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TikTok-famous anti-sex demonstrators confront students on 8th Ave

Raven+McClendon+%6022+urges+students+to+disperse+and+pay+no+attention+to+the+demonstrators.+Photo+by+Lucia+Cheng.
Raven McClendon `22 urges students to disperse and pay no attention to the demonstrators. Photo by Lucia Cheng.

“This shit is not funny,” said Raven McClendon `22. “It’s not funny.”

Cynthia and Jed Smock – who have become famous through their viral TikTok personas, “Sister Cindy” and “Brother Jed” – came to Grinnell’s campus at 1 p.m. on Tuesday, Sep. 21 to an incredulous crowd of students, preaching homophobic and slut-shaming rhetoric that has drawn jeering from colleges across Iowa.

The couple visited Ball State on Saturday, Sep. 18, made their way to the University of Iowa on Monday, Sep. 20, before arriving in Grinnell the next day. The duo has been traveling to colleges from coast to coast for over 40 years, denouncing what they see as sin overtaking colleges through sex out of wedlock.

Tate Hutchinson `24 and Alex Porter `24 stated that they both knew of Cynthia Smock through TikTok and Instagram, and they were surprised to see her show up in Grinnell. News of her arrival quickly spread through Yik Yak and other social media, in addition to the College’s emergency notification system’s warning to avoid 8th Ave.

As the crowd gathered despite the College’s notice, President Anne Harris, Dean of Students Ben Newhouse, Dean of the College Elaine Marzluff, Dean of Inclusive Initiatives Maure Smith-Benanti, Chief Diversity Officer Schvalla Rivera and members of Campus Safety monitored the situation from the sidelines.

“It is not worth anybody’s time,” said President Anne Harris. “It is not worth anybody’s wellbeing or mental health to engage with this. Walk away. Let them scream into the wind.”

Despite these statements to ignore the demonstrators and eventual calls to disperse by McClendon, some students began counter protests of their own. At one point, Kevin Parr `22 blasted Sister Cindy’s words away with his bagpipes. Later, some students were also marching with their pride flags to “Montero” by Lil Nas X, and “Deepthroat” by CupcakKe.

Students began a counter protest in response to the the demonstrator’s hateful rhetoric. Photo by Allison Moore.

“It’s a spectacle,” said Zama Buthelezi `22. “We had to watch.”

“In the absence of legitimate argument, what you have left is trying to get attention through other means,” said Tim Arner, associate dean of curriculum and academic programs. “A spectacle is what you do when you think you’re right when you don’t have an argument to prove it.”

As the demonstration went on, more and more voices overlapped.

“This man is full of shit. There is nothing funny about it,” said McClendon. “There is nothing to look at. Stop giving this person attention.”

“It doesn’t make sense, because we are such a sex-positive school, and a queer school,” said Buthelezi. “But it’s also really funny that they came to the “perfect” place to do something like this. … They knew.”

“I’m curious what the end goal was. What are they expecting here?” said Robby Burchit `23.

Now that the campus is moving past its initial reactions, it is this question that remains.

“There’s a difference between funny and absurd,” said Arner. “Even if you’re laughing at somebody, there’s a connection. If they’re recognized as absurd, it’s a rejection … you don’t want to laugh at them in a way that they think they’ve earned your laugh.”

“Sister Cindy’s” origin story has already been covered by multiple news outlets. But, as Arner notes, negative attention is still attention. Every view, like and comment on the Smocks’ videos helps monetize their rhetoric and continues to allow them to travel to different college campuses.

Smith-Benanti, during her time at the University of Oregon, had also been heckled by the Smocks before. “[Jeb Smock] has been on the circuit since 2007. He has been to every campus I have been at now,” said Smith-Benanti.

“Too many students were smiling and laughing for my liking,” said McClendon. She said she watched as a staff member from the Division of Student Affairs began crying after seeing the display of hateful religious sentiment.

According to Marzluff, the senior leadership team will be meeting this week to discuss how to broach the larger topic of free speech between students and faculty.

“To me, the counter to hate is joy. The counter to absurdity is purpose,” said Arner.

Newhouse sent an all-campus email on Wednesday morning to notify students that a dance party would be happening on Mac Field at noon with pizza, popsicles and a local DJ. “We encourage you to bring those items that celebrate your identities and wear them, display them, and wield them with pride,” wrote Newhouse.

Newhouse also noted the power of circle processes – a conflict resolution technique utilized by the Ombuds office – which he said offers a chance for people to come together and talk about their experiences.

Students gathered on Mac Field wearing items that highlight their unique identities. Photo by Maddi Shinall.

What Arner hopes for the most is for students to be able to look around, find their allies and have these moments of struggle become moments of affirmation, creating a community foundation to empower each other collectively. And so, the demonstrators screamed. And the campus danced.

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