An open letter to President Michael Johnson

Erin Kelly, Class of 2019

Dr. Johnson,


It greatly pains me to hear of the cancellation of the annual drag show event sponsored by the LGBTQIA+ Allies over what essentially seems to boil down to the pacification of White Nationalists on campus. I’m concerned for what this supposed “victory” will do for the spirits of the student body that pushed for it, that is, where it will cause them to direct their efforts next.

I would like to claim that I am a proud recent alum of John Carroll University, and in many ways I am. But I am proud of the John Carroll community that I created, not of the one that actually exists at large on campus. My freshman year was riddled with Trump campaign political graffiti across campus and a flashy news report on the phenomenon. I remember my roommate being interviewed by a reporter and coming back to our humble Dolan abode just to tell me how frightened she actually was by the outspoken conservative students on campus. Then there was the creation of Turning Point USA’s campus branch and the hostile group of students that was to be avoided during their secretive meetings. No one is to say how far into the White Supremacist movement that they leaned, but they certainly weren’t afraid to play up such an image. Or of course the free speech debacle in the Carroll News that became a hot button issue at the start of several of my classes every day of my senior year. Students and professors pouring over the hate speech printed liberally on its pages, reading aloud the rampant bigotry with no clear answers on if it would end and if the administration really even cared at all.

However, amidst all this intolerance I still found for the first time in my life a place to freely be myself. The Allies meetings each week were a safe space where a group of John Carroll’s humble queer community could gather to celebrate diversity, not just of sexual orientation, but of all kinds. We worked with the other cultural organizations on campus to ensure that we all felt safe and welcome amongst one another, fully aware of the darkness and inequality that crept around every corner. But all of that would disappear for a night annually at the drag show.

John Carroll’s drag performance was the first time I ever experienced such a thing. It was also the first time I ever witnessed blatant homophobia in the form of an outside protestor anonymously sending in religion-based hate speech for the crowd to read. But guess what? That man had the right to protest and the rest of the attendants had the right to have a fabulous evening they’d never forget. I met friends for life at that freshman year drag show, and attended every year after that, even bringing friends from other colleges to enjoy the diversity and fun that John Carroll had to offer. The protesting never went away, but neither did the drown-out-the-hate, love-who-you-are, diversity-is-beautiful, all out PRIDE of the John Carroll community, supported by queer students and allies alike.

Dr. Johnson, if I may ask, how can an event meant to celebrate diversity and freedom of expression be in the way of another group’s view? For all of American history there has been a right to protest, so I say fine. Allow whatever faith based, value based, ideology based group to protest the drag show just as they have freely every year. Let them have the right to be an upstanding citizen and simply not partake in an event they don’t agree with, just as many students time and time again have decided not to attend a Turning Point USA meeting. Making a claim to be “neutral” has never been the case when there is a clear aggressor. Minorities are being threatened in the bubble of a Jesuit community that is John Carroll’s campus. Cultural organizations NEED a space to express themselves, do not deprive them of it. There will always be a place for those who oppose minorities, there will always be a place for faith and politics to mask hatred. We do not need to protect such a right in place of making a space for those who otherwise wouldn’t have any. I’m sure students socialized into the Jesuit heritage of our tight knit campus community will understand such a value.

Thank you,

Erin Kelly

Class of 2019