Vice President Michael Pence, former governor of Indiana, was invited to speak at the commencement ceremony at Notre Dame instead of President Donald Trump. He became the first vice president to speak at Notre Dame’s commencement, after Notre Dame decided to not invite President Trump and broke a long-held tradition since 1960 of inviting presidents to speak at the university.
Pence’s speech focused on freedom of speech and how Notre Dame is one academic institution that encourages dissent and differing opinions. However, during his remarks, about one hundred graduates walked out of the ceremony, where over 3,100 graduates were in attendance with their friends and families.
The irony is that both Notre Dame president John Jenkins and the student speaker, C.J. Pine, criticized Pence’s policies. Pine, American-born but raised in China, claimed that if America built walls (a reference to the Trump administration’s proposed ‘border wall’), “then I am skewered on the fence.” Jenkins said that America is a “fractured nation” and “we must support our LGBT sisters and brothers and respect freedom of religion.” Jenkins went on to lecture students to “listen to those who disagree” and to “find ways to build a society where all flourish.”
The protesting students were part of the student activist group, WeStaNDFor, which was organized before Pence’s speech. The campus police and administrators were aware of the protest effort, where the group’s Facebook page counted one hundred forty-six student participants.
What did the group stand for and why did they oppose Pence’s invitation? Per their press release:
“During his time as governor of the state of Indiana and now as Vice-President, Pence has targeted the civil rights protections of members of LGBT+ community, rejected the Syrian refugee resettlement program, supported an unconstitutional ban of religious minorities, and fought against sanctuary cities. All of these policies have marginalized our vulnerable sisters and brothers for their religion, skin color, or sexual orientation.”
The group also claimed that Pence’s invitation “stand[s] as an endorsement of policies and actions which directly contradict Catholic social teachings and values.”
WeStaNDFor also issued a statement and protested author Charles Murray for his “racist science” and “sexist science.” The group did not agree with Murray’s research on race and gender roles.