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Nearly 5,000 want Kyle Rittenhouse event at Kent State canceled; university backs free speech

Petitions: Rittenhouse ‘controversial figure’ who evokes university’s ‘history of acts of gun violence’

Two online petitions call for canceling an upcoming Kyle Rittenhouse event at Kent State University, arguing the event is insensitive in light of the school’s history with “gun violence.”

They have garnered nearly 5,000 signatures in recent weeks.

The petitions also accuse Rittenhouse of “involvement in politically motivated acts of gun violence” and argue his presence would pose difficulties “for many of our minority communities.”

KSU’s Turning Point USA chapter is hosting the April 16 event, the latest stop in the “Rittenhouse Recap” campus speaker tour.

In response to the petitions, KSU’s TPUSA President Brady Seymour told The College Fix “People can do whatever they want, so more power to them.”

Although the TPUSA chapter has fielded some online threats on Instagram—some commenters wrote about bringing eggs and “bricks” or “more” to the speech—Seymour said his group believes the university will protect their free speech, citing its statement saying it will uphold the First Amendment.

Citing “escalating controversy surrounding our upcoming event,” KSU’s TPUSA chapter issued a statement defending free speech and warning would-be disrupters of university sanctions. The chapter also implemented a new admission policy “requiring all attendees to provide identification and contact information upon entry.”

Campus police did not respond directly to The Fix’s query about specific threats related to the event.

“The safety of our community is the priority of Kent State’s Department of Public Safety, Police Services,” Sgt. Tricia Knoles of Kent State Police Services told The Fix. “Police Services is aware, monitors and assesses the safety of our community during campus events and responds accordingly.”

The Rittenhouse Recap speaker tour has garnered controversy at other universities. At Rittenhouse’s March 20 University of Memphis talk, campus activists reserved tickets for the event, only to disrupt it and leave, as The Fix reported. Activists also harassed TPUSA members leaving the event and doxxed the UM chapter’s president.

Rittenhouse became a household name during his 2021 trial after shooting three people during the 2020 Kenosha, Wisconsin, Black Lives Matter riots. Rittenhouse, who killed two and wounded another, argued he fired in self-defense. The jury acquitted Rittenhouse of all charges.

“We have read the school’s policies thoroughly and understand where the university stands on upholding the First Amendment,” Seymour told The Fix. “Anyone who obstructs someone else from exercising their First Amendment will be in violation of school policy, meaning stopping anyone from speaking, attending, or even entering the building.”

Seymour said protests are anticipated outside the venue, but he is unaware of “anything about stopping the event from taking place outside of the petitions.”

The March 14 petition has a goal of 5,000 signatures. Nearly 3,600 have signed the petition that calls Rittenhouse “a controversial figure who shot three men, two fatally,” while “these individuals were protesting the shooting of a Black man by a white police officer.”

It also cites KSU’s “painful history with gun violence,” including the 1970 Kent State Massacre, when Ohio National Guardsmen “fired into a crowd of Kent State University demonstrators, killing four and wounding nine students.”

“The decision to host an individual associated with such violence,” the petition continues, “is not only insensitive to our community’s past but also threatens to further divide us in these already tense times.” KSU “should be a place for learning and growth – not for promoting divisive figures or ideologies that could potentially incite more violence.”

The March 15 petition, which has received more than 1,000 of 1,500 signatures, also invokes the Kent State Massacre. It highlights KSU’s commitment to “fostering diverse and inclusive communities,” arguing Rittenhouse’s presence “would not make students feel a sense of inclusion or belonging and certainly would not promote diversity in our community.”

“It is very interesting to me that people are saying doing this event will not promote a sense of inclusion and belonging, when we are the ones receiving the incredible amount of hate and backlash,” Seymour told The Fix.

“We are simply hosting a speaker who has an interesting story,” Seymour continued. “We invite everyone to come, as long as they do so peacefully, to create a sense of inclusion and belonging. We are not barring anyone from coming to this event.”

The March 15 petition argues that the interest in diversity and inclusion outweighs KSU TPUSA’s interest in freedom of expression. The chapter should “find a different venue for its event, ideally off-campus,” according to the petition.

“The university does not endorse or condone an opinion,” KSU media relations director Emily Vincent told The Fix. Vincent also referred The Fix to the March 19 news release confirming the university’s “commitment to freedom of expression as a core value.”

The release, quoting KSU president Todd Diacon, “stress[es] another core Kent State value, perhaps the most important of our values, which is to ‘treat others with kindness and respect.’”

The Fix emailed the national TPUSA and messaged Rittenhouse on Twitter on April 8 seeking a response to the petitions’ allegations but has not received a response.

MORE: UMemphis students disrupt Rittenhouse event, school accused of creating chaos

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About the Author
College Fix contributor Terrance Kible is a law student at the Thomas R. Kline School of Law at Duquesne University. He hopes to pursue a career in journalism. Terrance also writes for the law blog Legal Insurrection, where he was a 2023 College Fix summer intern. Terrance previously wrote for Campus Reform.