InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s “Interact with InterVarsity” event Monday brought some attendees to tears and elicited opposite responses in IVCF and Common Ground’s leadership.
IVCF started planning the event before Common Ground brought a referendum to defund them to Senate on April 11. They wanted to give the campus an opportunity to learn more about their side of the story and their club.
Students came and went during the event — with around 25 students at the peak — and spread around tables with IVCF members. They had prepared a list of discussion questions about attendees’ religious background, defining community and how they approach identity.
They also discussed the initiative, referendum and how their funding and relationship with nationals worked.
“Some people came in … I don’t think they had been given all the information around the thing, so it was good for some of the people to clear some things up with people,” IVCF exec member and sophomore James Stratton said.
IVCF faculty advisor and Distinguished Professor of Political Science Sue Hulett was outside the event welcoming people but allowed the students to run the conversations. For her, the goals of the event were to show love and give students a chance to learn more about InterVarsity’s approach to the issue and their beliefs.
“We wanted to do [the event] thinking that there is a lack of understanding between the two groups, or full understanding, so if folks got to know InterVarsity members as people with certain belief systems that that would be a good start,” she said.
Hulett saw members of both IVCF and Common Ground crying after sharing their experiences. She feels the event worked as a starting place to further discussion.
“I think some of the sharing was strong. I don’t think a lot of people said, ‘Oh, I changed my mind entirely’ but that was not the goal,” she said. “The goal, I think, was still introductory.”
Common Ground exec members, however, feel continued dialogue would be unproductive and cause more hurt. Junior Ashley Kerley, who is on the exec, went but felt emotionally drained from the experience.
“It was too much, I’m tired of being told to dialogue with somebody that inherently thinks that I’m lesser, I can’t dialogue with somebody that’s just bigoted, that’s not a dialogue,” Kerley said. “You’re asking too much of the queer community to do that and I’m not going to do that anymore.”
Common Ground originally believed that a representative from IVCF nationals would be present at the event and planned to protest. When they learned it would be a student-run information session, they decided not to. Instead, they hosted a safe space for LGBTQ+ students and allies during the same time in Old Main.
“We were planning to protest because we were protesting the presence of somebody from the nationals coming to talk about why it’s okay that their nationals is homophobic, and that’s not cool with me,” Kerley said. “I don’t need hate speech on my campus even though people are painting it on the graffiti wall.”
IVCF does plan to bring Director of External Relations Greg Jao to Knox later in the term but they have not yet decided if he will be at any public events. If he is, Common Ground plans to hold a protest.
Attending “Interact with InterVarsity” was not a comfortable experience for some Common Ground members. Exec members said that they had repeatedly heard Common Ground members say they did not feel the need to go because they had already heard what they were likely to hear at the event.
“It was already an exhausting and draining day and I felt horrible the whole day,” Kerley said. “And to go there and have people that are supposed to be my friend look me in the eye and tell me that it’s a sin to be gay, that marriage is for a man and a woman and blah blah blah, they don’t disagree with the nationals … I felt like I was already on empty and that conversation sapped everything else out of me.”
Junior Alyssa Reid went because one of her roommates is a member of IVCF. Reid appreciated the opportunity to both support her friend and learn more about the issue.
“I think it was good to have some discussion between the two parties involved,” she said. “For people who have questions to really like clarify things and get a dialogue going.”
Reid said that if the groups did have an event for each to present their side to campus, she would go, but that she felt the referendum would be a bad idea because it could take away a space for Christians on campus to discuss and find others in their faith.
She also worried that people may vote without hearing both sides of the story and vote contrary to how they would vote if they knew all the details.
“If I didn’t know the whole story I would definitely vote to defund them, but since I do have friends in IVCF, I’m a little biased,” Reid said.