A civil liberties group is urging students at George Mason University to respect differing views following their calls to remove Virginia Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin from the institution’s commencement ceremony.
George Mason University announced last week that Youngkin would deliver the commencement speech in May for the university’s 2023 graduating class, prompting students to demand that the governor not speak or attend the ceremony.
The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), a nonprofit organization that aims to protect free speech on college campuses, is asking students to resist efforts to remove Youngkin as a novice speaker and instead engage in ideas they may not agree with.
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“GMU students may disagree with Governor Glenn Youngkin and are free to express their opposition through protest,” FIRE program officer Anne Marie Tamburro said in a statement to Fox News Digital. “But calls for GMU not to invite Youngkin are calls for censorship that run counter to student intellectual development and GMU’s mission to ’embrace a multitude of people and ideas.'”
STUDENTS OF GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY LAUNCH PETITION AGAINST HOSTING YOUNGKIN AS FIRST SPEAKER
FIRE is urging students at George Mason University to respect differing viewpoints following their calls to remove Governor Glenn Youngkin as starting speaker. (Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
“We encourage GMU students to resist censorship and instead go into both their commencement ceremony and post-graduation life with a willingness to take on ideas they may not agree with,” Tamburro continued.
According to the group’s Disinvitation Database, FIRE has logged more than 40 attempts since early 2022 to ban speakers from U.S. college campuses, with the majority of those attempts aimed at canceling conservative guests.
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Students started a petition at the university following the announcement to host Youngkin as a speaker for the May 18 commencement ceremony at EagleBank Arena. He would become Virginia’s last sitting governor to address George Mason graduates, along with former governors Jim Gilmore, Mark Warner, Tim Kaine and Terry McAuliffe.
The petition, launched by senior Alaina Ruffin, has more than 6,300 signatures as of Tuesday morning.
“As a patriot and future alumna of George Mason University, I and my colleagues do not want the memories of our graduation day to be tarnished by an individual who has harmed and continues to harm the people he serves,” Ruffin wrote on the petition. “On behalf of the GMU Class of 2023, we are urging you to sign this petition and demand that the administration of George Mason University take appropriate action to ensure that Governor Youngkin does not attend or speak at the Spring Commencement Ceremony of 2023.”
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George Mason University announced that Youngkin would deliver the commencement address in May for the university’s graduating class in 2023. (Getty)
Ruffin appeared to be critical of the governor’s track record in passing legislation on transgender issues and controversial school curricula. Youngkin’s proposals include banning transgender students from using bathrooms or participating in sports teams that do not match their biological sex, as well as banning critical race theories and sexually explicit books in schools.
“Selecting a speaker who has passed anti-trans legislation, promoted the abolition of racial equality curricula, and limited the availability of literature in public schools is a deliberate target for historically marginalized communities, including Mason,” Ruffin wrote. . “It is detrimental and disrespectful to the many students who continue to shape GMU’s community to bring in an individual who has also neglected the needs of Virginians.”
“George Mason University prides itself on being one of ‘the most diverse institutions in the Commonwealth’.” But by having Governor Youngkin as this year’s Commencement Speaker, we believe the university is compromising its supposed values of putting student experience and overall well-being at the center of its efforts,” she continued. “In satisfying her own desire to appease the powerful few, the university has once again abandoned these principles.”
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Glenn Youngkin is expected to deliver a speech at George Mason University’s commencement ceremony on May 18 at EagleBank Arena. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
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The university’s student government also released a statement opposing Youngkin as the first speaker.
“The Youngkin administration has supported and developed policies to attack transgender youth, racial and ethnic minorities, and LGBTQ+ individuals,” the student government leadership wrote in a press release. “The current motto of George Mason University is ‘promoting diversity, equity and inclusion’; however, the actions of the Youngkin administration demonstrate their commitment to the opposite. Not only is it a betrayal of every minority group on campus to welcome Glenn Youngkin to our spring launch, but it also reinforces their hypocrisy and dishonesty on the part of the Mason administration itself.”
Gregory Washington, president of George Mason University, said in the announcement of Youngkin’s upcoming speech that the governor “the drive for lifelong learning and his entrepreneurial spirit is what we cultivate in all of our graduates.”