SOUTH BEND — Vice President Mike Pence may be greeted by a student walkout and protesters near campus when he delivers the 2017 University of Notre Dame commencement address on Sunday.
Some graduating students are planning to silently protest Pence’s presence at commencement by standing up and walking out of the ceremony just as the vice president starts his address.
Some friends and family in the audience may join in the walkout. The walkout is being organized by a collection of student activist groups on campus called We StaND For.
“We welcome anyone who wants to walk out with us,” said Bryan Ricketts, a 2017 graduate and an organizer of the effort. The walkout will be silent so as not to disrupt the ceremony for the other graduates. “We want to make it a graduation that’s respectful of the students,” he said.
Ricketts said Wednesday that he expects at least 50 to 100 graduating students to participate in the walkout. The effort is being organized via a Facebook page and students are using the hashtag #WalkOutND.
Those involved say the walkout is intended to protest policies Pence pursued during his time as Indiana’s governor (2013 to 2017) that targeted the state’s most vulnerable residents, including LGBTQ individuals, immigrants and refugees.
In 2015, as Indiana’s governor, Pence signed into law a “religious freedom” bill that would have allowed businesses and individuals to refuse services to LGBT people. After pressure from the business community and LGBT advocates, Pence signed into law a fix to the measure.
That same year, Pence ordered state agencies to halt resettlement for Syrian refugees after terrorist attacks in Europe. In response, Notre Dame President the Rev. John I. Jenkins issued a statement urging Americans to welcome Syrian refugees, noting they were being forced to flee their homeland because of unending violence.
Ricketts said some also may walk out in protest of Pence’s support for President Donald Trump’s health care bill.
University officials don’t plan to stop the walkout. The student organizers have contacted Notre Dame Security Police to make them aware of their plans, and said they will leave quietly.
“We would intervene in any protest only if the ceremony was seriously disrupted or anyone’s safety was put at risk,” Notre Dame spokesman Paul Browne said Wednesday via email. “We expect neither.”
There are a number of other protests of Pence being organized for Sunday.
Local protesters, led by We Go High! of St. Joseph County, Michiana Alliance for Democracy, South Bend Equality and Planned Parenthood Community Action Partners of Northwestern Indiana, plan to gather outside the main gates at Notre Dame Avenue and Angela Boulevard at 9:30 a.m.