K-State students on Thursday evening protested before a trio of conservative speakers talked at the K-State Student Union. The protesters said they believe the organization hosting the Thursday lecture and the speakers themselves are racist and homophobic.
“The people united will never be divided,” about 20 protesters chanted at K-State’s Bosco Plaza.
Ian Boyd, a member of the Young Democrats at K-State, which helped organize the event, said they wanted the speakers to hear them inside the room where they were giving the lecture. But the speakers were already standing outside, one of them posing as a protester.
The speakers — Elijah Schaffer, DC Draino and Austen Fletcher — talked during the lecture about First Amendment rights.
But ahead of the event, both the speakers and protesters put those priciples into practice by debating their views.
The speakers were paid by Turning Point USA at K-State. Part of the backlash stems from how the group paid for the speakers.
Turning Point USA is a conservative organization that promotes fiscal responsibility, free markets, limited government and free speech on campuses, according to information on its website.
The campus group asked the K-State Student Governing Association for $3,000, which comes from student fees, to pay for the speakers to talk. SGA, which allocates money for educational events for registered organizations on campus, approved the money last month, to the dismay of some students and student leaders at the university.
A 2017 document from Turning Point also indicated that it had given money to candidates for K-State student government, including former student body president Jack Ayres, who has now graduated. Ayres told the K-State Collegian he was contacted by Turning Point but did not take money from the group.
There are several instances of officials from the national Turning Point USA organization in recent years using racial slurs or expressing racist ideas on Twitter. Some of those officials were fired or left the organization.
Some student protesters said the speakers visiting K-State have expressed racist or homophobic ideas, but Schaffer denied that.
Schaffer, one of the speakers, disguised himself to join the protest against his own lecture to prove that he agreed with the chants and posters, that hate doesn’t belong at K-State.
“I denounce bigotry. F*** white supremacy,” Schaffer yelled during the protest, which started in the hour before the lecture. Schaffer and the other speakers often confront those who disagree with their views, and many videos of those interactions are on YouTube.
He said he applauded that the students were protesting and expressing their First Amendment rights to assemble and have free speech. Draino and Fletcher later stood with their fellow speaker as he told the protesters they were misled about who they were as people.
“People are taking Twitter out of context,” Schaffer said. “Tell us why you’re against us, and if it’s bad, I’m happy to hear it. ... I respect you all as individuals. I think if you took the time, you’d see we’re more reasonable, more peaceful people than you’ve been led to believe.”
As student protesters presented examples of inappropriate behaviors, the men justified their word choices. Boyd said additional students would have come to the protest, but they told him they did not feel safe.
“We’re not aggressive,” Fletcher said. “We have no hate. We have nothing but love on our end.”
The speakers continually asked the protesters for evidence of hateful things they said, but as the crowd grew to more than 100 people around the lively debate, the protesters decided to march from Bosco Plaza to Anderson Hall.
Boyd said they wanted “show the administration what they stand for,” leading the group in more chants as they walked away. K-State Dean of Students Pat Bosco walked behind the group. Bosco and several other campus administrators listened to the protest.
“I appreciate that you’re here and giving you a voice to students who feel they don’t have one,” Bosco told the protesters. “I appreciate your words, and I appreciate your passion.”
Bosco and the protesters listened as they each shared their stories and experiences on the steps of Anderson. Some tearfully shared their stories of assault, coming out to family as a member of the LGBT community and experiences with hate.
“K-State is not perfect … but it’s not going to get better without trying,” student Seth Peery said.