Students counter Westboro Baptist Church picketers with ‘Celebration of Diversity’

Kano Cheng PO ’22, Rowan Macy PO ’22, Rachel Lau PO ’22, Matti Horne PO ’22, and Rachel Howard PO ’22 pose for a photo. They organized the “Celebration of Diversity” event that took place early Monday morning in response to Westboro Baptist Church picketers. (Talia Bernstein • The Student Life)

About 100 students gathered at Pomona College’s Marston Quadrangle for a “Celebration of Diversity” event the morning of Nov. 12 in response to the Westboro Baptist Church’s planned picketing on Pomona’s campus, according to Marylou Ferry, Pomona’s spokesperson.

One of the “Celebration of Diversity” organizers, Rowan Macy PO ’22, said she was shocked when she heard WBC was coming to campus.

“Having the thought of them being present outside of Sumner [Hall] was really uncomfortable. … They were sort of directly attacking the diversity of Pomona and of the 5Cs, which was really upsetting,” Macy said.

The WBC originally planned on picketing at 333 N College Way, in front of Sumner Hall, according to its press release sent out Nov. 6. Two days later, Pomona President G. Gabrielle Starr emailed Pomona students, reminding them that the college is private property and the WBC would not be permitted on campus.

Instead of the plan indicated on the press release, nine WBC members picketed at the corner of First Street and Columbia Avenue on Monday from 7-7:50 a.m., according to Mary Coffey, associate dean of the college. While there, the WBC remained on public property, and a few counter protesters separate from the diversity event stood on the other side of the street, Coffey said.

The WBC could not be reached for comment before press time.

Non-5C community members were not allowed at “Celebration of Diversity.” A sign reading “PRIVATE PROPERTY Claremont Colleges faculty, students, and staff only” was placed at the Pomona’s First Street and Columbia Avenue entrance.

Another “Celebration of Diversity” organizer, Rachel Lau PO ’22, emphasized the need to show support for the LGBTQIA+ community and diversity in general at the 5Cs.

“We felt like we really needed to do something because we felt like we couldn’t stand by while this kind of hateful community comes onto our community,” Lau said. After the event was posted on Facebook, many people reached out to offer help.

Administrators monitored the gathering, and President Starr made an appearance. Students were provided markers and poster-making supplies for posters that would later be put up around campus, Lau said.

Ellie Ash-Bala, Pomona’s director of campus life, said the event was “perfect” to “celebrate our commitment to diversity … and not confronting the hate.”

The 5C Christian Intervarsity Fellowship (5CIV) provided breakfast at the event.

“We wanted to show people what God’s love actually looks like,” said Jakim Johnson HM ’19, a member of 5CIV. “We do not agree with or support the message of the Westboro Baptist Church.”

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