A statement from Rodrigue’s co-president Brad Passarelli
The co-presidents of Rodrigue’s Coffee House are the points of contact for Rodrigue’s members in situations like the one that occurred on Thursday, December 7th 2017, and so around 1:15 PM that day my co-president and I received a text message alerting us of the situation taking place at Rod’s at that moment. We rushed over from an earlier meeting, and by the time we arrived there were 6-8 people standing in front of the counter inside a very busy Rodrigue’s. These people were all wearing “Make America Great Again” hats and shirts, Donald Trump 2016 campaign shirts, and American flag memorabilia, in a manner similar to a uniform. When I walked in, I immediately recognized some of these people as members of the Fordham College Republicans E-Board, with their president at the center of the congregation. In addition to the disruptive group standing at the counter, 4 other members of the group were seated at a table next to the counter. The seated members of the group were not doing homework, or even socializing, as one of the members of the group recently claimed on television. Instead, it was immediately obvious that they were watching for a desired reaction to the provocations of the standing members of their group.
After taking in the initial scene, my co-president began to engage with the group in regards to the club’s safer space policy while I observed the scene and began to make contact over the phone with our contacts in the Office of Student Involvement. My co-president greeted the standing group, and sternly asked them to remove their “Make America Great Again” hats within five minutes, or else they would be asked to leave. Naturally, this was met with opposition from the standing group, who were hoping for a reaction of this kind. The 6-8 members of the group at the counter then began to raise their voices and protest the request made by my co-president, who repeated her request in a louder tone, which was then met with a chorus of angry responses, with the 6+ people all talking over each other and my fellow co-president. At this point, the seated members of the group began filming the interaction between the two parties on a cell phone. After those in “MAGA” clothing protested and demanded to know why their clothing and accessories were terms for their removal from the club, the club co-president showed them the Rodrigue’s Safer Space Policy. The standing group denied violating the policy, and then questioned its validity, asking to take pictures of the document itself, which they were allowed to do as our Safer Space Policy is public and hangs next to the menu on our counter for visitors to clearly see. My co-president then told them they had five minutes to leave, which they vocally objected to until the co-president began to count down the minutes they had remaining before contacting administration and Fordham Public Safety if necessary. The students standing at the counter then slowly left, while the 4 members of the group who were seated claimed they were not affiliated with the other students who had been asked to leave. They insisted this despite the fact that they were wearing similar attire and the entire room of Rodrigue’s members and customers watched them film the incident. These four students then stayed in Rodrigue’s an extended period of time, and when I returned to the building hours later with officials from the Office of Student Involvement, their table had been taken by another member of the College Republicans E-Board who was not present for the initial demonstration.
Also, it is important to note that the video taken that day, that has since gone viral, was purposefully filmed in order to obscure the number of people who were wearing “Make America Great Again” clothing. In the video, the standing group appears to be only 3 people, when off to the left, out of frame, there are 3-5 additional people in “Make America Great Again” apparel. The video was picked up by a conservative media organization known as Campus Reform, and was then aired on the Fox News program ‘The Story with Martha MacCallum,’ alongside an appearance by College Republicans member Aaron Spring, who was one of the seated members of the group during the incident in Rodrigue’s. Spring used his one minute and four seconds of fame to blatantly lie on national television in order to push a weak message that demonstrated a lack of basic understanding of safe spaces and their importance on college campuses.
In the aftermath of Spring’s televised appearance, Rodrigue’s has been met with some of the most vile and offensive messages I have ever seen, and the vast majority of them have been directed at my co-president, who as a woman of color has been traumatized by an unending assault of racial slurs and bigotry online over the past few days. This abuse was absolutely one of the desired results of the demonstration and subsequent media coverage, and I would hope that those who participated in both are held accountable for both their actions and the abuse stemming from them.
The existence of the Rodrigue’s Safer Space Policy was what likely motivated the actions of the conservative demonstrators present on December 7th, and the reason that my club was targeted as such was because of common misrepresentations of how safer space policies work. The Rodrigue’s Safer Space Policy protects students and visitors within the space from assumptions about their identities, and from any racism, sexism, homophobia, or other abusive behavior, and in no way stands in opposition to any political allegiance. The group that was asked to leave on December 7th was not asked to leave because of their political views or their clothing- they were, in fact, served coffee and treated as regular customers. However, when these visitors decided to create a scene that was clearly designed to provoke under the guise of political discourse, their disruption and disrespect for our space could not be ignored. It is also important to note that the members of the group that sat at the table and filmed were not asked to leave, as they were not wearing MAGA hats, instead opting for simple American flag hats. Mr. Spring was a part of this seated group and he was not asked to leave, and in fact stayed at that table for at least an hour after the standing group left Rodrigue’s.
Ultimately, it is clear that the event that took place at Rodrigue’s on December 7th was a planned demonstration orchestrated by the Fordham University College Republicans, or at the very least their club leadership. The College Republicans have tried to claim that they were not responsible for this incident, but this, like Mr. Spring’s account of these events, is false. Rodrigue’s will always strive to be a safer space on Fordham’s campus, and function as a welcoming social space where people are held accountable for their actions. It is my hope that the group that staged the events that took place on December 7th are held to the same standard of accountability.