On Oct.12, a flyer encouraging LGBT students to kill themselves appeared on the Cleveland State University (CSU) campus. The incident was promptly reported by a number of media outlets, including Cleveland.com. The flyers were signed by Fascist Solutions, and depicted a human figure hanging from a noose. Inaccurate information about suicide rates in the LGBT community illustration were placed alongside the illustration, and the title of the flyer read: “Follow Your Fellow [Bigoted Term Deleted].” CSU President Ronald Berkman’s response to the school said the administration could not take the flyers down because they were protected by free speech.
On Oct. 18, The Feminist Collective at Case Western Reserve University (FCC) and Spectrum initiated an online petition requesting that President Barbara Snyder condemn the flyer and the inaction of CSU administration. The FCC and Spectrum have had several collaborations in the past, and their executive board members are in regular correspondence, so they decided to begin this petition together. According to a Facebook post made by FCC on Oct. 19, the petition received almost 100 signatures in less than one day.
President Snyder released the official statement on Oct.19 condemning the contents of the flyer and stressing. She also encouraged students in need to use the resources provided by the LGBT Center, the Flora Stone Mather Center for Women, and University Health and Counselling Services.
President Snyder was aware of the petition started by FCC and Spectrum, and the media coverage was also part of the reason she found it necessary to release a statement.
Kat Retting, President of Spectrum, saw the importance of this petition in the scope of discussion on this issue.
“I [saw] that BuzzFeed picked up on what happened,” said Retting, “and news people were picking up on what happened, and I was like, if this is getting that amount of coverage, [and because CWRU is] so close [to CSU], and there’s a lot of overlap between students. I know a lot of people who have taken classes at CSU, I was going to take classes at CSU… It would be really really important for President Snyder to say something.”
Tori Hamilton, president of FCC, explained how FCC came up with the petition.
“Somebody sent an article about the flyer at CSU in our group chat,” she explained. “And people were upset, and really frightened and scared… We came up with two ideas, which was, one, to reach out to students at CSU and to see if there are things we could be doing to support them. But also see if we could get a response from our administration because the issue was so close, and because there was a lot unclear about it. People were genuinely afraid and so in our minds, getting response from our institution saying this wouldn’t be acceptable here was something that would have made us feel more comfortable. Because that was not what happened at CSU. And those students felt very afraid.”
Hamilton reached out to the queer student alliance at CSU, but did not hear back from them.
Both Hamilton and Retting were outraged by the flyer and were not content with the statement given by President Berkman.
“What happened is really horrible,” said Retting. “It’s something that’s really scary, especially in the political environment today.”
As for the official statement released by CSU, Retting said, “I know that CSU is funded by the government, so they’re more tied up in what they can say about things, but that doesn’t mean they have to stand behind fascists.”
Hamilton believed the flyer was not a form of “free speech,” as Berkman remarked.
“[The response from Berkman] misrepresented what the poster was,” said Hamilton. “He said it was a person’s free speech, and to me, that’s not speech. It was an act of violence in itself. To encourage a person, or a group of people, already predisposed to suicide, who already had these high rates, to harm themselves is just as violent and can have the same physical harm as touching or hurting somebody. I think that’s wrong to just say, ‘I can’t really do anything because it’s free speech,’… my personal response to his response was a lot of anger, and a lot of frustration, and also very sad and worried about people at CSU that now have to be afraid to be on campus.”
Vice President of Student Affairs, Lou Stark, remarked that he strongly supported President Snyder’s decision to respond to the events at CSU, because of CWRU’s longstanding commitment to diversity and proximity to CSU.
Hamilton believed that Snyder’s response served to make students feel safer and more supported on campus, in a society where an attitude of discrimination still remains. She noted that if a similar incident happens on the CWRU campus, FCC would surely do something, but she can’t be sure of what it would be.
“Everything [in FCC] is done with the total backing of the exec and with the contribution of our members,” said Hamilton, “So I don’t know what our members would want to do, but I can assure you it’s going to be vocal and it would be loud. And we would definitely take steps to not only provide spaces for people to feel safe. So I think making sure there’s an environment where people felt comfortable. As for the more advocacy stuff, being loud, I wouldn’t be surprised it it’s something along the line of how CSU had their protest.”
Retting focused more on the support side of the imagined scenario.
“I would try and get as many people as possible together to show support for LGBT students and to show that stuff like that isn’t okay,” said Retting. “It’s disgusting. It shows that people really lack humanity, and compassion for other humans. And in such a horribly divided time with so much hatred in the world right now, at least in America, and in other places. People need to be able to say that they support others despite their differences.”