Some are respectful and kind. Others are not.
By CJ Rhoads
Every Fall and Spring, when the weather is nice, Kutztown University becomes the site of uninvited visitors. Most uninvited visitors are here just to spread their message. They talk to students who pass by. They hand out flyers. They are generally respectful and don’t cause any problems. Since Kutztown is a state university, the grounds are public, and anyone can come and stand or talk with students, faculty and staff. It is their right.
But, those rights do come with limitations. They cannot physically touch or harass students, faculty or staff. They cannot use a bullhorn or prevent anyone from passing by them. And on March 20, 2023 the Supreme Court finally ruled that universities can require uninvited visitors to give advance notice and apply for a permit in order to be allowed on campus though that has not yet been done at Kutztown.
This is important to Kutztown University because of one particularly obnoxious uninvited visitor, Aden Rusfeldt. Mr. Rusfeldt calls himself a pastor, but he is not affiliated with any recognized organized religion. He also does not appear to be here to calmly share a message; he appears to be here to rile up the student body and garner a negative reaction, so that he can sue the University and the students inexperienced enough to fall for his insulting taunts. It certainly seems as if this is how Mr. Rusfeldt makes a living, because he appears on college campuses, high schools, and other public events with large signs and a larger mouth. If you watch him for awhile, you will see that he waits for someone in his targeted group list (a person of color, a woman, a person of a different religion, someone wearing something a bit different) to walk by, and then calls them names, insults them, and tells them they are going to hell. He hopes that they will get angry, yell, throw things, or even attack him. If no one does anything for which he can sue, then he just posts videos of his appearances to raise money to continue his rants.
In the Fall of 2020, one particular faculty member got fed up with watching students being verbally abused by this unwanted visitor, and he decided to do something about it. Dan Stafford put together a team of faculty, staff and students to start a group called Pledge To Stop Hate. The original idea was to raise money for each hour for each uninvited visitor for the disenfranchised groups (LGBTQ+ Center, Women’s Center, Frederick Douglass Institute, & the Multicultural Center). The group raised thousands of dollars, and had hoped that it would be enough to persuade Mr. Rusfeldt that he was better off avoiding Kutztown University.
Unfortunately, Mr. Rusfeldt came back in the Fall of 2022, and we expect him to come again sometime between now and the end of the semester. On some beautiful day, he will arrive without any notice and set up to start spewing vile and hateful messages.
The Pledge to Stop Hate group hopes that students, faculty, and staff will be ready. We still accept pledges, but are also trying some new things. Of course, we are still asking students to stay away from the area if at all possible. for those who must pass by, we are asking them to turn their back and silently walk by or stand with an umbrella shielding them from the hateful rhetoric.
We also plan to have a community rally that confirms our campus is a place where hate, prejudice, and bigotry are denounced. We are a welcoming community. We open our arms to everyone, all the time. At the rally, through signs, chants, and songs we will demonstrate to the world that hate has no place here. This is also where students can pick up umbrellas and vests if they wish to stand silently with their backs to the uninvited visitors, demonstrating loving unity and welcoming community in contrast to his hateful message. To find us, look for the tall rainbow flags some distance away from the uninvited visitor.
If you are willing to help support this cause, get on the list to be notified of our plans. You can also choose to be on the text list to be notified when Mr. Rusfeldt arrives. We are also hoping to set up training from Silent Witness Peacekeepers, a group that has come to Kutztown in the past to train faculty, staff, and students the best way to respond to hateful visitors.
It is only by coming together and proclaiming our unity with all disenfranchised people that we can counter hateful messages with loving messages of kindness and inclusion.