Notre Dame Professor Defends Graduates Who Protested Mike Pence's Commencement Speech

"They chose to make a visible yet peaceful statement opposing him."

On Sunday, the University of Notre Dame in Indiana held its commencement ceremony for the class of 2017. Vice President Mike Pence, former governor of Indiana, was in attendance to receive an honorary degree and deliver a speech.

Pence's choice as commencement speaker was a controversial one, leading many students who oppose his and the Trump administration's stances on issues such as LGBTQ rights and immigration to walk out during his speech. The protest was organized by student activist group We Stand For, "in dignity and solidarity with all marginalized people affected by Pence's politics, both on this campus and throughout our nation." Faculty members and families were also encouraged to participate.

The university was notified of the planned walkout ahead of time, and did not attempt to stop the graduates from leaving. According to the Notre Dame website, approximately 100 students, out of more than 3,000 graduating, participated in the protest.

One graduate, Bryan Ricketts, told CNN before the ceremony that he objected to Pence's decision as Indiana governor to sign the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Critics of the law argued that it could be used to discriminate against members of the LGBTQ community on the basis of religion.

"As a gay man, this directly impacted me," Ricketts said. "However, many graduates here have been directly targeted by other policies — for example, those students and their families who are undocumented and who risk deportation to celebrate this milestone in their lives."

The graduates who left during the speech held an alternative graduation ceremony outside the stadium, where they sang the Notre Dame alma mater together, with several students holding hands.

Unsurprisingly, the protest drew some criticism. Anticipating this, an unnamed Notre Dame professor released a statement defending the students who participated. Buzzfeed writer Anne Helen Petersen shared the professor's words on Twitter, explaining that she chose to keep the professor's name private "because I don't want the trolls on her."

The professor stressed to critics of the protesters "that they are not snowflakes or sheeple, they are not entitled or intolerant, they are not disrespectful or ignorant."

"They are committed to Notre Dame's ethos of compassion for the marginalized and to the university's mission of fighting for social justice," she continued, "and they strongly believe that everything Mike Pence represents stands at odds with that, so they chose to make a visible yet peaceful statement opposing him."

The professor went on to say that she and some of her colleagues stood outside the stadium to applaud the students who chose to leave "for their four years of hard work and their powerful choice of protest in literally standing up for [what] they believe is right for them, for social justice and civil rights, and for Notre Dame."

It's not the first time Pence's presence at an event has been met with protest. Last November, shortly after the presidential election, he received boos from members of the audience at a showing of Hamilton on Broadway. After the show, the cast shared a statement asking Pence to work on behalf of all Americans. Pence said afterward that he was not offended by the response, explaining, "I nudged my kids and reminded them that is what freedom sounds like."



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