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Students demand GMU cancel Gov. Youngkin as speaker. University refuses.

‘Would we really be preparing them for that world if we removed the opportunities for them to safely engage in debate and discourse?’

A recent student petition demanding that George Mason University cancel Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin as grad speaker got nowhere fast.

On March 22, the public university announced Youngkin would serve as the class of 2023’s spring commencement speaker.

Two days later, a petition was launched demanding administrators rescind the choice.

“Selecting a speaker that has passed anti-trans legislation, promoted the abolishment of racial equity curricula, and restricted the availability of literature in public schools is an intentional target towards historically marginalized communities comprising Mason,” the petition stated.

“It is harmful and disrespectful to the many students who continuously shape GMU’s community to bring in an individual who has also neglected the needs of Virginians.”

More than 7,100 have signed it as of April 2.

But university officials quickly put the kibosh on any hope the petition would convince leaders to cancel Younkin.

A lengthy March 27 memo from GMU President Gregory Washington stood against the idea that the state’s governor should not speak to grads.

Washington pointed out that plenty of students told him they wanted to hear from the governor and are glad he is their speaker. Washington also made the point that higher education is about hearing differing views.

“It is my sincere hope that our students use this opportunity to share their stories, challenges and triumphs, and that the Governor will hear their opinions, respectfully consider and reflect on them, and consider that feedback when making, amending or changing his administration’s policies,” he wrote.

“This discourse highlights one of the fundamental purposes of a university. It is a place to engage, debate, and educate on topics where we agree and disagree, sometimes profoundly. If the Governor’s speech were to be cancelled, it is unlikely that such public attention would be paid to the policies students so passionately oppose,” he added.

“This is vital because our students must prepare to inherit and lead a world with endless conflicts and divisions. Would we really be preparing them for that world if we removed the opportunities for them to safely engage in debate and discourse?”

Last year, Youngkin served as commencement speaker at Virginia Tech.

MORE: Check out The College Fix’s campus cancel culture database

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About the Author
Fix Editor
Jennifer Kabbany is editor-in-chief of The College Fix.