More than 100 students walked out to draw attention to the LGBTQ, low-income, undocumented and female students targeted by the Trump administration’s policies.
After weeks of absence, Vice President Mike Pence made a public appearance at the University of Notre Dame in his home state of Indiana to deliver the commencement address to the graduating class of 2017.
Unfortunately for Pence, who took the stage to a mixture of cheers and jeers, the event went a little off rails when dozens of graduates and their family members suddenly stood and walked out of the stadium, leaving the vice president speaking at the podium criticizing “safe spaces” and touting free speech.
“While this institution has maintained an atmosphere of civility and open debate, far too many campuses across America have become characterized by speech codes, safe spaces, tone policing, administration-sanctioned political correctness — all of which amounts to the suppression of free speech,” he said. “These practices are destructive of learning and the pursuit of knowledge.”
More than 100 students put their free speech into action by walking out on Pence.
The act of resistance, organized by the university’s student activist coalition We StaND For to take a stance against Trump administration’s bigotry and homophobia, had been in the works for week. The Facebook page for the event asked students and their parents “to walk out with us as we take back our graduation and show our dissatisfaction with the university's selection of Mike Pence as honored speaker. We also will walk out in dignity and solidarity with all marginalized people affected by Pence's politics, both on this campus and throughout our nation.”
The protesters knew they wouldn’t be allowed to re-enter school’s football stadium if they walked out, but decided to go ahead anyway.
As The Indy Star reported, the students, some of whom were wrapped in rainbow colored flags or bore phrases of protest on their graduation caps, later gathered outside the arena to celebrate their graduation.
“During his time as governor of the state of Indiana and now as a vice president, Pence has targeted the civil rights protections of members of LBGT+ community, rejected the Syrian refugee resettlement program, supported an unconstitutional ban of religious minorities, and fought against sanctuary cities,” We StaND For said in a statement. “All of these policies have marginalized our vulnerable sisters and brothers for their religion, skin color or sexual orientation.”
The organizers of this year’s historic Women’s March also took to Twitter to congratulate the protesters.
A number of protesters also lined the streets near the stadium, holding placards and banner protesting Pence and the new administration, before the ceremony.
An English and liberal studies student, Cassandra Dimaro, told The Telegraph the silent walkout was a show of solidarity “for those of us impacted by the policies of the Trump administration as well as the rhetoric the Trump administration has used.”
Meanwhile, Pence's press secretary issued a statement on Twitter, downplaying the significance of the walkout.
The university, which has a strong Catholic core, saw similar protests back in 2009 when former President Barack Obama was invited to speak at the commencement ceremony.