VCU Graduates Stage Walkout in Protest of Governor Youngkin's Stance

Dozens of VCU students staged a walkout during Governor Glenn Youngkin's commencement address, protesting his stance on racial and gender issues and Israel-Palestine conflict. The peaceful protest, involving over 100 students and family members, was organized by the "Not Welcome at VCU" campaign.

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Nitish Verma
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VCU Graduates Stage Walkout in Protest of Governor Youngkin's Stance

VCU Graduates Stage Walkout in Protest of Governor Youngkin's Stance

Dozens of Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) students staged a walkout during the 2024 graduation ceremony on Saturday in protest of Governor Glenn Youngkin's stance on racial and gender issues and his handling of Israel-Palestine conflict protests. The walkout occurred as Youngkin began delivering his commencement address at the Greater Richmond Convention Center.

Why this matters: This protest highlights the growing divide between politicians and the younger generation on issues of social justice, racial equality, and human rights. As morestudents take a stand against policies they deem discriminatory, it may lead to a shift in the political landscape and influence future policy decisions.

The protest was organized by the campaign "Not Welcome at VCU" and involved over 100 students and family members marching out of the ceremony, carrying signs and chanting in support of pro-Palestinian rights. The protesters opposed Youngkin's policies on police responses to pro-Palestine demonstrations, transgender policies for public schools, and his push to review racial literacy course materials at VCU.

The April 29 clash between police and pro-Palestine protesters on campus was a primary grievance, with organizers condemning VCU President Michael Rao's decision to send in law enforcement to clear a makeshift encampment. Youngkin's subsequent support of police officers' tactics was also denounced.

"I identify as agender and I'm Black, obviously. I'm not going to sit through a commencement that's supposed to be for me and sit through a speech by somebody who is anti-me," said Siatta, a graduate who declined to share their last name. Another graduate, Sam, a Ph.D. recipient, stated, "Everyone who's here is here because they're standing up for trans youth, for Black youth, for youth in Palestine. We're on the right side of history, and everyone will know that."

The protest was largely peaceful, with graduates walking roughly a half mile from the convention center to Abner Clay Park. They passed around refreshments and celebrated the graduates' accomplishments while criticizing both Youngkin and the university. There were no reports of violence or arrests.

This is not the first time Governor Youngkin has faced protests at a university commencement ceremony. Last year, students walked out of his speech at George Mason University, citing his stance on race and history education, as well as policies concerning transgender students. Over 130 protesters have been arrested in Virginia on college campuses in recent weeks, including at the University of Virginia, University of Mary Washington, Virginia Tech, and VCU.

The VCU walkout had been expected for weeks, with students calling for the university to disclose and end financial ties with Israel and to call for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war. It comes less than two weeks after school, local, and state law enforcement used pepper spray on students calling for VCU to sever ties with Israel, leading to the arrests of six students.

Over 4,700 VCU students graduated this spring in a diverse ceremony representing 40 countries. Despite the protest, the commencement continued without disruption, with Youngkin pressing on with his address. "The world needs your music," he told the graduates, employing an extended symphony metaphor throughout his speech.

Key Takeaways

  • Dozens of VCU students walk out of graduation ceremony to protest Gov. Youngkin's stance on racial and gender issues.
  • Protesters opposed Youngkin's policies on police responses, transgender rights, and racial literacy course materials.
  • The walkout was organized by "Not Welcome at VCU" and involved over 100 students and family members.
  • The protest was peaceful, with no reports of violence or arrests.
  • This is not the first time Youngkin has faced protests at a university commencement ceremony.