Monday, October 20, 2014

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Westboro inadvertently unites Vassar College community

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Albany/HV: Westboro inadvertently unites Vassar College community
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The Westboro Baptist Church, a religious group made famous for their protests of military funerals, greeted mourners in West Point Thursday before making their anti-homosexual opinions heard at Vassar College. YNN's John Wagner has more on how Vassar transformed their message.

POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. -- Four Westboro members voicing their opposition to homosexuality ended up drawing thousands to a campus-wide outpouring of love and affirmation.

"We're not going to change the minds of the protestors that come today, but we can really make sure that everyone that comes to campus at Vassar feels included," said Cory Epstein, a student member of "Do Something VC."

Vassar College struck back by hosting a series of peaceful, inclusive activities and interfaith services.

"We still have unfinished business when it comes to diversity, so there's been a celebration and interrogation of our own practices," said Chris Roellke, Dean of the college.

As the four Westboro members left the scene, an online counter protest and fundraiser passed the one hundred thousand dollar mark, more than 20 times their initial goal.

"I think it's truly incredible and what's even more important is even after we raised this money, we raised a lot of awareness going forward," said Alexander Koren, class of 2013.

"I would hope that people can remember our collective power from this rally and the collective power of the fundraisers online to do a little bit of that every day," said Epstein.

One hundred grand went to the Trevor Project, a national LGBT support group. Thousands more will flow locally to The Ali Forney Center, GLSEN and the Vassar fund for Social Justice and Inclusion.

The once women's only school has long trumpeted open mindedness.

"That's part of our inclusiveness. We ultimately were willing to have a few men on campus," said Joan Sherman, class of 1952.

Rather than reflecting hate back to protestors, alumni say it's a perfect time to take a look in the mirror.

"Their presence is there to challenge us to look at ourselves first, before we demonize other people we have to see our own faults, we have to see our own issues," said Joseph Tolton, class of 1989.

Four protesters came and went in less than an hour. The donations and passion they prompted will last much longer.

To donate to Do Something VC causes, visit pages.vassar.edu.

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