Some students have reported being solicted by a religious group in front of both Milne Library and the Integrated Science Center. The religious recruiters were two women, both in their 30s, according to biology major junior Sara McKiernan.
Students, such as McKiernan, felt fearful and worried, and have since raised concerns centered around campus security. McKiernan was approached by two women in the ISC at 9 p.m. on a Sunday night.
“They were walking a little bit ahead of me so they turned a corner, and then I turned the same corner, just to go the same way, but they were walking very slowly, and I kind of saw them turn around a little bit,” McKiernan said. “Then they went to the side a little bit and I thought that they were just going to let me pass, so I walked past them, and then they stopped me and were like ‘excuse me, can we just ask you a quick question?’”
The women asked McKiernan if she had read the Bible and started to question her about different passages, according to McKiernan. They claimed they were part of a Bible study group on-campus. McKiernan said she remembered she had been warned about a group stopping people and asking about their religious views. Even though they were persistent in trying to get her to stay, McKiernan said she quickly walked away to the library for help.
She described the people who approached her as two women of color in their 30s, one looked Hispanic, the other was black. They were dressed in professional attire and did not have backpacks. McKiernan found this strange because they claimed to be part of a Bible study group on-campus.
“I don’t think [the administration] should let people try to promote their organizations, especially on-campus. I know there’s only so much they can do, but definitely if there are more regulations in place, even just security guards walking around, or making more of a presence known around campus, either if that’s with UPD or a security guard,” McKiernan said. “If somebody is there watching it might make them stray away a little bit, because this was inside of an academic building, and they shouldn’t have been there.”
Interim Inspector Scott Ewanow sent out an email on Wednesday April 18 addressing the role of “visitors in public spaces.”
“The College can only impose restrictions on individuals or organizations assembling in public spaces if they engage in criminal behavior,” the email said. “At this time, UPD has no evidence that individuals or groups who have attempted to publicly engage with members of the campus community in recent weeks are linked to criminal activity.”
University Police Chief Thomas Kilcullen declined to comment for the article and Ewanow was unable to speak for the article in time for publication.
Some members of the community are alarmed, and some believe the group to be “The World Mission Society Church of God,” which is classified as a cult by the Cult Education Institute.
The group allegedly often targets college campuses to solicit individuals to join the organization, and uses “aggressive” tactics while recruiting to try and expand throughout the country, Executive Director of the Cult Education Institute Rick Alan Ross said in a phone interview. The group has been moving farther into upstate New York for years, according to Ross
In response to rumors about the solicitors’ background, some students have expressed fear for personal safety on-campus. Biochemistry major senior Natalie Craig said that she felt safe at Geneseo, until these incidents transpired, and now she often feels the need to check over her shoulder while walking home from the library at night.
“It’s kind of scary, but also the buildings are kind of open to whoever,” Craig said. “So, anyone can just walk inside, which is pretty scary.”
It would be beneficial to increase the watchfulness of police on-campus, according to Craig. Some students suggested an open dialogue to inform the campus community for purposes of safety.
“It’s not a campus centric issue, it can happen to us anywhere,” international relations and communication double major junior Melissa Hartlipp said. “Obviously, on-campus we want to feel safer, but as members of society you always have to have your guard up.”