OPINION: Aggressive petitioners should be removed from USF campus

Officers from the USF Police Department should surveil petitioners and remove those who harass students and staff from campus. ORACLE PHOTO/ LEDA ALVIM

Petitioners have been flocking to USF’s Tampa campus this semester, particularly outside the library, Marshall Student Center and Student Services, to convince students and faculty passing by to sign petitions.

These petitioners are harassing students, staff and making the campus feel less comfortable and less safe. What they’re doing is also illegal, and they should be monitored by USF police officers and removed from campus if the harassment continues.

Students have been using social media, particularly the USF subreddit, to share uncomfortable run-ins with the petitioners on campus.

Freshman Micah Norris was approached earlier this month by a petitioner outside the library. After refusing to sign the petition, the petitioner yelled that Norris hated Native Americans and continued to yell at Norris as he walked away.

“I just don’t think it’s right how they come and make the students uncomfortable just to make a quick buck,” Norris said in an Oct. 11 interview with The Oracle. “They’re leaving their ethics and morals at the door for money, which is sad in my opinion.”

Female USF students have also been using social media to share stories of petitioners harassing them or making them feel unsafe. 

Freshman Grace Faberlle wrote a Reddit post Sept. 23 about a particularly aggressive petitioner outside the library who followed her to her bike, got very close to her and refused to take no for an answer to the point she put down a fake name so he’d leave her alone. Faberlle said in an Oct. 16 interview with The Oracle she also watched this petitioner harass another group of girls.

“Honestly, it was fine when the petitioners were annoying,” Faberlle said. “But when I have one follow me to my bike, corner me and make rude comments to other girls while I sign [with a fake name], it crosses a line. 

“I’m not the only one who feels this way. I should not feel unsafe when I’m just trying to go to the library.”

Campus should be a safe and secure environment for female students and faculty, but it’s impossible to feel safe when there are petitioners with no ties to the university sitting outside of campus hotspots and harassing women with no repercussions.

Canvassers from the same initiative have been harassing students at Florida International University and UCF as well. 

In addition to being a nuisance, these petitioners are misleading students on what the petition actually entails. While they present the petition as “supporting tribal lands” when coercing students to sign, they are actually gathering signatures to support Seminole casinos and to increase the legality of sports betting. 

These canvassers are also using illegal petitioning practices. While it is illegal in Florida to pay per signature, the group these canvassers work for — deceitfully named “Florida Education Champions PAC” — uses a loophole by paying $5 per hour, with each signature adding a $2.50-$5 “bonus” to their wages, according to the job application site.

Of course these petitioners will do anything to convince a student to sign when their pay is contingent on the number of signatures they get. This is a recipe for harassment.

These petitioners are harassing students and using immoral petitioning practices for financial gain. Based on USF’s 2021 Annual Security Report, it is the duty of University Police (UP) to provide protective services to ensure the safety of all students, faculty and staff. As such, UP should surveil the petitioners and remove them from campus in cases of harassment. 

USF should not allow people with dishonest petitioning practices to harass students outside of campus hotspots. They should be surveilled by UP to ensure the safety and comfort of all.