry Seivert addresses the audience at Monday's open meeting to discuss the fate of SU Showcase (Photo by Samantha Okazaki)

In the words of the Beastie Boys, “You gotta fight for your right to party.” That’s exactly what the masses discussed tonight at the Student Association general assembly meeting.

“I think this is another example of how the administration doesn’t consider the student voice when making decisions,” said SA presidential candidate Hari Iyer in response to the reinstatement of classes during SU Showcase, the academic fair more commonly known as “Mayfest” after the Euclid Avenue block party with which it coincides.

But instead of taking the non-conflict approach to regaining the five-year-old event, Iyer is planning to fight back.

SA presidential candidate Hari Iyer's plan to stage a party protest on Friday afternoon was met with resistance from many at the meeting. (Photo by Samantha Okazaki)

“We need to make this Friday a day of protest,” he said. “This is an official statement that this Friday we will not go to class and we will do exactly what we do on this day that was just taken away from us.” In other words, Iyer wants to throw a party on Euclid in the style of Mayfest to show the school that SU won’t simply react like peaceful, civilized college students. It remains to be seen exactly how this plan will affect his run for the presidency.

But some students did remain civilized in both the general assembly and the gallery, and spoke out against Iyer’s plan of action. Current SA Vice President Erik Bortz emphasized the need for students to come together as one body and demand that the administration plan something that incorporates both the students’ wishes and the university’s wants.

“Fighting divisiveness with divisiveness will not work,” he said in response to the idea of protest. He also brought up the fact that Greek or Treat – a Pan-Hellenic event which involves inner-city Syracuse children going from house to house on Walnut Avenue trick-or-treating – is slated for this Friday, the same day as Iyer’s planned protest.

“We will sign the petitions, we will move forward, we will meet with admins, and we will have our voices heard,” he said, adding that he does not think that protesting would be a good idea, especially with so many children around.

SA President Larry Seivert brought up another idea. Seivert has planned a discussion with members of the administration (also scheduled for Friday), and at tonight’s meeting, he invited any interested students to join him. In the discussion, he hopes to bring up the ideas generated at tonight’s meeting. While some students argued for two separate days to encompass both the Mayfest party and SU Showcase, others felt that calling for two days would be too much to ask of the administration and that students should fight just to get that one joint day back.

Since there were no major issues or problems at last year’s Mayfest parties, students suggested to Seivert that SA not change their overall proposition for SU Showcase/Mayfest at Friday’s discussion. Rather, students felt there were simply some measures to add to it. Among the list of suggested additions for more administration-friendly festivities:

  1. Have water bottles, safety provisions and entertainment.
  2. Preserve the day off; separate the academic and social aspects.
  3. Civil disobedience (petitions, etc.).
  4. Keep better control of litter and clean-up after Mayfest parties.
  5. Get support from local retail, restaurants and student organizations.
  6. Have academics in the morning and parties in the afternoon.
  7. Turn the day into a philanthropic event (give money to the community that is raised through SU Showcase).
  8. Promote the academic part more and get more students to participate if they are allowed to have parties.
  9. Incorporate some kind of carnival.

Despite the opposition from the crowd and the evident scheduling conflicts with Greek-or-Treat and the Mayfest discussion, Iyer still plans to exercise his right to demonstrate.

“The protest is still on,” he said. “I am not discouraged at all.”

–Jordan Walker

OPINION: What the Mayfest debacle means for the SA Election

The Student Association will hold an open meeting on October 26 to discuss possible action following the Universitys decision to schedule classes on the day of the Euclid Avenue block party known as Mayfest.
The Student Association will hold an open meeting on October 26 to discuss possible action following the University's decision to schedule classes on the day of the Euclid Avenue block party known as Mayfest.

Take away a day of drunkenness and debauchery from students, and you’re all but guaranteed a reaction of critical mass.

