By Jonah Svihus
Photo by Brady Antonelli
On April 11, 2017 at 7:00 p.m. protesters, made up of both Lewis & Clark students and the broader Portland community, picketed the 55th International Affairs (IA) Symposium’s event “The Huddled Masses: Displacement in a Time of Crisis.”
The IA Symposium Steering Committee received heavy criticism after inviting Jessica Vaughan, Director of Policy Studies at the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) to speak at LC. CIS is a conservative think-tank recently labeled by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as a hate group.
Gregory McKelvey, a third-year LC law student and organizer for Portland’s Resistance, was upset with Jessica Vaughan’s presence on campus.
“The purpose of the protest is to show marginalized communities and the rest of the country that despite what the international symposium student group has decided, the larger community of Portland does not condone or tolerate hate speech,” McKelvey said. “We also must recognize that when a college allows hate speech on their campus, chaos can ensue which is something nobody wants to see. Unfortunately, this is something the college seems to not care about.”
The event space was changed from the Council Chambers to the Agnes Flanagan Chapel to accommodate a greater audience. The event was closed to the public; only members of the LC community were allowed to attend and were required to show ID at the door. A simulcast of the event was shown in Council Chambers. In an email penned by the IA Symposium Steering Committee and Co-Chairs, the decision was made “to preserve our academic environment as a place of discussion and debate, rather than one of anger or hostility.”
In a response to this decision as well as the decision to allow Vaughan to speak, Professor of History and Director of Latin American Studies Elliott Young wrote an inflammatory article in the Huffington Post on April 10.
“This view of the public as a angry and hostile mob which can’t be trusted to have a respectful academic debate is both profoundly anti-democratic and elitist,” Young wrote. “College campuses should be places where controversial ideas are heard and debated, perhaps even those of hate groups like the CIS. However, it is also the right of the public to engage in those debates, not just watch on a screen from another room.”
Starting at 6:00 p.m., protesters appeared outside the Chapel. They held signs sharing their discontent with the situation: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breath [sic] free, BUT CIS can f**** off”; “White supremacy is not up for debate”; “Don’t be fooled, CIS is a hate group.”
Protesters passed out informational pamphlets, which included quotes from Vaughan. One such pamphlet called Vaughan “a propagandist who spreads fake news that paints immigrants and refugees as dangerous criminals and terrorists.”
“I’m hoping that organizations posing as policy groups, who are actually really xenophobic and cultural bullies, don’t get allowed space like this,” an anonymous protester said. “It kind of went under the radar of the organizers and the college. Somebody should do better due diligence.”
As students were allowed into the Chapel, campus safety officers blocked the entrance to prohibit protesters who were not students from entering. The protesters began organizing chants, shouting, “say it loud, say it clear, immigrants are welcome here.”
“I think it’s bad to bring [Vaughan’s] hate rhetoric into this community,” another anonymous protester said. “However, we are also expressing our personal right to also show that we are not going to allow that hate rhetoric.”
“I think it’s a valid concern that we are giving someone a place to speak hate and giving someone a safe space for hate,” Kennan Ashby ’20 said. “[Vaughan] is going to be challenged on everything she says. I think it’s valid to protest, but I don’t think that she shouldn’t be allowed to speak.”
At approximately 7:30 p.m., the fire alarm in Templeton was pulled, forcing an evacuation of the building and the simulcast in Council Chambers. Approximately thirty minutes later, the fire alarm was pulled in J.R. Howard hall, also triggering an evacuation.
By 8:45 p.m., the event was coming to a close. Protesters attempted to intercept Vaughan as she left the building; however, Vaughan was safely escorted to her vehicle by campus safety officers.