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Here's Why Notre Dame Grads Walked Out On Mike Pence's Commencement Speech

By Stephen Gossett in News on May 22, 2017 5:27PM

Vice President Mike Pence / Getty Images / Photo: Chip Somodevilla

Dozens of students rose from their seats and walked out in protest as Vice President Mike Pence delivered the commencement speech at Notre Dame University on Sunday.

The action, dubbed WalkoutND by organizers, was intended to "show our dissatisfaction with the University's selection... in dignity and solidarity with all marginalized people affected by Pence's politics, both on this campus and throughout our nation." Organizers said that more than 100 students at the historically Catholic school walked out from the seating area at the Notre Dame Stadium venue, in South Bend, Indiana, according to the New York Times.

Video of the walkout shows streams of students exit as Pence takes the podium. Some loud boos are heard; and at least one student is seen sporting a rainbow pattern with her graduation gown.

A statement issued by the university student-activism coalition We StaND For invoked Pope Francis' support of refugee resettlement and respect of dignity of sexual minorities in their note of opposition to Pence—who as governor signed the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was lambasted as essentially allowing Christian business owners to discriminate against LGBTQ people.

“The participation and degree-conferring of VP Pence stand as an endorsement of policies and actions which directly contradict Catholic social teachings and values,” undergraduate student Xitlaly Estrada said.

Students recorded a video clip ahead of the protest in which they explained their reasons for participating. "As a member of the small but proud LGBTQ community at Notre Dame, the university's support of an anti-LGBTQ politician is both frustrating and sad," one student says in the clip. "As the son of two undocumented immigrants, Pence has made it very clear that my family and I are not welcome in this country," another student says.

Anticipating the flurry of "snowflake" criticisms to follow, at least one faculty member said the students' demonstration was in keeping with the university's social justice mission, according to Buzzfeed Senior Culture Writer Anne Helen Petersen. And the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation was one of several prominent progressive organizations to champion the move. Pence's speech dealt at times with freedom of speech and expression, but he didn't directly address the walkout from the stage.