That reaction came on Friday, when Syracuse University Vice Chancellor and Provost Eric Spina e-mailed the student body announcing the university’s plans to schedule classes on the day of this year’s SU Showcase. In the past, SU Showcase meant a day off of school for academic presentations and, more notably, a popular block party all along Euclid Avenue more commonly known as “Mayfest.”

Cue the proverbial shockwave. Within hours, a student protest group emerged on Facebook called “Operation Rescue MAYFEST.” It has since accumulated more than 4,000 members. Additionally, the Daily Orange reported that the Student Association was planning to petition Thomas Wolfe, vice president and dean of Student Affairs, for an additional day off classes. And tonight at 7:30 p.m., SA will hold an open meeting in Maxwell Auditorium where students will be encouraged to voice their opinions on the university’s decision.

While the fate of SU’s beloved Mayfest is sure to remain a hot item for discussion in the coming weeks, it’s hard to ignore its implications for the upcoming SA elections, set to take place on MySlice from November 9-12. Spina’s e-mail came less than a week and a half after juniors Hari Iyer and Jonathan Barnhart announced their candidacy for president. Both are scheduled to speak at the SA meeting, but the two preceded their common reaction with radically different approaches to SU Showcase before the decision.

From the start, SU Showcase had been a key component of Barnhart’s “Own Your University” campaign platform. Barnhart even outlined a specific plan for the festivities in his candidacy announcement on October 13. In contrast, Iyer opted to focus his platform on issues like university spending and establishing better connections between SA, the student body, the university and its alumni. Iyer made almost no mention of the Mayfest festivities in outlining his plan.

Regardless of their initial differences in opinion, the decisions of both candidates to speak out against SU’s decision was an absolute necessity. For Barnhart and Iyer, the stakes couldn’t really get much higher. The 2009 SA election will be the first to feature two registered candidates since 2006, when Ryan Kelly defeated Matt Correia by a 14-point margin. Former President Marlene Goldenberg and current President Larry Seivert were both elected over write-in candidates in 2007 and 2008, respectively. 2009 was already shaping up to be a highly contested matchup; last year’s election saw more than 3,300 students cast votes – nearly 23 percent of the combined undergraduate student body of SU and the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry. And that was with just ONE registered candidate – Seivert. Factor multiple candidates and the SU Showcase development into this year’s equation, and you’ve got what could be one of the more exciting battles in SA history.

So we’ve seen both candidates take their first steps on this matter – fine. It’s good to see them both take a stand. But it doesn’t stop here. While Barnhart and Iyer will continue to fight this decision as long as possible, they both must do so in ways that establish their differences if either is to gain any significant advantage over the other. With more buzz surrounding this election than any in some time, the SU Showcase development is simply too important to both candidates for either to allow it to turn into a stalemate. It would seem both need clear-cut plans for how they hope to address this issue, otherwise it will just make an already tight race even tighter.

Will tonight’s meeting take a step toward separating the two candidates? We’ll just have to see…

What: Student Association open meeting

When: Monday, October 26, 2009 – 7:30 p.m.

Where: Maxwell Auditorium

–Dan Kaplan

MAYFEST: “I’m not dead yet!!!”

Officials from the Student Association are working to save the traditional Euclid Avenue block party known as Mayfest
Officials from the Student Association are working to save the traditional Euclid Avenue block party known as Mayfest

Mayfest might not be dead after all—in fact, Student Association officials are saying it might now be better than ever.

SA leadership is pushing university officials to cancel a different day of classes in late April after the university announced yesterday that classes will be held on the day of SU Showcase, said SA president Larry Seivert.

The move would mean that the Mayfest block party on Euclid Avenue is still a go—or at least that students would not have to skip classes to attend.

“My feeling is if the university doesn’t recognize and take ownership of a tradition students feel so strongly about, students are still going to take it upon themselves to have a day of celebration anyway,” Seivert said.

The decision to have classes on the day of SU Showcase—the day when the Mayfest block party is traditionally held and, for five years, classes have been cancelled—was met with equal parts anger and confusion. A Facebook group, called Operation Rescue MAYFEST, amassed more than 1,100 members in a few short hours.  The group suggested that the university was cancelling Mayfest.

