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November 21, 2013

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On Nov. 15, a video went viral, claiming “police brutality” on the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s campus, as a young man was forced from his bicycle to the ground while trying to speak to an evangelist on campus. 

The video only shows a portion of the incident, as, according to officials and other eyewitnesses, 24-year-old Colton Montalvo repeatedly ignored campus police’s warnings, threatening the evangelist’s safety by crossing a marked barrier, and eventually resisted arrest.

Reports in The Huffington Post and other sources have focused on the “police brutality” claims, but student response has been a mix of confusion and anger for other reasons. Angela Cummings of Highways and Hedges Ministry has been on campus repeatedly, preaching loudly (and to some, disruptively). Students and faculty expected her to be asked to leave, not given a designated area in the middle of campus that was blocked off, effectively preventing interaction.  

History major Rebecca Sadler wrote a letter to the UTC administration detailing problems that many students have with Cummings’ presence: “While I completely understand exposing students to different ideas, opinions, and beliefs, I feel like this goal is voided when it’s at the expense of the emotional and physical safety of students. This woman particularly targets people in the LGBTQ and Muslim communities, groups that already face discrimination and marginalization.”

According to student sources, UTC’s administration and faculty usually take a strong stance in support of diversity, acceptance, and avoiding hate speech on campus. Chancellor Steve Angle explains in a letter to students that the “itinerant preacher” is “associated with another preacher who recently prevailed against the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in a free-speech lawsuit.”

Angle asks students to “merely keep on walking” and “just ignore it.” Student reaction is not likely to conform to this course of action.

— Chelsea Sokol

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November 21, 2013

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