Law School Dean Allan Vestal
More than 400 Drake University students and other supporters waved signs and chanted "No hate at Drake" over and over as they gathered in front of Old Main early Saturday morning to counter a protest by members of the Westboro Baptist Church.
They carried signs with messages such as "God Hates You," "America is Doomed" and "Fags Can't Marry."
More than 200 people attended the Saturday symposium, which brought together leading scholars from across the country to debate legal issues surrounding same-sex marriage.
There were no arrests and no problems during the protest and counter protest, according to Drake Campus Security Director Hans Hanson. View photos of the protest and counter protest in an online gallery.
"I am so proud of the elegance and maturity of our students," Drake President Maxwell said as he surveyed the crowd. "This is exactly what I expected would happen."
President Maxwell, center, shows his solidarity with the students
Law School Dean Allan Vestal, who wore a bright yellow T-shirt proclaiming "No Hate in Iowa," described the students' counter protest as "just wonderful."
He noted that the symposium is significant because it provides a forum for debating controversial issues, such as whether same-sex marriage should be legalized, the appropriate role for the courts, the constitutionality of the Federal Defense of Marriage Act and the economics of same-sex marriage.
During the counter protest, students sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" and waved signs with messages such as "Love Does Not Discriminate" and "Love Always Wins."
"I think this is awesome. I really didn't expect this many people to show up so early," said Therese Sojka, a senior majoring in philosophy and English.
Erica Burke, a sophomore majoring in theatre tech and design, expressed concern about children joining their parents in the WBC protest. "I just want to hug their kids and tell them there is love in the world," she said. "I think this counter protest is a good thing. It really brought our community together."
Porterhouse with the sign proclaiming his bulldog pride
Max Maher, a senior majoring in politics and public relations, waved a sign promoting free hugs. "I think it's fantastic that the Drake community can come together and agree that we don't approve of hate," he said.
In addition to members of the Drake community, local residents, Grinnell College students and veterans who belong to the American Legion joined the counter protest.
Even Porterhouse, the University's official mascot, showed up with a sign saying, "Don't Hate Me Because I'm a Beautiful Bulldog." In addition to his usual cape and crown, he sported a colorful sash covered with peace signs.
"We wouldn't miss this for anything," said Erin Bell, who owns Porterhouse with her husband, Kevin, who is president of the Law School's Student Bar Association. Erin displayed her key message on her T-shirt, which said, "Anything hate can do, love can do better."