Notre Dame students plan walkout during VP Pence's commencement address

Angie Massey
May 20, 2017

Less than two weeks after students turned a commencement speech by Trump's education secretary into a controversial appearance, graduating seniors at Indiana's University of Notre Dame on Friday were planning to stage a walkout protest during the commencement address by Vice President Mike Pence on Sunday.

Protest organizer Bryan Ricketts tells the South Bend Tribune he expects 50 to 100 fellow graduating students to silently leave just as the vice president starts speaking to almost 2,100 graduating students and their families.

Some friends and family in the audience may join in the walkout. The effort is being organized via a Facebook page and students are using the hashtag #WalkOutND. Over 1,700 alumni signed a letter expressing disappointment in the decision to choose Pence as a commencement speaker.

Ricketts said some also may walk out in protest of Pence's support for President Donald Trump's health care bill. As long as they're not disruptive, university officials do not plan to stop them.

"We would intervene in any protest only if the ceremony was seriously disrupted or anyone's safety was put at risk", he told the South Bend Tribune.

The group also produced a video of student reactions to Pence's upcoming commencement address. Several other groups will protest the speech off-campus, including Planned Parenthood of Indiana & Kentucky, the Nu Black Power Movement and Alliance for Democracy, the Washington Post reports.

In addition to students, a Facebook event for the protest encourages all attendees, including faculty and students' families, to participate in the protest.

April Lidinsky, with Planned Parenthood Community Action Partners and Indiana Reproductive Justice Coalition, described the protest as an "unwelcome home" celebration for the former governor.

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Paul Browne, a spokesperson for Notre Dame, said walkout organizers reached out to police and administrators ahead of time to plan the quiet proceedings.

Mary Ellen Hegedus is an organizer with We Go High! of St. Joseph County, a grass-roots group committed to promoting the "inalienable rights" of all Americans.

"Last year, [Pence] called up our club and just wanted to sit down with us and some of our members", Jaskowski said.

The university is not particularly anxious about the protest. "We're not protesting Notre Dame at all", Lidinski said.

"For many years, Vice President Pence as governor of the state of IN has demonstrated his intense opposition to the LGBT community", he said IN an email statement.

"Vice President Pence has a right to speak anywhere he's invited, it's not a question of any of that", said Hegedus.

"We are being very respectful".

"I think that with the protests coming out, there has been this sort of perception that Notre Dame doesn't want Vice President Pence here speaking at Commencement", he said.

Other reports by GizPress

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