The phrases “gays suck dick” and “Fund IVCF” were painted on a wall in the Quads Sunday night. President Teresa Amott condemned the hate speech in an email to the Knox community sent Monday morning.
“The anonymous action … [is an] affront to the values that we as an institution hold dear: respect, empathy, decency, and inclusivity,” Amott wrote in her email.
“Fund IVCF” referred to efforts led by Common Ground to remove Student Senate’s funds from the Knox chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Common Ground had presented an initiative to Senate at their general assembly meeting on March 27. The initiative was not passed.
Last week, Common Ground requested a student-wide referendum on defunding IVCF. Senate approved the referendum at their meeting on April 11 in the Alumni Room in Old Main.
Referendums require 50 percent of the student body to vote and a majority of that group to vote yes to pass the referendum. If Senate did not agree to the referendum, Common Ground planned to table to gain signatures from 20 percent of the student body asking for a referendum which would trigger a Senate by-law requiring one to happen.
Senate passed motions setting a voting period and requiring Common Ground and IVCF to hold an event where both groups explained their side of the referendum. Vice President for Student Development and Senate advisor Anne Ehrlich and Senate Vice President and sophomore Robert Draper will oversee the referendum voting.
The administration has put the referendum on hold to check with the school’s attorney on if defunding IVCF would violate the school’s non-discrimination policy. They do not want to put the students through the effort of holding the referendum if the results might not be binding, Ehrlich explained.
Unlike other schools which have defunded or disaffiliated IVCF, Knox’s local chapter has not barred LGBTQ+ individuals from serving on their exec, complicating the legal situation according to Ehrlich.
When the referendum was proposed, senators wondered if the 50 percent mark would be reached, especially after low turnouts during special elections Winter Term. Combined with the legal questions both Common Ground and IVCF are unsure of how the referendum will go.
“What little expectation that I have for this campus that was not crushed on Sunday night maintains that this referendum will pass, but the protective mechanism in every queer person maintains that anything could happen and I just have to deal with it when it does,” Common Ground exec member and freshman Elleri Scriver said.
IVCF has started to discuss what they will do if they are defunded, says sophomore James Stratton who is on their new exec. They do not pay dues to the national organization so they would not lose their staff member but would be unable to attend conferences.
“Our main goal is to help people get to know Jesus and that might mean we don’t get to go to conferences but we’ll still have our worker Laura, we’ll still be able to have Bible studies,” Stratton said.
For Stratton, more important than the potential loss of funding is how the perception of IVCF on campus has changed.
“It’s not about the money, it’s more the perception of us on campus. I feel it’s went from the nationals are bad to now it’s turning to ‘you guys are bad,’” he said.
Currently the investigation into the graffiti is still ongoing. Campus Safety has received around 12 tips, most of them anonymous, according to Ehrlich. She encouraged anyone who think they might know something to contact Campus Safety.
“Although this Common Ground InterVarsity thing I know has been so draining … particularly [for] the students who were at the center of it, what I know it’s also done is brought up a lot of conversations on this topic that I’ve never seen before on this campus in this way,” Ehrlich said. “I would hope that people who have opinions feel that they can freely enter into the conversation and it’s sad that they feel they have to do it in this subversive, hurtful, hateful kind of way.”
IVCF put out a statement Monday afternoon condemning the hate speech, sent via email by Director of Spiritual Life Monica Corsaro.
“We pray the perpetrators will be found, identified, and held to account for their hateful messages that go against everything IVCF and the entirety of the Knox community value,” the statement said.
Common Ground exec members questioned how IVCF could distance themselves when they had contributed to the platform that allowed the hate speech.
“They had already absolved themselves from blame with that statement, completely distancing themselves from all responsibility for their own actions and for creating this platform for bigotry and for continuing this conflict to the point that people find it acceptable to repeat this rhetoric on a public scale is something that they need to take credit for,” Scriver said.
Some Common Ground exec members found it ironic that IVCF would condemn the graffiti but not the statement on sexuality put out by the IVCF nationals.
“There is no way in which the hate speech written on that graffiti wall is any worse than everything that their nationals says,” Kerley said.
Stratton said he understands where Kerley was coming from. However, he feels that the events happened on different scales and that they cannot be expected to change things nationally but that they can bring change on campus.
Kerley also thinks that many of those involved outside of Common Ground and IVCF see the question of defunding as a public relations issue.
Common Ground’s exec plans to meet with Amott later this week to ask her to decide about defunding IVCF without needing a referendum.
“Everyone gives Teresa Amott shit but I think that she is a good person and she knows right from wrong,” Kerley said.
Ehrlich noted that the administration had thought about stepping in before but wanted to let Student Senate handle the issue as far as possible. When it looked like the referendum might take place before the school knew if it could be legally binding, administration decided to at least put the referendum on hold until the situation was clarified.
While disturbing, the hate speech was not very surprising to Kerley and Scriver as they say they already knew that the “Knox bubble” of the campus as a safe space for LGBTQ+ people was a farce.
“I stopped believing in the Knox bubble pretty quickly after I got here,” Scriver said. “It just seems like an ignorant concept that we are somehow separate or better than the rest of the world, than the rest of rural Illinois.”
In the midst of the legal questions around the referendum and the investigation into the graffiti, Ehrlich is worried the human side might be forgotten.
“This is really hard time for the LGBTQ community on campus, I don’t want that fact to get lost in all the talk and focus on the referendum because that’s a political process and people want to do it because people are hurting,” Ehrlich said.