Michael Wenye Li / Sun Staff Photographer

November 30, 2016

Students Protest Santorum’s Visit, Calling Politician’s Policies ‘Racist,’ ‘Anti-Gay’

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“Racist, sexist, anti-gay — Rick Santorum go away,” protesters shouted outside of Statler Hall as attendees lined up to attend the politician’s lecture, hosted by the Cornell Republicans, on Wednesday night.

Dozens of Cornell students and Ithaca community members gathered to oppose Santorum’s past comments about marginalized groups and Christian ideology, specifically as they affect in political decisions on issues such as contraception and abortion.

“Our statement is a very simple statement — we’re not looking at how the dynamics worked but we are baffled by the fact that such a platform was offered to [Santorum], especially with the kind of politics that this campus is proud to represent, like education for all and inclusion,” Valeria Dani grad said.

Several Ithaca and Cornell community members said they were shocked by what they referred to as the “normalizing” nature of the discourse surrounding Santorum’s invitation.

“I am disappointed Cornell Republicans invited Rick Santorum to speak at our university,” said Ashley Vincent ’17. “I do not understand why our institution would support someone who has continuously marginalized women, the LGBTQ community and Muslims.”

According to Olivia Corn ’19, chair of Cornell Republicans, Santorum was the “perfect person” to “return the club’s focus back to representing the Republican Party and conservative thought,” after the club broke party lines to endorse Libertarian Gary Johnson this fall, The Sun previously reported.

Prof. Barbara Regenspan, educational studies, Colgate University, said allowing him to lecture implies that Santorum is a “normal, intellectual, political thinker who was going to teach the students about conservatism.”

Passing out fliers calling Santorum’s policies “fascist” and plastering posters with the politician’s prior statements, Regenspan and other protesters said they hoped to show that Santorum does not represent conservatism, nor does he represent Cornell.

“The most important thing is we do not want to be normalizing extremism under the rubric of conservatism … [which] is not about hate,” Regenspan said. People here are unified in the position that they will not normalize extremism.”

While not all protesters were opposed to Santorum being invited to speak, all were united in their discord with his viewpoints.

Some protesters, like Rochenelle Coffy ’17, said they were pleased Santorum came to Cornell, because of the evocative protest that ensued.

While Coffy said she chose to protest because she “[doesn’t] believe bigotry should have any place on this campus,” she said she still thought Santorum’s invitation was important for the Cornell community.

“I am happy that he is here because people like us can come out to protest and say that we’re not okay with it,” Coffy said. “At the end of the day, had he not come we could have continued in a state of complacency … but this provokes action.”

Toby March, a protester and member of Showing Up for Racial Justice — a public organization and chapter in the national SURJ group created to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement — also said the event and protest incited discussion of varying viewpoints.

“For people who might be more ambivalent or not really knowing who he is or what he’s about, it’s important to have a protest voice here to make the opposition known publicly,” March said.

A protest occurred across the street, at a location designated for protesters by the police. While in line for the event, some students snapped pictures on their phones, while others shouted back in reply, both in agreement and disagreement with the protest.

“I appreciate the fact that they’re making it clear that Cornell students don’t stand for the hateful things that Rick Santorum stands for,” said Clara Ricketts ’20. “And I wish [the protest] were bigger.”

Several students in line were actually part of another protest, which started with a group of friends who spread the message on Facebook, according to Elise Czuchna ’18. These protesters passed around rainbow-colored ribbons, as a visual sign of students’ disagreement with Santorum’s opinions and as a display of their alliance with the LGBT community.

“We are here today in solidarity against him to show our support in numbers for those people who his comments and his stances attack, because a lot of his beliefs do attack the identities of individuals that are on campus,” said Czuchna

However, some students in line, like Nikhil Dhingra ’20, opposed the protesting chants that told Santorum to “go away.”

“If you’re encouraging conservative speakers to leave our campus, then you’re going to have one narrative for our entire four years here and I think that’s counterproductive,” Dhingra said. “I believe that protesting his stances and ideology is totally valid but telling him to leave is very counterproductive and doesn’t allow for a good discussion.”

Many organizers started planning the protest at a SURJ meeting in Ithaca Monday night, according to March. However, Regenspan explained that there was no single group that sponsored protest.

Rather, the protest was sparked by other groups, such as Ithaca Taking Action, Cornell Coalition for Inclusion and Diversity and a public Facebook event spread to Cornell students, according to March.

“It’s great to see democracy at work with these protests,” said Larry Zmoira ’20. “If you agree with him or not, I think anyone can appreciate that they’re fighting for what they believe in.”

  • Cornell Student

    “Dozens of Cornell students and Ithaca community members gathered to oppose Santorum’s past comments ”

    That is a lie. I counted 10 students and Ithaca community members in total. The opposition was very insignificant.

  • J Doe

    This article should be about the substance of his talk. I disagree with almost everything he has to say. But still it’s important to engage with his ideas, instead of focusing on the easy-to-cover drama of the protesters.

  • Anonymous

    I’m as liberal as they come, but the protestors inside the rally were embarassing. Yes, Santorum is a crazed climate-change and evolution denier who fights marriage equality. That doesn’t mean the solution is talking over him and chanting “shame” to drown out his speech. Silencing voices does not change opinions but creates echo chambers. Telling him to “go away” will not make this country’s problems “go away.”

  • Deshawn Washington

    Does a child have a right to be raised by her mom and dad? The problem with faux marriage is that purposely takes a child away from their mom or dad. They breed children, using women for their womb, and then throwing them away. Homosexual so called marriage excludes children from the foundation of society: the family-mom dad and children.

    Liberals are so dishonest, they can’t admit this. Where do children come from? To a liberal, children come from storks. No, children come from one man and one woman, no matter how much they hate this, it can never change. Those two people have a right to raise those children.

