Students protest College Republicans event speaker for comments on lynching
Rep. Chip Roy spoke at Oct. 21 event
At an event hosted by American University College Republicans Thursday, students gathered to protest the event’s speaker, Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX).
The event, which was part of the College Republicans’ 2021 Congressional Speakers series, drew attention from students due to Roy’s comments about lynching on the House floor on March 18, where he said, “We believe in justice. There’s old sayings in Texas about find all the rope in Texas and get a tall oak tree. You know, we take justice very seriously, and we ought to do that. Round up the bad guys. That’s what we believe.”
Roy spoke about issues such as immigration, healthcare and vaccine mandates. Students frequently caused disruptions to his remarks to express their disagreement. Roy spoke over Zoom, while students gathered in the School of International Service Founders Room to listen to him speak.
Junior Matthew Low, president of the SIS Undergraduate Council, handed out printed copies of the University’s “Guidelines for Freedom of Expression and Dissent” outside of the event. Though he wasn’t acting in an official council capacity, Low said he still wanted to make sure his constituents were safe as they protested.
The University’s guidelines encourage the right to free expression and dissent, according to the policy. The guidelines also stress that the University “reserves the right to specify time, manner and place for the exercise of these freedoms, guided by factors that include safety, the rights of others and the normal functioning of the university.”
About 35 students came to protest, more than in attendance at the event itself. Protesters stood both at the front of the room with signs and in the back, in addition to sitting in the audience.
Low held a cardboard sign that said, “HATE IS NOT WELCOME ON OUR CAMPUS.”
“We can go on all day about debating the policy and what he’s voted for or against, but he’s made a lot of comments supporting the use of lynching as a tool of justice,” Low said. “And that is seriously in violation of the values that we have here in SIS and at AU.”
This marks the second time in two weeks that students have protested an event put on by College Republicans. Last week, students came to the club’s Debate Night event to express their disagreement about an Instagram post that College Republicans posted for Columbus Day.
“Do I see events that I disagree with the speaker on campus all the time? Of course. Do I take my time to go disrupt other clubs’ events? Absolutely not, because I respect that that is where they are having their own conversations with their own people, and I would just like that respect as well,” said Noah Burke, a junior in the School of International Service and president of College Republicans.
Burke said that the purpose of having Roy speak was to offer their members a “wide breadth of ideological diversity” within the Republican party.
“I personally would not defend the practice of lynching. There is a lot I would agree with with Congressman Roy and a lot I would disagree with,” Burke said. “Obviously lynching is abhorrent.”
“I’m gonna say that it was definitely not intended to be hateful towards Black people specifically, because Black Americans have endured decades of racism and violent acts against them, including lynching,” Burke said. “I’m going to assume that he was not specifically defending the practice of white nationalist groups lynching Black people, but I definitely think he could have had a better turn of phrase when speaking about lynching.”
After an opening statement, Roy answered questions from Burke, where he offered advice for members of the club.
“Spread the word and make sure your knucklehead classmates in college understand what's actually happening for them,” Roy said. “Don't let this false nonsense get spread around; what we're trying to do in Congress is to do the same thing.”
SIS senior Tonya Syrel brought a poster board with Roy’s voting record, specifically the bills he voted “no” on. Syrel said her intention was not to “show anything opinionated,” just share the realities of Roy’s congressional choices.
“None of these votes exist in a bubble, they’re still impacting people today,” Syrel said. “And for him to come up here and say that he’s saving the United States of America, liberating the Republic or protecting the interests of the American people; he’s actively just lying.”
Burke said that he respects students’ rights to exercise their freedom of speech, but that students should be respectful when they protest organizations’ events.
“AUCRs prides itself on defending the freedom of speech, so I totally welcome people to come to our events, as long as they are peaceful, as long as they don’t disrupt the event,” Burke said.