On March 13, a group of fundamentalist Christians from Open Air Outreach protested against homosexuality, feminism, and Islam, among other subjects. They called several students “whores” and “snowflakes” while threatening us dissolute Princetonians with hellfire. While this ruckus transpired, I was running from McDonnell Hall to McCosh Hall for precept, and happened to chance upon the group. Without a second thought, I strode through the congregation with my headphones on and my gaze forward. I was late, after all, and could not be bothered to care.
After seeing how many Princetonians have responded in the wake of Open Air Outreach’s protest, however, I was ashamed that I did not care. My fellow classmates did not fight with the protesters or lower themselves to that level. Instead, they took this opportunity to raise funds for charities. They took degrading and insulting comments and converted this abuse into something beautiful. Their actions inspired me and many of my peers because these actions were not about specific politics or religion or hate speech; they were about turning something ugly into a good that was in accord with the spirit of Princeton.
Growing up as an immigrant from South Korea, I was told by my parents to “shut up and don’t interfere.” Even if there was a car crash, a robbery, or a political protest, I was to ignore everything and just do my job as a student. Our family was afraid of getting in trouble, being sent back to South Korea because one of us chose to say the wrong thing or get involved in situations where accusations could lead to our deportation. As a result, I was politically apathetic all my life, only voicing my thoughts with the protection of The Daily Princetonian. Even when I became a permanent resident and relatively safe from deportation, I still hesitated to do anything political.
But students just like me took action on Tuesday. They did not have to respond at all to these protesters. After all, the protest occurred while classes were in session, when many of us would be studying Locke or cleaning chemical glassware. Even if we were free, there was no obligation for us to involve ourselves. We were not being attacked physically and their words passed over some of us like water. However, my classmates did not let their workload diminish their spirits. By holding a counterprotest, by using the ruckus caused by the hateful speech to raise funds for charity, they chose to fight back against the hate with kindness. At that moment, my classmates were far more than mere college students on a Tuesday afternoon during midterms week. They were guardians of not just our campus but also of the Princeton ideal of responding to tragedy and malice with service of the greater good.
I was amazed at this ability. For so long, I had avoided politics like a pit of vipers because there were so many ways that I could get bitten for the things I wrote or said. I did not want to be personally attacked for my beliefs. However, the events that happened on Tuesday showed me the work that Princetonians can do. Many times, especially by those who look down on us, we are seen as snowflakes who cannot do anything on our own and complain about everything. When we do something about causes we believe in, we are mocked for being too naive or too elitist to successfully effect change. However, in this case, Princetonians took action without guidance from professors or administrators. They did so not for a particular political stance, but to counter those who hate everything that is not them. They showed people like me — who are either too apathetic or too scared to speak out — that it is alright to speak out. They showed me that despite our different political perspectives and backgrounds, Princetonians strive to make this world a better place, even if that means returning vicious hatred with kindness for a greater goal.
Daehee Lee is a sophomore from Palisades Park, N.J. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.