George Mason University students petition against Youngkin as commencement speaker

George Mason University students are petitioning against the college’s decision to host Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin as the graduation commencement speaker in May.

Senior Alaina Ruffin started the petition Thursday, one day after university president Gregory Washington announced that the Republican governor will speak before “the largest and most diverse class of graduates ever.” The petition has received more than 4,000 signatures since then.

“George Mason University prides itself on being one of ‘the most diverse institutions in the Commonwealth.’ Yet by having Governor Youngkin as this year’s Commencement speaker, we believe that the University compromises its supposed values of centering students’ experiences and overall well-being,” Ruffin wrote in the petition.

“When satiating its own desire to appease the powerful few, the University, once again, has abandoned these principles.”

Ruffin cites what she characterized as “anti-transgender” policies from Youngkin and “intentional [targeting]” of other marginalized groups as a reason why he shouldn’t speak or attend the ceremony.

Ruffin also said she doesn’t want “the memories of our graduation day to be tainted by an individual who has harmed and continues to harm the people he serves.”

When asked to comment on the petition, Youngkin spokeswoman Macaulay Porter told WTOP, “Governor Youngkin looks forward to addressing the 2023 graduates of George Mason University and celebrating their tremendous accomplishment.”

Some of Youngkin’s initiatives have drawn criticism in the purple state.

The governor’s updated school policies now require transgender students to use facilities and participate in activities corresponding with their biological sex.

Youngkin also ordered state education officials to review an Advanced Placement African American history course’s contents to see if it violates his executive order that targets “inherently divisive concepts.”

The main example he listed in the order was critical race theory —  the idea that racism is systemic in the nation’s institutions and that they function to maintain the dominance of white people in society.

Last year, the governor passed a law that requires parents to be notified in advance if instructional materials include sexually explicit content. The move came amid a nationwide trend of parents seeking greater transparency about classroom materials, with some attention being paid toward books that discuss LGBTQ+-related issues.

Other comments on the petition voicing agreement include: “Couldn’t GMU have found someone respectable, inspirational, and compassionate to do this job?” and “This man stands opposed to everything I believe in and am as a student, my majors and very being are under attack in his politics.”

Someone else started similar petition in support of Glenn Youngkin delivering the spring commencement speech. It has gained just over 30 signatures.

Ciara Wells

Ciara Wells is the Evening Digital Editor at WTOP. She is a graduate of American University where she studied journalism and Spanish. Before joining WTOP, she was the opinion team editor at a student publication and a content specialist at an HBCU in Detroit.

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