George Mason University announced that Virginia Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin will be the commencement speaker at the institution’s 2023 graduation ceremony in May, and some students are pushing to cancel his speech.
Students at the university started a petition on Thursday, the same day Youngkin was announced as the speaker, demanding Younkgin not be permitted to speak or even attend the commencement ceremony on May 18.
“As a Patriot and prospective alumna of George Mason University, I and my peers do not want the memories of our graduation day to be tainted by an individual who has harmed and continues to harm the people he serves,” senior Alaina Ruffin wrote on the petition. “On behalf of the GMU Class of 2023, we call on you to sign this petition and demand that George Mason University administration take appropriate action to ensure Governor Youngkin does not attend or speak at the Spring 2023 Commencement Ceremony.”
Ruffin appeared to take particular issue with the governor’s record in approving legislation on transgender issues and controversial school curricula. His administration’s proposals have included prohibiting transgender students from using bathrooms or participating on sports teams that do not correspond with their biological sex and banning critical race theory and sexually explicit books in schools.
“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,” Ruffin wrote. “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.”
“George Mason University prides itself on being one of ‘the most diverse institutions in the Commonwealth.’ Yet by having Governor Youngkin as this year’s Commencement speaker, we believe that the University compromises its supposed values of centering students’ experiences and overall well-being,” she continued. “When satiating its own desire to appease the powerful few, the University, once again, has abandoned these principles.”
More than 5,100 people have signed the petition as of early Sunday morning.
The university’s student government similarly said it is “deeply saddened and concerned” by the decision to host Youngkin as commencement speaker.
“The Youngkin administration has supported and created policies attacking transgender youth, racial and ethnic minorities, and LGBTQ+ individuals,” the student government’s leadership wrote in a press release. “George Mason University’s current motto stands as, ‘fostering Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion’; however, the actions of the Youngkin administration demonstrate their commitment to the opposite. To host Glenn Youngkin at our spring commencement is not only a betrayal towards every minority group on campus, but it also amplifies their hypocrisy and dishonesty from Mason’s administration itself.”
BLACC Mason, the university’s black, African-heritage, and Caribbean coalition, also released a statement opposing Youngkin as commencement speaker.
“It is our responsibility as members of this community to stand up against bigotry and intolerance,” the group wrote on Instagram. “We must demand that our administration acts and removes Youngkin as the commencement speaker. We cannot allow our university to provide a platform for someone who actively promotes discrimination and hate.”
Youngkin is scheduled to speak to the university’s class of 2023 at EagleBank Arena on May 18, becoming the latest sitting Virginia governor to address Mason graduates, joining former governors Jim Gilmore, Mark Warner, Tim Kaine and Terry McAuliffe.
“Governor Youngkin’s drive for lifelong learning and his entrepreneurial mindset is what we cultivate in all of our graduates,” Mason University President Gregory Washington said in a statement.