A group of students held a peaceful protest Tuesday when former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove spoke on campus.
Rove spoke in the Bob and Shirley Hunter Welcome Center at an event hosted by the Taylor County Republican Party. The party rented the facility and the university did not sponsor Rove’s visit.
Jared Perkins, junior political science major from Saginaw, and Colleen Ashley, senior political science major from American Samoa, organized the event in response to Rove’s visit. Ashley said the protest was against both Rove and the university.
“First of all, Karl Rove is a politician whose actions in his political career are counter to the values we are taught at ACU. He uses smear tactics and dishonest ways of campaigning,” Ashley said. “In addition, his presence on campus as a political event and a fundraiser felt like a misuse of our campus facility. It sends a message as to what our university believes without actually sponsoring it.”
The group began its protest at the Williams Performing Arts Center and marched to just outside the Hunter Welcome Center. The protesters displayed signs with messages like “Go home Rove” and “Go sell your book somewhere else.” The protesters also chanted as they marched.
Ashley said the group received more attention than she had anticipated – both positive and negative.
“It was well received overall. There were people who clearly weren’t happy we were there,” Ashley said. “But there were people who listened and were intrigued by us, and that’s what we wanted.”
Ashley said some people encouraged them – but others were not as kind. She said two individuals offered unfriendly gestures at them during the protest and others yelled negative remarks.
“We got flipped off by a couple of people and we were told to go home,” Ashley said. “They said we didn’t know what we were talking about.”
Even Rove himself acknowledged the protestors. Ashley said when the group was near a window in the Hunter Welcome Center, Rove knocked on the window and waved to the group.
Both Ashley and Perkins believe their protest was a success. They said the university’s decision to host what they call “divisive” characters in a non-academic format is inappropriate, regardless of political affiliation.
“I think the fact that we were able to get our message out and people saw it made it a success,” Perkins said. “I think the university got the message and next time they’ll take that into consideration.”
The student protestors followed all university guidelines for the protest including receiving a permit. Perkins said the university handled the event well.
“The ACU Police Department was incredibly proficient and polite. The protest was handled very well from the time we received our permit to the time the police officer attending the event said goodbye,” Perkins said. “We never felt like we were being stifled. That shows that ACU still values ideas.”
The group of protesting students was also accompanied by three ACU faculty members. Dr. Joe Stephenson, Interim Dean of the Honors College and Assistant Professor of English and Honors Studies, Dr. David Dillman, professor of political science, and Dr. Jennifer Dillman, associate professor of sociology and family studies, joined the protest.
“We’re here because we love ACU and we just don’t want the world to get the wrong message,” Jennifer Dillman said.
Perkins, president of the College Democrats, and Ashley, former vice president of the College Democrats, said politics were not the reason they protested. They said ACU’s facilities should not be leased out to “divisive” individuals unless as a part of an academic forum.
“The buildings on this campus are for the hallowed purpose of education,” Perkins said. “That’s why we pay for them.”