That is impossible. Because Mayfest is a non-university block party in the neighborhood surrounding campus, SU officials cannot cancel it, but they can do things to discourage it—like reinstating classes on the day off that it is typically held.

But having a new day off of classes on a different day would mean the block party would probably live to see another year. And, said Jonathan Barnhart, a high-ranking SA official who is running for president of the organization this year, it would still let the university focus on the academic side—and complete the separation of the academic event and the booze-fest on Euclid.

“What I want to do is, instead of taking over the day of SU Showcase, give us our own day,” Barnhart said. “[SU Showcase] is on a Monday? Give us Thursday off of classes. That way we don’t even need to focus on the presentations. No classes. No presentations. Just what students want to do.”

Mayfest and SU Showcase have in the past been conflated. To add to the confusion, SU Showcase used to be known as MayFest, until university officials renamed it SU Showcase last year to help distance the university from the non-affiliated block party that went by the same name and was extremely unpopular among those living in the university neighborhood. The block party is still known as Mayfest. Now, if SA’s plan goes through, the events would even be on different days.

Two events on separate days would be ideal for both the Mayfest block party event and the academic SU Showcase event, Seivert said. “You have two needs that are clashing,” Seivert said, “and thats academic goals and student goals.” Having the events on separate days would improve the academic goals, Seivert said. “I’m completely in favor of showcasing academics.”

On student goals, Seivert said that a university acknowledgement of a Mayfest-type party day would help ensure safety. “There is risk that comes with a lack of resources that would be available to students and proper preparation and planning for the day if the university does not recognize this event,” Seivert said.

“If you have them on separate days, they can both flourish. They’re two completely different goals. They’re in two universes outside of each other. It pulls students in different directions. If you separate them you can achieve both,” Seivert said.

SU Showcase will be Monday, April 19—the week of the 40-year anniversary of Earth Day, to match the environmental theme of the event, provost Eric Spina said in an e-mail. The university’s decision to hold classes on the day of SU Showcase was an effort to emphasize the academic purpose of the event, Spina said.

SA officials believe it takes one more step to emphasize that academic purpose: the creation of another day off.

“If you don’t tell students that they’re going to have their own day off that goes along with SU Showcase, they’re going to take that day of classes off anyway,” Barnhart said.

SA members will be handing out petitions to give to Tom Wolfe, dean of students, Barnhart said.

Members of SA, including Seivert, have met with Wolfe to discuss the issue and will meet again with him and other student leaders from around campus on Friday, Seivert said.  The group will discuss how a day of class would be cancelled, what day it would be on, and what sorts of programs would be offered. Seivert hopes to have 4,000 petition signatures to Wolfe by Friday.

Wolfe said on Monday that he has not advocated any position for or against canceling a day of classes in late April. “I have said nothing about supporting a day off from classes,” Wolfe said. Wolfe would not comment on whether or not he supported the initiative.

“I understand the appeal of something like this,” Wolfe said.

As for what’s happening now in the push for the day off, Wolfe said that he will be in contact with students. “I would ask them to join me in a thoughtful process,” Wolfe said.

Wolfe said he supported reinstating classes on SU Showcase. “I think SU Showcase needs to be SU Showcase, and not have distractions from it.” Having classes on SU Showcase will help direct the day toward academic events, Wolfe said. “We need to allow this day to flourish.”

As for the panic that ensued after the e-mail from Spina, SA officials tried to delay it until they had a plan in place for a day to replace it, but were unsuccessful at stopping it, Seivert said.

SA members are counting on the student body to help them push the academic schedule change through. SA members are encouraging students to come to the SA meeting at 7:30 p.m. Monday in the Maxwell Auditorium.

“If we could show the administration that that gallery is full on a Monday night, the first time it has happened since a budget hearing, it would be phenomenal,” Barnhart said.

–Brian Amaral