The Cornell Republicans said they paid the University $5000 in security fees for the Rick Santorum event it hosted last November.

Michael Wenye Li / Sun Staff Photographer

The Cornell Republicans said they paid the University $5000 in security fees for the Rick Santorum event it hosted last November.

November 30, 2016

Santorum Calls Protests Disrupting Lecture Sign of ‘Liberal Intolerance’ at Cornell

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During his two presidential campaigns and throughout his terms in the House and Senate, Rick Santorum’s evangelical conservative views prompted protests at his events. His visit to Cornell was no exception.

The Cornell Republicans hosted Santorum as their fall speaker Wednesday night in Statler Auditorium, where he shared his political ideology and expectations for the future of American politics under Donald Trump, the candidate he endorsed for president.

Santorum was confronted by a hostile audience almost continuously throughout his lecture, often forced to pause his talk when his comments were met by jeers, boos and vocal protests. However, one of the tensest moments came after his lecture, in a question and answer session, when a student confronted him on his views on gay conversion therapy.

The student began his question by identifying as both “a gay American and a person of faith.”

“I spent about a decade of my life in conversion therapy,” the student said. “It was abusive, it was fraudulent and it was unethical.”

The student asked Santorum to initiate conversations with Republican leaders about the problems involved in conversion therapy. Santorum replied by encouraging anyone abused to report the incident to the church or law enforcement, in order to ensure that an investigation and report are filed.

“But to suggest that anyone going through that struggle is being counseled in a way that is abusive and fraudulent, when it is in fact within the church’s guidelines, I think is throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” Santorum said.

Earlier in his talk, Santorum said he enjoys speaking on college campuses, where conservative viewpoints are often underrepresented. He acknowledged that most Ivy League universities are overwhelmingly liberal, but said he appreciates the opportunity expose students a diverse array of opinions.

“That’s actually a great gift,” Santorum said of being a conservative student on a liberal campus. “Because you get to hone your skills and hear the best arguments from a lot of smart people who have different points of view than you.”

Ironically, Santorum’s train of thought was cut short by protesters who stood, raised their fists and interrupted Santorum, challenging his stances.

The lecture, like most Cornell Republican guest events, began with a reading of Cornell’s policy of free speech on campus, which acknowledges students’ right to protest, as long they allow the speaker to articulate his or her views, and allow their fellow students to listen. Santorum’s lecture was paused midway through so that the statement could be read again, as protesters were continually hindering the speaker’s ability to address attendees.

The Cornell Republicans, as well as Santorum, reminded students and community members they would have the chance to speak during the question and answer period at the end of the event.

Chair of Cornell Republicans Olivia Corn ’19 called the protesters “very rude and disrespectful.” Even though she said she understands that many attendees disagree with Santorum’s political views, she said their behavior was not justified.

“I completely understand if you don’t agree with Santorum’s ideology. There are lot of different things I don’t agree with,” she said. “At the same time the childish way that they acted does reflect very badly on the school and makes Cornell look very intolerant … Nobody wants to hear a different opinion and that’s a serious problem and tonight it was exposed.”

Corn stressed the need to “further look into different opinions,” criticizing the way the protesters “shut [Santorum] down” instead of listening to what he had to say.

“That was very disappointing to me as a conservative student on an overwhelmingly liberal campus,” she said.

The lecturer also said that he suspected the students interrupting the speech claimed to champion tolerance around campus. While he noted that the majority of students attending the lecture were respectful, even if they did not agree with his views, he criticized the vocal minority of protestors for exemplifying “liberal intolerance.”

Santorum continued his lecture by speaking about his book, Blue Collar Conservatives, which he wrote in response to the loss of domestic manufacturing jobs. Santorum noted that the offshoring of industrial jobs is a significant problem in the United States and a cause of many Americans’ financial struggles.

Santorum added that wages have decreased because immigrants compete with domestic labor and are willing to work for less, a statement that was met with vocal boos. He also said the United States has welcomed more immigrants in the past 20 years than ever before, which he called a factor of the “increasing American angst.”

Santorum was then interrupted again by an audience member who shouted, “We are all immigrants,” before the audience was reminded again to save comments until the end of the lecture.

“Do you know what ‘the end of the lecture’ means?” Santorum asked. “Do you know what rights and civil liberties are?” shouted another audience member.

During the question and answer session, questions focused on Santorum’s stances on climate change, LGBT rights and religion in relation to politics.

Santorum said he is committed to his Roman Catholic faith and tries to “adhere to what the church teaches.”

“The church says ‘love thy neighbor as yourself,’” he said. “And that’s all your neighbors.”

Another audience member saw the apparent contradiction in this answer, asking how Santorum can preach loving “all your neighbors” without supporting marriage equality.

“The church teaches that marriage is between men and women,” Santorum said. In response to Hillary Clinton’s book It Takes a Village, Santorum wrote the book It Takes a Family.

“Half of American kids today will grow up in a house without a father,” he said, stressing that a two-parent nuclear family is “healthy.”

Santorum concluded by thanking the Cornell Republicans for having him and walked off the stage, leaving the audience to a mix of praise and frustration.