Opinion: Panda Express is being swarmed by religious pandemonium and VCU students are not fans

Illustration by Lindsay Hart

Bryce Randall, Contributing Writer

Are y’all tired of the loud religious men standing across the street from our Panda Express? I know I am. 

Picture this: it’s 11:30 p.m. You just got done studying for your upcoming midterm at Cabell Library. Your stomach is garbling some foreign language; roughly translated, it’s saying “feed me.” Panda Express is about two blocks away and closes at 1 a.m., so you start walking in that direction and — out of nowhere — you hear shouting. This must be your lucky night. A group of men dappered up in their fanciest black shirts and grey sweatpants are standing across the street from Panda Express hollering out verses from their Bibles. Dinner and a show anyone? 

This situation is all too real. In fact, while at Panda Express with a friend, I took the time to watch these men in action. The first thing I noticed was people’s commitment to avoiding them. Many simply sped up their walking. Some moved to the opposing sidewalk. In one case, a woman left her friend group behind and ran across the street while the pedestrian light was red because she refused to stand on the corner next to the men. All in all, it’s pretty safe to say people were uncomfortable. 

In addition to being uncomfortable, others were getting agitated. Sitting outside, the second thing I picked up were verbal reactions to the men. Occasionally, someone from a distance would shout “shut up,” in response. I clearly remember one woman turning around, after passing them, and saying “No one cares.” It was becoming wildly clear that the majority of people did not like these men.  

To make sure I was correct in my observations, I decided to talk to a few students to see exactly how they felt. Unsurprisingly, many stated they didn’t appreciate the demonstration across the street. One student remarked, “The men across the street are annoying just because they yell at me when I walk by. But, without fail, every single time I walk into Panda at night they’re yelling at me.” 

Don’t get me wrong, I completely support freedom of speech and freedom of religion. I truly have no problem with their message or their willingness to spread it. However, their presence is both disruptive and obviously unwanted. 

We are a body of students. If we are lugging our backpacks to Panda Express at midnight, kindly leave us alone; we are tired and hungry. The last thing we need is a group of grown men shouting and saying we should find Jesus. Most of us are preoccupied with classes and student organizations. After all, the whole reason we are in college is to set up the foundation for our future. 

Time and time again, at universities all over the United States, religious groups feel it is their responsibility to save us from burning in hell. I appreciate the sentiment, but bombarding me with scripture is not helping me. If anything, it’s pushing me further away. 

Outside of the fact that we are busy students, some of us already practice our own religions. Attempting to push out anyone’s beliefs and replace them with your own is just plain disrespectful. If the tables were turned, I doubt they would appreciate complete strangers barking at them from a distance and calling their religion blasphemy. 

Setting aside the fact that they are attempting to push religion on us, they’re loud. Standing at Grace and Shafer streets, they are surrounded by student housing: West Grace North, West Grace South, and The Square. At 11:30 p.m., many people are trying to sleep. Their disruptive presence is not limited to how it affects people on the street, it also bothers those trying to spend a quiet evening in. 

I respect their right to promote their beliefs, but the manner in which they’re doing it is poorly chosen. At night, people are on edge. As VCU students in a city, we are taught to be alert when roaming the streets in the dark. After all, it wasn’t too long ago that Richmond was the most dangerous city in Virginia. 

I believe the demonstration would be more successful if they set up a table in the daytime and yelled less. As my mother always told me, “You’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” The way they are operating, they aren’t attracting any students, they’re just annoying them.

If I am going to Panda Express at midnight, the only thing I expect to be shoved down my throat is grilled teriyaki chicken. I can do without the attempts to force feed me religion.    

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