As the diverse crowd began to grow in the Atwood mall on Thursday, the message of the congregation became clearer. As St. Cloud State University President Earl H. Potter III stood at the top of the steps of the Atwood Mall. The crowd silenced and words of equality, tolerance and unity flowed from the president moving an entire group of diverse students, faculty and staff. As the crowd stood and listened, the overall somber tone of the event evolved into a reactionary attitude that led to the unity and collective outcry against prejudice and discrimination on St. Cloud States campus.
Unity is defined by being in full agreement and the element on oneness, and that is what was exemplified during the Unity Walk. Put on by the University Program Board and other organizations on campus, the walk was due to an outcry against intolerance after a man known as the “St. Clouds Superman,” or John Fillah, was seen waving a confederate flag on city streets that lie through St. Cloud States campus.
“I think it’s critically important, it’s important that we affirm our values and what we believe in as a community, it’s important that it be done as a community as students, faculty and staff and I’m proud of students who’ve taken the initiative to create the opportunity,” said St. Cloud State President Potter.
The unity showed by many in the St. Cloud State community has served for others in the community a way to have their voices heard on a topic that can be sensitive or hard to talk about.
“This walk means something unselfish, a cause that’s not understood, it means that we actually took our time to do something worthwhile and just put aside our differences; this walk is something powerful,” said Unity McGill, a new student at St. Cloud State university.
As the President Potter and other student leaders closed their speeches, the crowd began to march throughout campus with signs and spirit conveying their outspoken intolerance for intolerance. As the march continued, many say that it served as an outlet for community members to voice their anger that is, according to Debra Leigh, healthy.
“Does is affect me? Absolutely yes it affects me. Am I impacted? Yes I’m affected, I feel just as assaulted as others have felt around this issue and angry as well, and I think that it’s a healthy anger,” said Leigh, a professor and leader for CARE at St. Cloud State University.
“I think that the opportunity to respond and not just observe is very important, so yes having an opportunity to respond is really, really critical, otherwise you will become part of the silent majority and being apart of the silent majority can, in some instances mean that you support what’s happening, and if you don’t support you have to speak up.”
That is what was done on Thursday in the Atwood Mall. The walk gave the opportunity for many people to unify against a common intolerance, which has been perpetrated by a minority of the population in St. Cloud.
“I’m proud of our community, the university community will always be a place where there is conflict, we bring people with all sorts of different views and beliefs together to learn and grow and every year we bring brand new folks into that community,” said Potter.
For some, the future of this community seems bright and vibrant and the walk helped to signify that belief among many. For people like Unity McGill, it’s even more personal and reaches a deeper understanding of kindness and empathy.
“I think it’s going to affect us in a big way, because we’re taking a step towards something great,” McGill continued. “Kind of words like ‘hey how you doing’ or ‘good morning’ and ‘have a good night,’ and just let everyone know on campus that you can have a trustworthy friend or individual that cares about you when your out on the street…just knowing that somebody will help you out no matter if there life depended on it or if they didn’t really need too.”
“They just want to give a hand anyway, that just shows that we’re heading in that direction every second,” said McGill.