The newly formed Coalition of Progressive Student Organizations picked the wrong day for a kick-off event to gain sponsorship from area businesses: Sept. 11.
Now, the repercussions of the attacks are once again stunting the growth of the group.
Board members from the Coalition decided to postpone the Peace, Unity and Awareness Rally after a meeting with members of the school administration who became worried following a security concern raised by the University Police.
The event, which was to be held tonight in the Special Events Center, was designed to give students an opportunity to express themselves in an open-mic format about issues that have affected them since Sept. 11.
Initially, the event was supposed to draw about 20 people, but when word got out that the group was holding an anti-war rally, due in part to an Oct. 10 Tampa Tribune article that described it as such, that number skyrocketed to 300.
Anthony Brooks, chairman for the organization, said the information in the article was wrong, and that the event was intended to raise awareness and not to take a political stance on the war against terrorism.
Harold Nixon, vice president for Student Affairs, said he became concerned when he learned that the event was allowing people from off campus to participate.
“Instead of 30-50 (people), now we are thinking more like 250-300 (people),” Nixon said. “And you can’t tell how large it can get.”
Wilma Henry, associate vice president for Student Life and Wellness, said without proper security, it could not be ensured that the event would be controlled.
“When someone gets up and makes a violent statement, who’s going to take the mic from that person?” she asked.Nixon said there has been a lot of attention on USF in the past few weeks, and with a heightened state of security nationwide, more time would be needed to plan an event of this magnitude.
UP Capt. Bob Staehle agreed. He said in a time when the country is on the brink of war, security on campus needs to be paramount.
“When we have an event like this, and we’re dealing with an enemy that may be among us, it is a disconcerting and frightening thing,” Staehle said.
Staehle said an event of this magnitude gives people the forum to carry out a violent act, and for that reason, he said the UP would need at least two weeks notice prior to an event to ensure proper safety measures were administered.
“Any time we have something of this nature, we have to seize the building,” Staehle said. “We would have to close down Cedar Drive, close vehicular access to the Marshall Center. It’s a huge task between staffing and costs.”
Staehle said a good example of how the UP works large events is the Tool concert that took place Wednesday night in the Sun Dome.
“We (had) 20 officers working in the Sun Dome. We needed to hire officers from another agency,” he said.
He said they would most likely have to do the same for the Coalition’s event, but they needed time and money to do so.
“I don’t know any other way to this,” Staehle said. “Because of the times, because of the controversy, because of the press coverage, this event has turned into a potential target for someone to act out violently.”
Guy Conway, director for the Phyllis P. Marshall Center, said a combat veteran contacted USF Wednesday seeking directions to the campus. The man said he was bringing 30 other veterans to protest the rally.
Brooks said Student Activities wasn’t treating the group fairly. He said the Coalition gave them plenty of time to make necessary adjustments for the event.
“You guys are talking about timing and preparation, maybe Student Activities needs to change their procedures,” Brooks said. Nixon said in a time like this, safety comes before unfairness. Staehle added, “We are in a state of war. This is not Sept. 10.”
One Coalition board member argued, saying postponing the rally only makes it more dangerous.
“Any planning of a violent act is going to have that much more time to be prepared,” Matthew Antolick said.
Another board member said postponing the event sends out a message of weakness.
“We are giving in to the terrorists,” Nicole Fotovat said.Laurie Woodward, associate director for Student Affairs, offered some alternatives to the Coalition and volunteered to help them reorganize the rally.
“I will help you make this thing happen,” Woodward said, adding that three of the 13 students organizations that make up the Coalition are funded by the university, and therefore, the group should be allowed to use money from its security fund to help pay for the event.
Conway also said he would do his part, vouching that due to the uniqueness of the situation and the extenuating circumstances, the Marshall Center would pick up half the cost of security. The other half, he said, would be paid for by the Coalition on a negotiated payment plan.
Following a brief discussion, the Coalition decided to postpone the rally to a date no later than Oct. 24.
Board member Braulio Colon said, however, that he expected the administration to treat a similar gathering headed by another student organization the same way.
Brooks requested the administration cancel “From Emotion to Education,” an open discussion to promote interfaith understanding that is scheduled for Friday.
“Any event that has students speaking should be given the same treatment,” Colon said.
Fotovat said that if the administration did not cancel the events, the Coalition was having its First Amendment rights violated.
“It’s infringement on our right to gather,” Fotovat said.
Nixon said he would consider the request.
Board member Katie Templin said she is most concerned about how the group is going to pay for the event.
“We don’t have any money,” she said. “I don’t know if I can raise $1,000 selling cookies.”
After the meeting, Brooks said he was content, but also disappointed.
“I am disappointed that the university felt it was going to be such a security threat and that they didn’t just instruct the UP to support us,” Brooks said. “Hopefully, we’ll get as much of a turnout, but I’m worried that the momentum we had gained over the past two weeks pumping this event up won’t be there.”