Notre Dame seniors will stage a walkout to protest Vice President Mike Pence’s commencement speech at the Indiana university on Sunday. Students say they are expressing solidarity with LGBTQ, undocumented, low-income, and female students affected by Pence’s policies.
Students plan to stand up when Pence begins speaking and quietly leave the ceremony. Fifty to 100 people could walk out on Sunday, student organizers say. Protesters are using the hashtag #WalkOutND to bring attention to the protest on social media.
“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.”
Some media outlets have portrayed students’ decision to protest as an example of progressive young people fearing political disagreement. The Washington Times wrote, “Members of the ‘The Fighting Irish’s’ class of 2017 are frightened by Mr. Pence and have started a ‘#NotMyCommencementSpeaker’ campaign against his May 21 address.”
But Bryan Ricketts, one of the We StaND For student organizers, said “it’s a very legitimate thing for people to be scared” of the vice president.
“Some students are undocumented and some parents are driving to see their kid graduate because they can’t get on a plane,” Ricketts told ThinkProgress.
Ricketts also said the university administration has not resisted their protest. “They know we intend to express our disagreement in a way that is respectful but we also want a commencement that respects us.”
He said the protest would not be comparable to President Barack Obama’s Notre Dame commencement speech in 2009, when a heckler interrupted Obama and another protester shouted during his speech.
Ricketts added that alumni have been very supportive of the protest. Over 1,700 alumni signed a letter expressing disappointment in the decision to choose Pence as a commencement speaker.
Local groups will also protest Pence’s speech, but will do so off campus. The state and local organizations involved in these protests include We Go High!, South Bend Equality, and Michiana Alliance for Democracy. South Bend Equality will protest near campus, at Angela Blvd. and Notre Dame Ave.