Students’ Halloween costumes spark racial protest on campus.
Students of various ethnicities gathered on the steps of the Montview Student Union at 11 a.m. last Wednesday, Oct. 31, protesting what many of them called the racist culture at Liberty University.
The impetus behind the demonstration was two Halloween costumes worn by twin LU seniors Mark and John Pereira. An Oct. 26 post on Mark Pereira’s Instagram account showed Mark impersonating an ICE officer, while his brother wore a sombrero and a large moustache.
The post also included a video of John Pereira and another student dressed as an officer chasing Mark, while Spanish pop song “Despacito” played in the background.
The caption of the now-deleted post read, “Keeping our Borders Safe, Mr. President #MAGA #itsnotracist #Itsjustillegal.”
Screenshots of the upload went viral, with many accusing the Pereira twins of blatant racism. The controversy caught the attention of both music producer Alex Medina and his client, Christian rapper Lecrae. Both condemned the costumes on Twitter.
Racism is living and breathing within evangelical university walls. Love is far from them. pic.twitter.com/FEw5cKtNjW
— alex medina (@mrmedina) October 30, 2018
Its wiiiild this kid in 2018 doesn’t see how racist this is.
— Lecrae (@lecrae) October 30, 2018
At the rally, the number of protesters grew from 11 to 28 within the hour, holding signs emblazoned with messages like, “OUR STRUGGLE IS NOT A JOKE” and “OUR CULTURE IS NOT A COSTUME.” Other students stopped to both observe the protest and interact with protesters.
“The purpose of this protest is to combat the racism that has been happening on this campus, and then swept under the rug,” Ivory Edosomwan, an African-American student and one of the main event organizers, told the crowd. “Please empathize with your minority brothers and sisters in Christ. We’re struggling, we’re hurting.”
Though both twins initially defended themselves on social media, arguing that they were simply emphasizing their stance on illegal immigration, Mark Pereira said he now regrets the whole thing.
“(My brother and I) thought that trying to make a serious topic funny would be taken differently. We do see how people could easily be offended,” Mark Pereira said. “We had no intention of being racist. We don’t want people to think that we don’t care about these other people’s sensitivities. We do want them to know that we’re sorry, and we do ask for their forgiveness.”
Mark Pereira later uploaded a formal apology on Instagram. John Pereira was absent from the video.
“It did not display my Christian belief correctly,” Mark added in the video. “Or what I’m learning at Liberty University.”
But the pendulum was already in full swing. Edosomwan had already seen the images, and she and others quickly planned over social media to rally.
“These twins are people, sure. They’re made in the image of God,” Edosomwan said. “But even if they are people, they did something wrong, and they need to be held accountable for it.”
Edosomwan and other various sources said the rally was not to attack the twins themselves, but rather a campus-wide attitude that enabled such things to happen.
“(This protest) was sparked by that event,” said sophomore Shannon Gage. “But this isn’t to target an individual. It’s about a culture that permeates the university.”
Gage, who is half-Korean, experienced this culture last year. She said that, while she was with Asian friends, a group of male students drove by in a van and shouted, “Slow down, Chinatown!”
“It’s not just one guy,” Gage added. “It’s an attitude.”
The protest lasted for nearly three and a half hours. Many of the students civilly engaged with the demonstrators.
Others students disagreed. Some observed while shaking their heads. A male student was heard saying that the protest “wasn’t something Liberty needs.”
Tenser moments found Edosomwan and her friends in lengthy arguments with others, contrasting the peaceful dialogues from the beginning of the event. The most heated discussion involved police brutality against African-Americans.
Carolyn McKnight, who stood next to Edosomwan, eventually redirected the conversation back to the original purpose of the rally, noting the protest was not about numbers or how many African-Americans were killed by police.
At one point, Edosomwan used her bare foot to push her pair of sneakers toward the crowd.
“Today, we hope you can, for one second, step into our shoes,” Edosomwan said. “And feel what we feel, experience what we experience.”
At 1:20 p.m., the event ended with a group of nearly 80 students, both protesters and observers of all races, praying in a circle—something Esther Christiansen, a student worker at the Office of Equity and Inclusion, considered poignant.
“I don’t know if (some conversations) were necessarily the most productive,” Christiansen said. “But what I do really appreciate is that we ended in prayer. Hopefully that’s the message that gets sent to people, regardless of who they supported in this situation: that we ended this with praying and saying, ‘We’re Christians, we need to figure this out.’”
LU officials were present at the event but declined to comment before the situation was fully assessed.