First, the awesome stuff. While the day started off slowly, we had a definite increase in interest and traffic as the day went on. By noon, we had a pretty much constant group of students around the booth, and several atheists who hadn't known about Free@VT had dropped by to pick up a meeting schedule or sign up for our listserv (including a student in the Corps of Cadets, who was feeling a bit out outcast in the military setting and was excited to hear of an atheist-friendly group on campus!). Even more delightful was the number of people who were actually asking us questions.
We had a veritable flood of students from some of the on-campus Christian organizations, most notably from Campus Crusade for Christ. Both sides of the discussion -- and, surprised as I was, it was, in all cases, a discussion, not an argument -- were very polite, and genuinely interested in having an open dialogue. Questions ranged from wondering whether we celebrated Christmas, to where we got our morals, to our thoughts on the origin of life and the universe, to whether we believed if Jesus ever existed, and beyond.
Perhaps a measure of the respect we were treated with was due to the fact that many of our volunteers were grad students, but I don't really think that's what it was. At Virginia Tech, there seems to be a high expectation from everyone, not just from the establishment, that others be treated with respect until they've done something showing that they're not worthy of that. Hokies, as a whole, are a family, and while we may disagree on some things, we try our utmost to be, at least, civil.
As I said, however, there was that 1% of the day that was heinously awful.
To explain that, I'm going to take the lazy way out and quote from Gordon Block's article in the Collegiate Times, because I don't want to type or explain it again:
It was absolutely horrible. I mean, it's pretty awful in the first place to have someone request that you stab them in the hand. And then to have him stab himself in front of you. Blood was welling up out of the wounds afterward. The two guys who helped subdue him had their hands covered in blood. And in case it wasn't clear in the article, he wasn't just scratching at his wrist with the pen -- it looked like he was trying to drive it through his radial artery.
As a psych student, I know that I'm not qualified to make calls on people's mental fitness until I've had training in that field and have been licensed. Still, I think it is not irresponsible of me to say that this man was clearly disturbed. The thing that indicated this most to me was the fact that, while he was doing all this, he was talking about how what we were doing was great, he was so happy we were promoting an open dialogue, and so on, and when we asked him if there was anything he wanted to talk about, if he could relate what he was doing just in words, just talk with us instead of what he was doing, he couldn't answer. It was clear that he was trying to figure it out himself, that he couldn't explain it. The whole thing just screamed of cognitive dissonance.
Beyond that, I can't really say much other than I'm still shaken up by what happened, and I'm incredibly grateful that Tyler Pease had the presence of mind and the proper manner to be able to help in the way that he did. Pease is a Cru member, and was talking to us when