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Kent State students plan walkout to protest Kyle Rittenhouse speech

Kyle Rittenhouse speaks at a panel discussion at the Turning Point USA America Fest 2021 event, Monday, Dec. 20, 2021, in Phoenix.
Ross D. Franklin
Kyle Rittenhouse speaks at a panel discussion at the Turning Point USA America Fest 2021 event, Monday, Dec. 20, 2021, in Phoenix. Rittenhouse will appear on the Kent campus on April 16, 2024.

A campus-wide walkout is planned Tuesday at Kent State University’s Kent campus to protest an appearance by Kyle Rittenhouse. The Kent State chapter of the conservative group Turning Point USA is bringing Rittenhouse to campus to speak.

Rittenhouse was involved in the 2020 fatal shooting of two Black Lives Matter protestors in Kenosha, Wisconsin. A third person was wounded. At his 2021 trial, Rittenhouse claimed self-defense and was acquitted of all charges.

The announcement to bring Rittenhouse to Kent State has sparked controversy, with some students calling for him to be banned from campus.

Aimee Flores, a Kent State student and president of the student group, Spanish and Latine Student Association, started a petition in opposition to Rittenhouse’s appearance She and fellow student Aciano Rosales, staid they were concerned when they heard the news.

“It’s just a reminder that even though we do have very progressive values as a university, like for the most part we do tend to protect LGBTQ students and students of color,” Flores said. “It still feels reminiscent of the fact that Kyle Rittenhouse represents somebody that does not care a lot about progressive social issues. It’s very disrespectful to our organization, especially when we represent so many minority students.”

Flores said the petition has over 3,000 signatures. She said they’re also calling for a walkout on the day of speech to protest his visit and out of concern for students’ safety.

Fountain that reads Kent State University stands in front of brick building
Des Torres
Ideastream Public Media
Kyle Rittenhouse is scheduled to speak at the Kiva at Kent State University on April 16, 2024.

“Our walkout is just a way to get students off campus, because of how concerned we are with the reactions we’ve gotten from both sides of the event,” Rosales said. “It’s just genuinely scary with how comfortable people are expressing threats or just general hate speech, especially targeted towards people who want to protest.”

Brady Seymour, president of the Kent State chapter of Turning Point USA, said the group is hoping for a peaceful turnout and welcomes everyone who wants to come as long as they don’t hassle Rittenhouse.

“We don’t want to deter anyone from going just because we do have conservative views,” Seymour said. “We invite everyone to enjoy the event and come to listen and ask questions. Just don’t ruin the experience for everyone else who has actually taken the time out of their day to set up the event and who has come to see the event.”

Seymour said that Turning Point is bringing in Rittenhouse because it believes that his story is important.

“We believe he has a very interesting story about standing up for yourself, standing up for what you believe in and standing up for what you believe is right at a time where you can face scrutiny for it,” Seymour said.

“Registered student organizations are free to invite speakers of their choosing,” Todd Diacon, president of Kent State, said in a statement. “Legally, as a public university, we are not able to constrain the speech of others, no matter how much we disagree with what any particular speaker is saying.”

Though students are pressing the university to cancel the event, Gary Daniels with the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, said that the university’s hands are tied in the matter as it involves free speech.

“Under almost every situation, the university shouldn’t be doing anything and is prevented from doing anything,” Daniels said. “Here you have a student organization, which has its own First Amendment rights, inviting a speaker to speak. A controversial speaker, absolutely, but the First Amendment tries to protect against the government making these decisions based on people they like versus people they don’t like.”

According to Daniels, the only way that Kent State would be able to cancel the event is if he was inciting violence in one way or another.

“So, if you have somebody who’s got the crowd whipped into a frenzy and you’re standing there in the middle of Kent State University, and you’ve got everyone really worked up,” Daniels said. And you say, ‘not only should Kent State burn to the ground, I think we should do it right now’. Then people rush to burn down Kent State University on the spot, you’re going to have a harder time arguing First Amendment rights.”

Tickets are free, and the 6 p.m. event at the Kiva open to the public.

Des Torres is an intern at Ideastream Public Media.