Towson University students rallied on Tuesday afternoon in an effort to change the growing reputation of their campus from one that harbors a White Student Union to one that instead promotes peace, diversity and tolerance.
Under the banner of the organization Be The Change, a diverse group of about 200 students conducted a unity walk and rally through Towson University's campus side-by-side to show that more than one person's views represent their university.
"There is a very serious issue when one student or two students take a set of inaccurate facts and they go national," Towson University President Maravene Loeschke said before the event. "To have the students stand up and say 'This isn't what we stand for,' it's pretty intensely wonderful."
For weeks, a group known as the White Student Union, a pro-white race group, has drawn national media attention on campus. University officials say is the group is not a registered or recognized student group. Last month, a person claiming to be a member of the group advocated during the Conservative Political Action Conference for segregation. University officials said the speaker, Scott Terry, is not now nor has never been enrolled at the university.
A week later, the group made headlines again when its leader, Matthew Heimbach, said the group would start a crime patrol on campus. Heimback cited black-on-white crime statistics as the reason for starting the patrols, which the university said were unsubstantiated.
On Tuesday, the unity group met in front of Stephens Hall, which faces York Road and allowed the rally to be seen from the street as rush hour began.
Student Stephen Middleton told the group he had seen the effect the negative media attention had on campus after a stranger who saw him wearing a Towson shirt warned him to be careful on campus.
"Rather than thanking him for his concern, I was frustrated," Middleton said. "Frustrated because of the fact that it made me realize for some people, one bad thing can overshadow so much good."
Students Jon Smith and Bilphena Yahwon were also frustrated. Believing that the university they love was being misrepresented and that the voices of the majority were not being heard, they co-founded Be The Change, and organized the April 2 unity rally and walk through campus.
From Stephens Hall, the students — who wore shirts with words they had written of what Towson University represented to them — marched to Freedom Square, a small courtyard dwarfed by academic buildings.
After a walk down the campus' International Walkway, which features flags representing all countries of international students at Towson, the rally concluded at a tiger statue outside Burdick Hall. There, several student leaders and Loeschke spoke to the crowd.
The event attracted hundreds of supporters, many of whom represented smaller on-campus groups like fraternities, sororities and religious organizations.
"I believe so strongly in the whole campaign of Be The Change," sophomore Sadie Lockhart said. "It's always important to rejuvenate the spirit and liveliness of diversity and togetherness, and from the different student speeches today, I think it did a great job of doing that."
And while the rally's organizers told the crowd that they should be proud of the message they sent the world, Heimbach, who was also present at the rally, attempted to use it to get out his own as the event drew to a close.
Heimbach attracted a group of reporters and a crowd of students, some of whom engaged him and challenged his ideas.
After standing by for a few minutes, sophomore Madison Yff, of Annapolis, and a friend continued their walk to the gym. They left shaking their heads.
"It's frustrating," Yff said. "I feel like it's a step backward. Everything that (Heimbach) says is frustrating."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun