More than 100 Notre Dame students walked out of their graduation ceremony on Sunday in protest of commencement speaker Vice President Mike Pence. The students, who announced their intention to protest before the ceremony, said that they were walking out to express solidarity with the vulnerable communities — specifically LGBTQ, undocumented, low-income, and female students — targeted by the Pence’s policies when he was governor of Indiana.
— WNDU (@WNDU) May 21, 2017
The students left immediately as Pence began speaking, quietly filing out of the ceremony. Pence’s speech touched on policies enacted by the Trump administration thus far, including the administration’s “religious freedom” executive order, which could lead to significant setbacks in LGBTQ equality by giving religious cover to anti-LGBTQ discrimination.
Pence also spoke about “political correctness” on college campuses, something that he called “wholly outside of the American tradition.”
Before Pence spoke, Notre Dame valedictorian and student speaker C.J. Pine gave a speech calling for religious freedom and equality for Muslims.
“Our generation must stand against the scapegoating of Muslims,” Pine said.
— Summer Ratcliff (@SummerRatcliff) May 21, 2017
Notre Dame, the country’s largest Catholic university, typically invites the newly-inaugurated president to give the commencement address. But after thousands of students signed a petition asking the university not invite President Donald Trump, the university invited Pence instead. Notre Dame is located in South Bend, Indiana — the same state where Pence served as governor for four years.
“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,” said the student activist group organizing the protest, We StaND For, in a statement explaining its decision to stage the walkout. “All of these policies have marginalized our vulnerable sisters and brothers for their religion, skin color, or sexual orientation.”
— Erin Blasko (@ErinBlasko) May 21, 2017
Over 1,000 Notre Dame alumni also a signed a letter expressing their disappointment with the choice of Pence as commencement speaker.
In 2009, about two dozen anti-abortion activists protested President Barack Obama’s speech at Notre Dame.