Joining the forum, Father Dennis Dease, president, and Jane Canney, vice president for student affairs.

‘This is the real St. Thomas,’ Dease tells large crowd who attended march and forum

At one point, organizers of Thursday’s “Stop the Hate” march and forum were thinking of using Room 155, a relatively small meeting room in Murray-Herrick Campus Center, for their forum. Later, organizers decided they had better move the forum to the building’s third-floor lounge, which can accommodate a group of about 300.

No one was quite sure how many students, staff and faculty would show up for the event to support three St. Thomas students of color who have been the victims of a series of hate crimes.

That question was answered as soon at the 11:45 a.m. march began: way, way more than the third-floor lounge could hold. A last-minute decision was made to hold the forum outside.

To the forum.

“This is the largest crowd I’ve ever seen at St. Thomas” for an event like this, Father Dennis Dease, president of St. Thomas, said through a bullhorn on the east steps of Foley Theater. “This is the real St. Thomas.”

“I speak for all from St. Thomas who were so sad to hear of this very sick and evil act,” he told the crowd of more than 1,000 students, staff, faculty and visitors from off campus. “This is an opportunity to recommit ourselves to the values that are so much a part of this university.”

Dease, who had apologized earlier to the three residents of John Paul II hall, again offered “our sincere condolences to these students who have suffered such an indignity.

“This is indeed an important effort and it goes to the very heart of what we are about,” Dease told the crowd.

Standing together.

Later, the university’s president said he felt that the event was “very constructive and provided our campus with a genuine and valuable learning experience. The presence of so many today was for me clear evidence that God can draw good out of evil when people open their hearts -- such as our community did today.”

Over the next hour, 18 speakers, most of them students, took turns at the bullhorn to talk about what is good and not good to be a student of color at St. Thomas, to encourage an end to racism in all its forms, to quote national leaders like Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr., and to offer support for the three roommates who were the targets of the hate messages.

Carl Mickman, president of the Undergraduate Student Government, said he was afraid that the request for Thursday’s show of support would fall on deaf ears. “I’m so happy to see so many here. We are showing by our presence that we will not stand for this.

“We need wake-up calls once in awhile,” he told the crowd. “You are really sending a message.”

Above: Marching to the forum. Below: More than 1,000 gathered on the lower quad.