Rather than following custom and inviting the new president to speak at commencement, the University of Notre Dame opted to temper potential controversy by inviting the vice president instead, but many are still outraged. Now students are leading a campaign against his invitation on the grounds that it makes them “feel unsafe.”
That’s what the group organizing the “Not My Commencement Speaker” campaign says, anyway. It consists of students holding up white boards with messages about Pence’s “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic” sins. These are not necessarily specified: One of the organizers, Jourdyhn Williams, simply asserted: “I know that during his time as governor of Indiana and also during his campaign trail, along with Trump, he has made offensive statements towards minority groups.”
It’s become routine for college students to equate conservative positions with prejudice and hatred. Wanting to defund Planned Parenthood, for instance is evidence of animus against women — the sort of thing that disqualifies someone from being honored at a university.
In reality, Pence’s views on abortion and gay marriage are not endorsements of sexism or homophobia, and students at a Catholic university, of all places, should understand that.
By claiming that Pence’s visit will make them “unsafe,” their abuse of language extends beyond simply maligning him. Mike Pence isn’t going to endanger anyone by delivering a commencement speech. People should debate whether his policy preferences will have good or ill effects, but it is a thinly veiled attack on the principle of free speech to equate his words with physical violence.