By Sarah Carlson, Arts Editor
As the university awaits the visit from Soulforce’s Equality Ride, many students are anxious about the visit’s outcome and whether opposing opinions will lead to violent behavior.
ACU is one of 19 religious and military institutions along Equality Ride’s route and the first after six stops to open its doors to the group. Administrators have planned in detail the events for the visit, scheduling time for Soulforce members to interact with students and faculty, with goals for each group to learn more about the other.
Many students expressed a sense of anxiety and a feeling of uncertainty of what Soulforce stands for or why it is visiting campus.
“I think it’s a ticking time bomb waiting to go off,” said Zach Tabers, senior vocal performance major from Abilene, about the outcome of the visit and the students’ reaction to Soulforce. “I don’t think it will be that dramatic, but I think it could get out of control easily.”
Tabers said it is a credit to the university that it is welcoming Soulforce members to campus, and it is important for the university to explore various ideas and opinions while exhibiting an attitude of Christian love.
“The fact that we’re a Christian university means that students, faculty and administrators should act as Jesus did,” he said. “That means acting as a gracious host while these people are here, being Christ-like.”
Kevan Kirksey, freshman finance and accounting major from Tyler, said he thinks ACU has handled the lead-up to Soulforce’s visit better than the other institutions along the Equality Ride route, which to him speaks a lot about the university.
Kirksey said most of the talk he’s heard from other students has been negative, with many displeased that the university is allowing Soulforce members on campus. He said he’s heard from several students that their parents are upset with the university and have considered withholding financial donations because of the visit. Other students have joked about making T-shirts with inappropriate sayings on them to wear Monday, he said, delivering the message to Soulforce that they’re not welcome here.
Kirksey said he is anxious to see what students’ reactions turn out to be, but also that he doesn’t think the visit on Monday will be as big of a deal as many think, and students will probably not be physically violent with the guests.
He added that the reason for such hostility stems from most of the students’ backgrounds of being raised in the church, where the topic of homosexuality generally isn’t discussed.
“It’s the hidden topic that everyone’s afraid to bring up,” Kirksey said. “There’s a huge ignorance about it. Instead of viewing it as an equal sin just as everything else, we’re judging it as a huge deal and not accepting them.”
Faith Brodie, freshman undeclared major from Salado, said she is glad ACU is allowing Soulforce to come to campus Monday and that when she first heard of the visit, she went to the group’s Web site to learn more about its purpose. By reading about the individual members of the Equality Ride and what brought them to Soulforce, she said she feels she knows more about the group and would encourage other students to visit the site, www.soulforce.org, as well.
“I’m excited for us to be able to understand other things that are out there and gain information about the homosexual community,” Brodie said.
She said she thinks many students are apprehensive about the visit because they think the Soulforce members will try to force their opinions on the students. Brodie said because the university agreed to allow them on campus, they opened the door for a peaceful visit and probably earned more respect from Soulforce members.
The Soulforce visit is reminding students of the importance to get out of their comfort zones, meeting people where they’re at and talking to them no matter their background or lifestyle, Brodie said.
Alaina Bearden, junior political science and English major from Orange County, Calif., echoed Brodie’s sentiments about exposing students to various beliefs.
“The more exposure now, the better,” Bearden said.
As a resident assistant in Gardner Hall, Bearden said she’s had many discussions with her residents about the visit, with the women asking questions about the group’s intentions as well as looking forward to having something different on campus for a change.
Tabers said he thinks the visit will be peaceful and that it is important for students to learn to control their emotions and actions when faced with differing opinions.
“A lot of people need their eyes opened to less conservative views,” he said.
Bearden said she hasn’t heard any negative comments and has been praying for a long time that nothing negative will happen. Hearing mainly positive feedback from her peers, she said she’s been amazed at the turnaround in people’s hearts toward the visit.
“Fear and pent-up worrying can cause violent reactions in people … like a mob-mentality,” she said. “But, I hope our students can be mature and hold themselves to a higher standard.”