    Liberals have no argument, they only have yelling and name calling.

    Liberals are big losers. Screw you cornel and your brown shirt snowflake students.

    • Gay Alum

      Please elaborate on why you think a same sex couple does not deserve to raise a child. I’d love to hear your reasons for discriminating against such a large group.

      • Travis

        I believe he did explain why he believes what he believes, however he did not use the word “deserves” – you are creating a straw man argument. He is discussing what he believes is best for the child’s development, and he thinks that is a man and a woman raising that child.

        Having said that, no one ‘deserves’ a child. You may want one, you may not; you may be able to have one, you may not; but a child is not property – no one ‘deserves’ another human being.

        And the size of the group of people he is talking about has no bearing on whether his argument is a correct one, or not. Mob rule does not make the mob right.

        • Gay Alum

          Good point. Deserve was poor diction. But he does seem to be suggesting that same sex couples have no right to raise a child and start a family. That’s what I was getting at. Their use of “faux marriage” and “throwing a child away to a gay family” is alarming, to say the least.

      • Hoover

        Good question! They do have every right to raise a child and I am glad you spoke out. Bravo . . .

  • Cornellian

    I think protestors shouting at an extremist to go away is different from university leadership shutting down attempts to understand extreme conservatism by banning students from bringing in speakers who express extreme views. The first is just free speech, the second one is a violation of first amendment rights. Even Nazis have the right to assembly and to give speeches at universities, but shouting at Nazis to go away when they come to town is a good way to 1) make your minority neighbors and the media know that Nazis are not welcome here, even though we /tolerate/ their exercise of their rights (we didn’t ban them after all), and 2) so that our town won’t be the town where “it’s a normal thing for a Nazi to come to town and nobody minds”. Also a note about tolerance: an individual should tolerate all viewpoints with the exception of viewpoints that don’t tolerate the existence of the individual. Tolerance means live and let live, but when the other person doesn’t want to let me live how I want to live, I have to fight back.

    • Realistic Cornellian

      Comparing people who disagree with you to Nazis shows exactly why you’re immature and incapable of dialogue like an adult. Nothing in your asinine argument shows concrete, solid evidence of WHY they’re “an extremist.” People like you just like to throw around names like “bigot” and “racist” until those words completely lose their meaning and people shut you out because you have no idea what you’re arguing and you’re incapable of logical thought based on empirical evidence. You’re so delusional that it’s ridiculous. And what about true extremists like Bailey Dineen, who’s literally at the opposite spectrum of Westboro Baptist and has advocated for the extermination of heterosexuals? Would censoring her also be “shutting down attempts to understand radical liberalism” or is it free speech because she’s in line with your twisted leftist ideology? It’ll be a hilarious sight to see when you finally enter the real world. No one cares about your opinions and feelings there.

  • Travis

    I find three parts of this article amusing – and typical of indoctrination over education.

    1. At no point does this article (or any of the protesters for that matter) ever address exactly what points of Santorum’s policies they find “bigoted”, “racist” or “sexist”. The point of protest is to raise awareness. The only awareness that was raised is that of the people who were protesting. They clearly weren’t worried about the message, only that they were opposed to something.

    2. The one protester stated that Cornell believes in education for all. Is that right? Cornell is one of the most expensive and elite schools in the country. What about that screams “education for all”? If any school can make those kinds of statements it would be a community college in Detroit or Philadelphia, not some elitist private school for the extremely wealthy located in one of the whitest parts of the country.

    3. The protesters make extremely damning accusations without the least bit of evidence. Claiming someone is a bigot, extremist, racist, and sexist is damning, and slanderous. In the real world, those types of accusations can cost someone their livelihood, even if no evidence is presented. It’s a modern day witch-hunt. They offer exactly zero examples of what leads them to their extreme conclusions about Santorum. These words have become the battle cry for the left. Liberals over use them so often, the words lose their meaning. Dare I say, if any one of these protesters actually did run into a true racist, they wouldn’t know what to do.

    The standard tactic of the left is character assassination. They constantly claim they want “discussion” until that discussion disagrees with anything they believe. Then they want to silence that discussion; which is exactly what happened here. As soon as they can’t defeat an argument on merit, they try to defeat the opponent through slander and character assassination. The easiest way to do that is to call their opponents some combination of racist, sexist, xenophobe, homophobe, transphobe, bigot, nationalist, blah blah blah. It’s so trite it means nothing anymore.

    • free speech matters


  • Dan Schiff ’05

    Those who fear the normalization of views held by Santorum, Trump, etc., would do well to consider whether protesting and screaming will have any effect on current trends. Rick Santorum is not an elected official; currently he’s just a dude with views that I strongly reject. Shouting at and interrupting him is highly unlikely to make him change those views, or sway those who agree with him.

    I encourage Cornell students who would engage in this type of protest to look beyond campus to the no doubt thousands of Trump voters living and working in the Ithaca area. You will have much more success winning hearts and minds to your way of thinking by engaging in dialogue and service within these communities. Otherwise you truly are stuck in a bubble on the Hill.

  • Dirk

    Why is the Sun quoting a socialist professor from Colgate? A bit of research into her background reveals that she is an asshole.

  • Realistic Cornellian

    Just a bunch of dumb whiny babies on this campus who have never been told the word “NO” in their lives. Probably majoring in feminist studies or some other trash. Why don’t they go protest the CU Dems for being useless and never bothering to take the effort of bringing in high profile speakers? Slacktivism is the only thing they’re good at.

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  • Hoover

    Another embarrassing moment on campus. I love to hear from people that I disagree with and that is the essence of the first amendment in America. Sorry that so many of us have not matured to the point beyond such infantile behavior and rudeness. Quite shameful.