Student protestors spoke out against hate speech on Feb. 24 on Greene Street. The gathering came after a series of offensive messages from members of a student organization were spread on social media.
The protest was co-sponsored by Carolina Socialists, College Democrats, Individuals Respecting Identities and Sexualities (IRIS), Muslim Student Association and Trans Student Alliance.
During the past week, screenshots of members of USC’s Turning Point USA chapter using slurs and derogatory rhetoric in group chats were spread on social media. One group chat was made to discuss a piece of student senate legislation to recommend the university end the mask mandate. The other group chat was named "Turning Point USA".
Several of the protestors attended the senate meeting the night of Feb. 23 to hear student senator Anna Kelley’s statement about creating the group chat about the mask mandate.
According to previous reporting done by The Daily Gamecock, Kelley appeared to like a message saying there are “too many women and feminine men in the (senate) body.” Kelly can be seen sending several messages in the group chat. Kelley, while present in the chat, did not actively use or directly endorse the slurs.
“Such behavior is entirely unacceptable, and it's appalling the school hasn't made any statement or released anything about the derogatory remarks that were made or any consequences for the students who made them,” one of the protestors and first-year broadcast journalism student Cyprus Hartford said.
Hartford and other organizers also called for Turning Point USA at USC to be disbanded and for Kelley to resign.
“I've witnessed a lot of hate speech,” fourth-year chemistry student Sasha Sawyer said. “I feel like university allows the stuff to happen until it gets to a point where they can't control it anymore. And it's frankly ridiculous. So, we're out here to protect the students that aren't often protected on this campus.”
One of the speakers at the protest was fourth-year environmental science student Victor Ponds, who was sent out of the student senate meeting last night for yelling during Kelley’s statement. They spoke about the yearly meeting Young Americans for Freedom, another conservative group on campus, has about “transgenderism." The meeting happened last week.
“I remember my freshman year, the president of IRIS attended the meeting. Some of our members also attended last week to hear transphobic rhetoric being spread, lies, saying that being trans is a mental illness, all sorts of disgusting statements. When we reported it, we were told to ignore it. It'll go away on its own. Well, that doesn't work,” Ponds said.
Several of the protestors said they noticed people laughing at them as they left Russell and heard their speeches at the protest.
"It's a constant struggle on campus,” Ponds said. “My freshman year, two boyfriends who were holding hands were beat up and sent to the ER. When I was 16, my best friend came out as trans and was strangled by their father. And so, queer violence is very real. And all of these attitudes of just laughing when we stand up for ourselves, it all contributes to that.”
Second-year political science student George Murphy, a friend of Kelley’s who attended the senate meeting Wednesday, said he came specifically to watch. Murphy is not a member of Turning Point USA, though he said he attended a couple meetings.
"People are out here saying just horrendously vulgar things, addressing the members of Turning Point and Anna Kelley,” Murphy said. “That's just not constructive. If you want to have a conversation with people because you think you want to change their worldview, I completely respect that. That's why I'm here. I hope to have some conversations that are productive.”
Murphy said he was completely against the slurs used in the group chat and said he believed in repercussions for those who used that language.
Another student who was there to watch was fourth-year chemistry student Joakim Kennedy, who supported the protestors.
“If you hear one of your friends say comments like this, or say things that just don't really make sense, or are very derogatory to a group, you should stand up and say it because it is very exhausting to constantly defend yourself, especially when you're surrounded by people who are not in your same group. You know, what do you do? Where are your allies? And if you are, make yourself known, take it seriously,” Kennedy said.