VCU students walk out of commencement protesting Youngkin speech

Students at the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) walked out of their commencement ceremony to protest an address by Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R-Va.).

About 100 of the 1,200 graduates at the graduation ceremony Saturday quietly filed out of the Greater Richmond Convention Center, some wearing kaffiyeh scarves and signs reading “Teach Black history” and “Book bans [do not equal] respect for learning,” The Washington Post reported.

Youngkin, who won election in 2021, continued on with his speech. The Hill has reached out to Youngkin’s office for comment.

The Post reported that the Richmond university has a long history of having the sitting governor give a commencement address.

Earlier this week, the Virginia NAACP VCU chapter sent a letter to the Board of Visitors and the university president demanding that Youngkin’s invitation to speak be rescinded.

“Your administrative decision to continuously postpone the racial literacy requirement as well as comply with Governor Youngkin’s demand to view the syllabi is anti-democratic and anti-intellectual,” the organization said in the letter, reported by 13 News Now. “These actions not only undermine academic freedom from intellectual inquiry, they also perpetuate a narrative that overlooks the intricate nuances of racial history.”

The university handed out cards to attendees congratulating the graduates but also said if anyone disrupts the ceremony, they would be subject to removal, the Post reported.

The walk out follows many other demonstrations at university commencement ceremonies and the nationwide pro-Palestinian protests happening on college campuses. More than 2,000 people have been arrested at demonstrations across the country.

Police used pepper spray to disperse a crowd at VCU’s on-campus demonstration and 13 people, including six students, were arrested, according to the Post.

Students spoke to WWBT 12 On Your Side, saying there’s “a lot of distress” about Youngkin being chosen to speak.

They were opposed to multiple of Youngkin’s principles, including the LGBTQ+ community and critical race theory.

Youngkin criticized the college protests for crossing the line when “you begin to build encampments which are not allowed on college campuses, you intimidate other students, you’re trying to disrupt the operations of the school, that will not be allowed.”

Last week, students interrupted the graduation ceremony at the University of Michigan, protesting the school’s investments to companies with ties to Israel.

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