We’ve written before about Senate Bill 18, the piece of Texas legislation that allows outside groups to come and hold events in public spaces on campus. To no one’s surprise, many organizations, both with and without official campus approval, took immediate advantage of this fact. Opinions on whether this is a good idea vary drastically — we’ve certainly made our stance on the matter clear — but as the first semester with the bill in place draws to a close, the occasional outside organization at the Plinth has become a simple fact of life at UTD.
On November 19, though, the Plinth was bustling with activity in a slightly more unsettling way than usual. The World Mission Society Church of God, an outside organization, partnered with the official student organization the Elohim Bible Study Club to hold an outreach event. For a few hours in the early afternoon, a dozen or so smiling volunteers (both students and adults) in matching blue polos approached students as they passed by. The reason? They claimed that they’d been “slandered” in The Mercury, and wanted to show UTD who they “really” are and all the good work they do. According to several people who talked to WMSCOG volunteers, students were encouraged to sign a petition denouncing The Mercury for the claims they made about the Church.
We at AMP find this problematic for any number of reasons. We find the premise of S.B. 18 problematic anyway, but even setting that aside, this behavior is still troubling. The Mercury’s front-page story about some of the WMSCOG’s shadier practices clearly touched a nerve — and it was meant to! The WMSCOG, sometimes known among students as the “God the Mother people,” has attained almost urban-legend status not just at UTD but at college campuses across the country due to their aggressive recruiting tactics (including their tendency to target students while alone and often at night) and their alleged links to human trafficking.
While the Church has not been concretely linked to any criminal behavior, the fact that this organization is on campus and directly inciting students to denounce a student media outlet is worrying at best. Unfortunately, at the moment, there’s not much to be done about it. Unless the WMSCOG is actively engaging in illegal activity or interfering with the everyday functioning of the university, then they have every right to be here. That being said, we want to take the opportunity to give our fellow Comets a warning. If an organization you don’t recognize is set up on campus and something seems off, be careful. Research the missions and goals of outside organizations, and be aware when circulating literature seems intentionally obscure or misleading. Always stay with a friend while approaching representatives of outside organizations, keep to public areas (since those are the only places outside organizations are legally allowed to go), and never go with volunteers at night. Stay safe, Comets.