UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As a controversy unfolded involving prominent white nationalist Richard Spencer and the University of Florida, Jacksonville native and Penn State student Elijah Armstrong decided enough was enough.
He felt it was time for him to take action, and so, in August 2017, Armstrong and three friends teamed up to create No Hate Penn State, a student organization with the goal of creating a Penn State experience that is safe and inclusive for all students.
Armstrong, a junior studying education and public policy, became an activist during his junior year at a college prep school in Jacksonville. Armstrong experienced seizures at school and asked the school's administration for a few accommodations, such as changing the type of light bulbs used in a classroom. Ultimately he was told was told that no accommodations could be made. Little was done for him while at school in Jacksonville, according to Armstrong, but a legal settlement was reached in the case during his sophomore year at Penn State.
Recently, No Hate Penn State organized a concert at Webster's Café in downtown State College on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, to raise awareness and gather support.
"The first event we had was incredibly successful," Armstrong said about the MLK Day concert. "Even the people that couldn't make it saw the video and were very impressed and wanted to be a part of the next one."
The concert, which consisted of multiple performers as well as a collaborative art installation, was a way to unite the State College and Penn State communities and show all the good things being done by No Hate Penn State and Equal Opportunities for Students.
Equal Opportunities for Students, a blog Armstrong created as a result of the discrimination he faced in high school, is a place where people can share educational resources and tell their own stories.
As far as involvement goes, there seem to be many supporters of the cause and even more who want to get further involved, said Armstrong.
"I get, every so often, people asking me how they can help, how they can be involved and when the next thing that we're planning is," Armstrong said.
Support has so far been strong for Armstrong, his friends and their ideas. They've faced little backlash from the community, other than tiny bumps in the road, such as difficulties with event venues.
"There have been bureaucratic roadblocks along the way, like we wanted to host [events] in various places and we couldn't get permits and sometimes we needed insurance," Armstrong said.
The student activist said that there has yet to be a situation in which a person or group outwardly disagrees with what No Hate Penn State stands for.
"It's been very positive," Armstrong said. "I know that a lot of other people have tried to do, not necessarily similar things, but similar in the outlet of forwarding acceptance and peaceful protesting, and received much more vitriol."
In a divisive time when schools have begun to turn away certain types of speakers and events, No Hate Penn State aims to unite people against those who want to spread non-inclusive, hateful ideas.
Armstrong and his fellow advocates participate in activities and spread awareness because they want to make sure that, while there is a possibility of someone with an agenda of racism, violence or hate speaking at Penn State, "there is a constructive way to resist, if something were to happen."
One way Armstrong and his friends were able to spread their message was by putting on a play. The play, written by Ellis Stump, is called "Sacred Trauma" and aimed at expanding awareness of the issue of sexual assault. Armstrong helped as assistant director of the play and made a brief documentary showcasing play attendees giving words of encouragement to sexual assault survivors.
"Creative advocacy is a very useful tool against many forms of hate and violence," Armstrong said. "Hate and violence can come in many ways, but finding meaningful ways to combat them is something I intend on continuing in the future."
Looking forward, Armstrong shared that the coordination of a town hall discussion is in the works. The focus of the discussion will be on the history of student activism, and is set to take place in early fall. Topics to be discussed include how to get involved with activism both on campus and in the surrounding community.