CHENEY, Wash. — A large group of counter-protesters gathered on the Eastern Washington University campus on Thursday afternoon in response to a few speakers who were protesting on campus.
Students on campus said the speakers were anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion. They held signs, including one that said "Worship Christ, God only shall you serve."
Video from the scene showed hundreds of counter-protesters gathered in response to the speakers.
Police were present at the counter-protest.
Some college students at the gathering held signs reading "OK Boomer" in response to the speakers. Chants of "Leave me alone" went through the crowd.
One of the people with the anti-abortion group was arrested for assault after allegedly spitting on a woman and slapping her on the buttocks.
One student was also arrested for not listening to police when told to stay back from the activists.
A sophomore EWU student named Ryan Breightaupt estimated that a thousand to 1,500 students were in attendance.
He said the anti-abortion protesters were "just kind of groveling for attention."
"These guys were saying some pretty messed up stuff and weren't listening. They just wanted attention," Breightaupt said.
A senior EWU student named Jessica said she came to the counter-protest due to the message that was being spread.
"I heard that there was a lot of these protesters and people out here, so I decided to come here and see what it is all about. They were yelling about me, like not specifically, but about transgender people and LGBT people and just spreading hate," she said. "So I decided to come out here and tried to spread the word and protect ourselves."
She said the speakers are there every year and "makes the community feel unsafe."
"We want to feel safe in our community, and with these kind of people running about, we don't."
There has been no information released on whether this was a planned protest.
The gathering appeared peaceful. There has been no public statement made by the university.
EWU President Mary Cullinan sent a statement to the campus community Thursday evening saying:
This afternoon several protestors assembled in the mall of our Cheney campus to exercise their first amendment rights. In response, a number of Eastern students expressed their right to free speech and counter-protested. Our students handled themselves well, and our ASEWU student body president, Key Baker, encouraged students not to escalate the situation.
A number of students have contacted my office to ask why individuals and groups can come onto our campus and freely express their opinions. WAC 172-141: Use of Outdoor Areas for First Amendment Activities makes clear that, while people are encouraged to provide advance notice, anyone may use our outdoor space to convene peacefully and lawfully.
At Eastern Washington University, we are committed to being diverse and inclusive—and to upholding freedom of expression and first amendment principles.
We are also deeply committed to the safety and security of all members of our campus community. I’m thankful that today the EWU campus police, as well as supporting officers from Cheney, Spokane, and the Spokane County Sheriff’s office, helped to ensure a safe environment.
I have asked our Student Affairs leadership to identify opportunities to engage students on approaches for assembling peacefully and expressing opinions in a lawful and respectful manner.
Today we saw one of the rights of our Constitution unfold in real time. Our students and campus community members exercised their right to speak freely and also supported one another.
It is events like these that test our commitments and values. I deeply appreciate all the work that our faculty, staff, and students do to ensure that our Eastern Washington University campuses are inclusive and safe places for us all to work and study.