Mike Pence speaks at AU, sparking objections from students

Vice president appeared at private event Wednesday

Mike Pence speaks at AU, sparking objections from students

Vice President Mike Pence addressed high school students in Kerwin Hall on Wednesday.

Vice President Mike Pence delivered a speech at AU Wednesday morning to high school students attending the National Student Leadership Conference (NSLC), provoking outrage from AU students online and a small protest outside the speaking venue.

The event was not affiliated with the University, said AU’s Assistant Vice President of Communications Camille Lepre.

“NSLC is hosting the vice president as part of its annual conference which offers participants an opportunity to experience a week of activities on a college campus. This is not an AU-affiliated event and is not sponsored by the university,” Lepre wrote in an email to The Eagle.

Pence delivered remarks in Kerwin Hall as part of the conference, which offers science, journalism and public policy programs to high school students, according to its website. NSLC holds leadership programs at 11 universities across the country, including AU. An email to the NSLC’s program office at AU was not answered as of press time.

“It’s really great to be here at American University to address a rising generation of leaders in America. Give yourself a round of applause. You are the future,” Pence said in his speech.

Pence gave advice to students on the skills they need to be leaders, telling them to expect and learn from criticism and to “keep persevering.” He spoke about a moment he shared with President Trump, remarking on Trump’s listening skills.

“The truth is our president leads by asking questions and he listens, and I believe that reflects the type of humility that will enhance your ability to be a leader,” Pence said during his speech.

While this event was not sponsored or affiliated with AU, students protested the event online and in person. Several students spoke out online against Pence’s history of opposing LGBT rights, such as the legalization of gay marriage.

On Facebook, a copy and paste post was shared by dozens of students, reading: “I, [name], condemn Mike Pence speaking at American University. He does not reflect our core values regarding reproductive justice and supporting the LGBTQIA+ community. #AUProtestsPence. Please copy/paste/fill in your name and tag American University to let them know where our community stands.”

Recent AU graduates Quinn Dunlea and Dan Perry, along with senior Toby Jones, took their act of protest to the steps of Kerwin Hall, holding signs that read “AU students don’t stand by and say nothing” and “Religious freedom ≠ Discrimination.” While there were less than a dozen students there, Jones said it was important for students to have their voices heard.

“If there was any time for AU students to make ourselves known about where we stand on Mike Pence’s policies and his rhetoric that he’s been using, now is that time, when he’s coming to our campus,” Jones said at the protest. “And even though it’s not through AU, it’s an important event that he’s coming to our campus and it’s important that we let him know how we feel.”

Though the group gathered outside Kerwin Hall was small, it did include a recognizable name: Student Government President Taylor Dumpson.

“I’m here as student government, to make sure students that are protesting are aware of their rights that they’re afforded through the student code of conduct,” Dumpson said at the protest. “As well their freedom of expression and dissent and also making sure that they’re aware of the resources available with CASE [Center for Advocacy and Student Equity].”

Senior and AU Ambassador Mark Sullivan, who could not attend the protest due to work, was also upset about Pence’s appearance and posted on Facebook that he would be wearing a rainbow pin as he gave tours of campus on Wednesday. Sullivan said he felt compelled to speak out against Pence’s speech on AU’s campus as a member of the LGBT community. 

“As an ambassador at AU, I talk about what an incredible and supportive community I have found in my three years here, and the fact that we had Pence speaking on a campus that boasts about its inclusion and its diversity is something that shouldn’t be ignored,” Sullivan said in a message. 

While several students expressed their distaste for Pence’s appearance, the AU College Republicans released a statement in support of the event.

“The AU College Republicans could not be more elated to hear that Vice President Pence chose to visit American University per the invitation of a private organization. It is always an honor to have nationally significant figures on our campus, and it is especially laudable to host the vice president of the United States who has proven himself to be a strong conservative throughout his career as a public official,” the statement read.

Sullivan’s problem with Pence’s appearance did not have to do with Pence’s identity as a Republican or a conservative, but with Pence’s ability to “push” his ideas onto a community he doesn’t interact with, Sullivan said. He is worried about the consequences of Pence’s appearance on campus.

“While [Pence] wasn’t speaking to AU students, he was speaking to high schoolers that are part of a summer program and I hate the idea that they will associate Mike Pence with AU because I don’t feel like he represents the overall student body or the campus culture,” Sullivan said.

mcarrasco@theeagleonline.com and hsamsel@theeagleonline.com

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