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TPUSA students keep ‘speaking truth’ in face of threats
East Tennessee State University TPUSA chapter leaders


East Tennessee State conservatives say harassment is regular part of campus life 

Two conservative student leaders at East Tennessee State University say they are determined to stand strong in their beliefs despite ongoing harassment, threats, and bullying on campus.

Senior Lakie Derrick (pictured right) and recent graduate Rachel Mehl (pictured left) have been accused of promoting “hate speech” and bringing a “murderer” to campus when their Turning Point USA chapter hosted an event Feb. 8 with conservative, Second Amendment advocate Kyle Rittenhouse.

A few weeks earlier, Derrick said the university issued no-contact warnings against three students who were harassing her online.

Yet, the two student leaders said the attacks haven’t shaken their resolve.

“When people get so enraged over what you believe in, as crazy as this sounds, you know that you are doing something right,” Derrick told The College Fix in a phone interview this month. She is a former reporter for The College Fix.

Derrick said harassment became a regular part of life for her after she became involved in TPUSA on campus. The pair said the hostility grew worse about two years ago when their club hosted a screening of The Daily Wire film “What is a Woman.”

“That is when we started to get direct threats like people should come mace us,” Derrick told The Fix.

Even in classes, the student leaders said professors often allow liberal students to speak freely while not allowing the same for conservatives.

“I had a class with a professor and the entire class started screaming at me over what I was saying, and he just let them do it without even trying to calm down the situation,” Mehl told The Fix.

The pair also have endured character attacks. In January, a new Instagram account called “notphasedcommentary” was created to directly respond to the university’s TPUSA chapter, Derrick and Mehl, and their conservative podcast, “Unfazed Conservatives.”

The account misspells their names as “Rayquelle and Laykeigh” but uses photos and videos from their podcast and social media accounts to mock them. One post called the young women childish and “entitled” and said they “need a professional’s help.”

Another post accused Derrick of “lying” about the no-contact orders that she said the university issued to three students who were “stalking and harassing” her.

In a Feb. 5 post, the account described the TPUSA leaders as “cowards” and criticized them for bringing Rittenhouse on campus “alleged to talk about how much he likes shooting people.”

The post also described Rittenhouse as a murderer and a hypocrite. Rittenhouse was acquitted in 2021 after saying he shot two people in self defense during a Black Lives Matter riot in 2020 in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

MORE: Skirt-wearing male ASU professor scuffles with TPUSA members

The conservative students have faced resistance from their university’s Young Democratic Socialists of America chapter as well, including protests and petitions opposing their recent event with Rittenhouse.

Ahead of the event, the YDSA chapter launched a petition and urged student government leaders to join them in opposing the guest speaker. In a Jan. 26 Instagram post, the chapter said his appearance is a “clear violation of ETSU’s supposed hate speech policy.”

Then, during the event itself, the YDSA chapter held a protest “in opposition to Kyle Rittenhouse’s platforming on our campus,” according to its Instagram account.

When The Fix contacted the university for comment about the TPUSA chapter, its leaders, and the no-contact orders, a spokesperson responded with a statement.

“The university strives to be a place where all students feel safe, supported, and free to express their ideas. We encourage our students, faculty, and staff to engage in robust discussion, but in a civil manner while treating one another with dignity and respect. While disagreement is to be expected and can even be healthy, harassment and threats of violence are not tolerable,” the statement read.

While Derrick and Mehl have been frustrated with the university at times, they told The Fix administrators have been better about providing protections this year.

For example, in January, the university “issued warnings to three students that they were prohibited from all contact with Derrick, whether in person, by phone, internet, social media, text, mail, email, or messages delivered through a third party on January 17, 2024,” The Tennessee Star reported. “Violation of the warning ‘could result in institutional disciplinary judicial action being taken against the violator.’”

The university also provided strong security for the Rittenhouse event, which Derrick said pleasantly surprised her. She said more than 100 protesters showed up, but the event ran smoothly.

Derrick and Mehl said their beliefs have not wavered through these conflicts, and, if anything, they are stronger.

“Just knowing that the more people get mad about what you are saying, the more you know you are saying something of solidity, something of weight, and the Bible says that people are going to hate you for speaking the truth,” Derrick told The Fix.

Editor’s noteThe article was updated to note Derrick previously wrote for The Fix.

MORE: Pitt TPUSA receives $25,000 for James O’Keefe event while battling campus leadership

IMAGE: Unfazed Conservatives podcast

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About the Author
College Fix contributor Scott Giebel is a graduate assistant for sports information at Wheeling University where he is pursuing an MBA. He previously received his bachelor’s degree in Sports Journalism at Millersville University. While there he wrote for the Athletic Communications Department as well as for 717 Sports Media.