George Mason University On Tuesday, students protested the foundation’s decision to select Virginia Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin as the commencement speaker for the 2023 commencement ceremony.
Nearly 100 of the university’s 36,000 students enrolled on campus Tuesday to demand Yongkin’s replacement as speaker to kick off the celebration in May. George Mason University President Greg Washington announced last week that the governor will address the alumni.
Students have been demonstrating for nearly two hours on Tuesday, singing, shouting, waving pride flags and voicing their opposition. Yongkin and his policies on transgender issues, according to Fox 5 DC.
The Youngkin administration’s proposals included banning transgender students from using bathrooms or participating in sports teams that do not correspond to their biological sex.
The protest follows a petition filed last week demanding that the university not allow Yongkin to attend or speak at the opening ceremony at Eagle Bank Arena on May 18.
“My colleagues and I do not want the memories of our graduation day to be tainted by an individual who has harmed and continues to harm the people he serves,” Alina Ruffin wrote in the petition.
Ruffin appears to criticize Youngkin over proposals for transgender students, as well as banning critical race theory and sexually explicit books in schools.
“Choosing a speaker who passed anti-trans legislation, promoted the repeal of racial equality curricula, and restricted the availability of literature in public schools is an intended target toward the historically marginalized communities that house Mason,” Ruffin wrote. “It is harmful and disrespectful to the many students who continually make up the GMU community to bring in an individual who also neglected the needs of Virginians.”
Several campus organizations—including the university’s student government, the George Mason Democrats party and BLACC Mason—issued statements opposing the decision to invite Youngkin as a spokesperson.
Washington issued a statement on Monday saying it supports students’ right to protest but disagrees with calls to silence differing viewpoints.
“As president of the largest and most diverse public university in our state,” he wrote, “I support students whose voices are heard, and I applaud their courage and commitment to standing up for themselves and their communities.” “However, I do not think we should silence the voices of those with whom we disagree, especially in this forum where there is no imminent threat as a result of disagreements.”
He also said the university is committed to its long history of supporting freedom of expression.
Washington added, “Mason has a long tradition of supporting free speech.” “That support extends to everyone giving a speech at the commencement. And no speaker can detract from our diversity. At Mason, diversity is more than just looking different, it’s about believing differently, thinking differently, expressing differently, and owning the environment to Do this. This environment at Mason extends to every student, staff member, and faculty member. It also extends to governors.”
The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), a nonprofit group that aims to protect free speech on college campuses, is also urging students to resist efforts to block Yongkin as a commencement speaker.
“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 to revoke Youngkin’s invitation are calls for censorship that run counter to students’ intellectual development and GMU’s mission to “embrace many people and ideas.”
Youngkin is scheduled to address the 2023 graduates on May 18 and will become Last seated governor of Virginia to deliver the opening address at George Mason University, joining former judges Jim Gilmore, Mark Warner, Tim Kane, and Terry McAuliffe.