Pence visit is drawing mixed emotions

Protest planned by past students

By TIM SINIARD
Posted 7/19/18

The decision by Lee University to host an event featuring Vice President Mike Pence has drawn sharp rebukes on social media from alumni and others who have taken to social media to disagree with the …

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Pence visit is drawing mixed emotions

Protest planned by past students

Posted

The decision by Lee University to host an event featuring Vice President Mike Pence has drawn sharp rebukes on social media from alumni and others who have taken to social media to disagree with the policies of the current presidential administration.

The visit will take place at 11 a.m. Saturday at Pangle Hall.

But, while the criticisms prompted a response from the university, most of the comments on its social media platforms were supportive.  However, some former students have created a Facebook account to organize a protest, as well as discuss strategies and slogans. In addition, a petition is being circulated to convince the university to cancel the Saturday event.

In the statement, the university downplayed its role in the political event, stating that while the university is not sponsoring the event, offering campus facilities for such gatherings is indicative of the university’s commitment to “entertaining and listening to public figures from all across the political spectrum, Democrat and Republican,” according to the statement.

The statement further addressed the controversial event.

“It was announced yesterday [Monday] that Vice President Mike Pence will be speaking at a political event in Pangle Hall on our campus this weekend,” the press release stated. “This is a campaign event in support of Rep. Marsha Blackburn, the Republican candidate for the seat in the [U.S.] Senate being vacated by Senator Bob Corker. Lee University is not sponsoring the event, but we believe that providing a campus venue for activities such as this is an important part of Lee’s commitment to participate in the public conversation.”

The press release continued:

“In that spirit, we welcome Vice President Pence, along with Rep. Blackburn and all those who wish to come hear them. We look forward to demonstrating that Lee University is always a place of openness and hospitality. We hope that former governor Phil Bredesen, the Democratic candidate, will also bring his campaign to Cleveland, and when he does, we will extend to him, and any national political figures who accompany him, a similar welcome.”

Concluding, the release stated the university’s support for democracy and free speech.

“Lee University believes that democracy works best when the voices and messages from across both parties are heard and discussed, and we’re happy to lend our support to that tradition.”

The controversy boiled over Wednesday, when comments critical of the event began appearing on the university’s social media websites.

David Bradnick, a Lee alumnus, posted the following comment on the university’s Twitter account deriding America First Policies, the organizer of the event.

“Allowing America First, which is aligned with a Super-PAC, to hold events on campus is dangerous precedent, especially when many of its leaders have made disparaging remarks about African-Americans, women, homosexuals and Muslims,” Bradnick wrote.

Another Lee alumnus, Joshua Swem, wrote on the university’s Facebook page, “This is so disappointing! So ashamed of my alma mater for inviting a bigot. This will hurt so many students (former and current), staff and community leaders.”

The event has drawn criticism in other cities. During an America First Policies event outside of Chicago, Pence encountered protestors unhappy with the administration’s immigration policies.

According to the Chicago Tribune, a woman shouted, “Do you want babies in jail?” The question was in reference to the Trump Administration’s policy of separating migrant parents from their children. In the same article, a pair of protestors held up a banner emblazoned with “Trump and Pence must go,” while administration supporters shouted, “USA!” according to the same article.

Despite the criticism leveled at the university, the majority of comments posted on the university’s Facebook account were supportive.

“Good for Lee [University] to welcome both sides of the aisle,” Brooks Hungate wrote. “That’s how it should be.”

Another alumna praised the university’s response to the criticism.

“A good response from the University. While I was at Lee, I had professors and friends of varying political opinions,” Jodie Rice Augustine wrote. “Thankful that Lee extends a welcome to both parties. This is how it should be. The University is not sponsoring the event. Simply allowing their venue to be used. Conversations and an open table are important for academic institutions.” 

Another Facebook comment described the vice presidential visit as “historic.”

“This is an historic moment for my Alma Mater! Wow! I wish I was close enough to attend,” Rodney Rolston wrote.

Alumna Katie Stone pondered why the scheduling of the event would surprise those who had attended the university.

“It is a well-known fact that Lee University is affiliated with the Church of God. The Church of God will always be known as affiliated with the conservative party. No matter what your beliefs are, you chose to go to this school hopefully knowing those obvious facts,” Stone wrote on the university’s Facebook page, while noting a university choir had performed at one of President Barack Obama’s inaugurations.

Lee University, founded in 1918, is a private academic institution affiliated with the Cleveland-based Church of God. While student enrollment has increased over the decades, its student body has also become more racially and ideologically diverse, which may be reflected by the comments posted on its Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Full coverage of the event will be available in the Sunday edition of the Cleveland Daily Banner.

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