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VCU students, faculty don’t want Glenn Youngkin at graduation

Gov. Youngkin gives remarks
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
Gov. Glenn Youngkin gives remarks following a bill signing ceremony on Monday, March 25, 2024 at Virginia Executive Mansion in Richmond.

If the governor appears, a walkout has been planned.

Multiple Virginia Commonwealth University students are calling for the university to cancel Gov. Glenn Youngkin as the school’s commencement speaker tomorrow — and are planning to walk out if he appears.

“As of today, we have upwards of 800 students and faculty in support of this,” said VCU student Micah on Friday morning at the Board of Visitors meeting. “And we believe that they are prepared to take action if their voices are not heard and listened to.”

VPM News is only using Micah’s first name out of concern for his safety.

He is part of a coalition of students and faculty across multiple departments, calling for Youngkin to be removed as VCU’s commencement speaker.

There are multiple reasons why members of VCU’s community aren’t happy with Youngkin, including his recent stance on student encampments and his administration’s interference with a racial literacy requirement that the school had been considering for years.

The coalition called for an immediate school board vote to approve a mandate for racial literacy courses after VCU’s provost sent the draft curriculum materials to Education Secretary Aimee Guidera in March. (Update: The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported after this article was published that the board voted 10–5 against the mandate's approval.)

Youngkin spokesman Christian Martinez previously told VPM News, “the Administration has heard concerns from members of the Board of Visitors, parents, and students across the Commonwealth regarding core curriculum mandates that are a thinly veiled attempt to incorporate the progressive left’s groupthink on Virginia’s students. Virginia’s public institutions should be teaching our students how to think, not what to think and not advancing ideological conformity.”

The student group is also calling for a thorough, community-involved review and revision of the university’s police-response policies — and a disclosure of VCU’s investments and divestment of monies related to Israel. That request follows law enforcement’s response to an April 29 antiwar protest.

Youngkin told VPM News earlier this week that Attorney General Jason Miyares advised all public college presidents on the issue of student protests; VPM News has submitted a public records request to obtain a copy of the reported guidance.

“Encampments, structures on campuses violates the code of conduct on campuses and therefore is not allowed,” Youngkin said.

Those comments disturbed student Sereen Haddad, who has been protesting the war in Gaza for months. She has said over 100 relatives have been killed there since October 2023 — and wants the violence to stop.

Haddad was hospitalized after the April 29 protest at VCU when 13 people — including six students — were arrested and charged with trespassing and unlawful assembly. Haddad had multiple bruises on her face and an arm in a sling following the protest; she said her arm was twisted behind her back as she was thrown to the ground.

She said Youngkin is just as responsible as VCU President Michael Rao for the police response on April 29.

“We are disgusted and repulsed that [Youngkin] was invited to speak at our university that we pay money to attend,” Haddad said.

At a press conference last week to denounce the police response and call for Rao’s resignation, she told classmates: “[R]ecall why we were here in the first place: for the people of Gaza, for the people of Palestine that are suffering, this amount of brutality, every single day, in their daily lives, we got a little bit of a taste of it, and it was horrendous.”

More than 4,700 graduates are expected at the Saturday morning ceremony at the Greater Richmond Convention Center.

During Friday morning’s Board of Visitors meeting, university staff did not give any indication that they were planning to cancel Youngkin’s speech in response to student demands.

Updated: May 10, 2024 at 8:22 PM EDT
8:22 p.m.: This article has been updated to add the results of a Friday vote by VCU's Board of Visitors.
Megan Pauly covers education and health care issues in the greater Richmond region.
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