Two students who took part in the walk out as Vice President Mike Pence began to give a commencement address at the University of Notre Dame on Sunday told CNN that they did so because the vice president made them feel “unsafe.”
Luis Miranda and Aniela Tyksinski, two of the Notre Dame graduates who organized the walkout, told CNN host Brooke Baldwin on Monday that the walkout happened because many students and family members “have been specifically targeted” by Pence and his policies.
“We felt the need to walk out because we wanted to stand here to protect human dignity,” Miranda said. “We wanted to have solidarity with those who are most vulnerable of us, and also to seek justice for them.”
“We essentially have classmates, family members, and friends who were either with us sitting down there, or were also in the stands who have been specifically targeted by the policies of Mike Pence either as a governor or as a president (sic) directly,” Miranda continued.
Miranda said they were showing “solidarity” with members of the LGBT community and “undocumented” Americans. Pence’s presence, Miranda said, felt “inappropriate” and the students were walking out to stand “with them, and for them.”
Tyksinski echoed Miranda’s sentiment that those in the LGBT community and undocumented immigrants were in her heart as she walked out.
— CNN Newsroom (@CNNnewsroom) May 22, 2017
Tyksinski went on to explain that Pence made students feel “unsafe” and that a commencement address was not the appropriate setting for “this kind of political discourse.”
“The walkout was in response to the fact that members of our own community felt unwelcome, uncomfortable, and even unsafe,” Tyksinski said. “This was not the appropriate event for this kind of political discourse. This should have been an event for all graduates and all of their family members.”
Tysksinski and Miranda did not explain what the offending “political discourse” was.
Baldwin asked if the students were feeding into the stereotype that colleges were “too liberal” and unwilling to listen to differing viewpoints.
“I cannot speak to the stereotype, but yes, there are difficulties over free speech,” Miranda said. “It’s hard to have these conversations and we agree that free speech is a very important thing and that we shouldn’t be shutting it out. We need to be welcoming it.”
The Washington Post noted that Notre Dame knew the protests were going to occur beforehand but allowed students to carry out the protests as long as it did not interrupt the proceedings. While there was a mixture of boos and cheers as the students exited, those walking out were silent.
Notre Dame, a Catholic university, has been the site of protests against presidents and vice presidents in the past. In 2009, then-President Barack Obama was interrupted by two anti-abortion protesters, who were promptly escorted out.
Students also peacefully protested then-Vice President Joe Biden who was being given the Laetare Medal alongside former Speaker of the House John Boener in 2016. The medal is an honor bestowed in recognition to those who have done great work for the Catholic church and society. The protesting students believed that because of Biden’s pro-abortion stances, he was not fit to receive the award, which is considered a high honor for an American Catholic.
Father John Jenkins, president of Notre Dame, defended giving the award to Biden to the Notre Dame student newspaper, The Observer, saying that he didn’t necessarily agree with all of the vice president’s stances but that Biden “took account of his Catholic faith, even while trying to make decisions on legislation.”