Liberty University protest turns into respectful discussion

Students voice concerns over recent reports of actions, comments from president

LYNCHBURG, Va. – The 50-plus Liberty University students who gathered outside the Montview Student Union Friday afternoon had mostly the same reaction to the recent reports about their president, Jerry Falwell Jr. They want to know if the reports are true and they’d like his comments and actions to reflect the Christian school’s values.

The event started as a protest, with students holding signs, including one that said: "Students for Change." They’re calling for an investigation into the validity of the reports.

“Intimidation and fear. We really feel this is what the university is controlled by,” junior 
Elizabeth Brooks said.

They're not asking for Falwell to resign, but many said he should be held accountable.

“The people who are protesting today don’t hate the school. They don’t hate Jerry Falwell. We love the school and that’s why we’re passionate about this,” Jonah Lackley said.

Reports from Politico, Reuters and other outlets say current and former university officials believe Falwell has created a culture of intimidation and self-interest and has insulted them and students -- including calling a student “physically retarded.”

Counterprotesters who more strongly support Falwell,showed up with their own signs.

“As much as he’s done for this college, as much as he’s done for this church, as much as he’s done for this nation, he deserves our trust until he’s proven guilty,” freshman Garridy Hamilton said.

Many students who arrived thinking they had opinions wildly different from others discussed the issues and found that they agreed far more often than they disagreed. Some shook hands after speaking at length, including sophomore Eli Schaefer, who came to counterprotest, telling 10 News about a conversation he had with a protester.

“What he’s out here for, I think, is a really important thing to be out here for and everything he said I agree with fully,” he said. 

Many students said they were happy to see the respectful debate.

“It was good to hear everyone’s stance and how they viewed everything.” {31:14} {cut} “There was no yelling,” sophomore Michael Faragalla said.

Falwell later tweeted a response that included: “I’m so impressed with how @LibertyU students conducted themselves today at the protest!”

Liberty University responded Thursday to the Politico report with full transcripts of the interview Falwell gave for the story.