(Photo courtesy of: The Daily Campus) “The preachers travel from campus to campus harassing students.”
If UMass Lowell had a rogues’ gallery, then the preachers who come to campus on Sin Awareness Day would undoubtedly make the list. If you spend any amount of time on South Campus during the day, then you know exactly who these individuals are. These preachers will occasionally visit South Campus and loudly preach their beliefs with large cardboard signs; by beliefs, I mean homophobia, transphobia, creationism, being against abortion and being a general opposition to many “modern” phenomena. The Bible and Christianity as a whole are used very sparingly in the selective way that bigots tend to do, and their worldview is defined by the God-fearing Christianity with no biblical basis. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them preach the core tenets of the Bible that could benefit from being spread (not just through Christianity, but as a general ethos), such as loving thy neighbor or finding forgiveness in sin. Even then, UMass Lowell is a university and not a place of worship, and no one should be forced to listen to “religious” teachings unless they personally choose to do so.
As downright annoying as they are, it is also important to remember that their rhetoric can be actively harmful to some UMass Lowell students and faculty. Since this rhetoric frequently devolves into homophobia and transphobia, students and faculty who are part of the LGBTQ+ community quite literally cannot ignore hearing these messages as they walk by. Even though everyone compartmentalizes the Sin Awareness Day preachers as annoying cranks with nothing better to do, any form of hate (especially very, very vocal ones) can still affect an individual’s well-being. My heart especially goes out to first-year students who are part of the LGBTQ+ community; while those of us who have heard them before can brush them off as nuisances, the same cannot be said for those who did not know of the preachers’ existence beforehand.
I do understand that the university is a public space, which means that the preachers are allowed to stay for as long as they would like and not be escorted off. Still, I do think it would be
nice if the university put out a statement saying that what these preachers say does not align with the university’s values and reminding students that they cannot physically remove them from university property. In a world with so much hate as is, it is important for UMass Lowell to do everything in their power to make their campus welcoming to LGBTQ+ students. Fortunately, the UMass Lowell student body has already made this message well-known to the Sin Awareness Days. Students have been ramping up the absurdity and humor in their responses to these preachers in recent years, with this year culminating in two students dressed in banana costumes, loudly preaching about bananas. The Sin Awareness Day preachers actively want to annoy people and goad students into debating them, so responding to them with this sort of chaotic energy genuinely stuns them and leaves them at a loss for words.
Despite the humor in such approaches, it is genuinely heartwarming that UMass Lowell students have started pushing back on these preachers in a way that seems to work. When the two students dressed in banana costumes were present on South Campus, the cheers that other students gave them drowned out the preachers’ voices and sent a loud message that no one was supporting their beliefs in hate or division. It is physically impossible to meet/befriend every single UMass Lowell student, but it is nice knowing that a very significant number of the student body will stand up for themselves as a collective and demand a more open and accepting campus. That, or the banana preachers’ message was too compelling to pass up. The real answer is probably somewhere in the middle.