Students launch whiteboard campaign in response to Commencement speaker
Lucas Masin-Moyer | Monday, April 10, 2017
For seniors Imanne Mondane and Jourdyhn Williams, the University’s selection of Mike Pence as this year’s Commencement speaker represents an endorsement of the values supported by President Donald Trump, which they said silences certain minority groups. To combat what they believe will be the adverse effects Pence will have on campus, Mondane and Williams launched the #notmycommencementspeaker campaign, which took place throughout the past week and consisted of students “holding a whiteboard in [their] hands with direct quotes from Pence that are racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic,” according to the campaign’s Facebook page.
“For me personally, [Pence] represents the larger Trump administration,” Mondane said. “ … his administration represents something, and for many people on our campus, it makes them feel unsafe to have someone who openly is offensive but also demeaning of their humanity and of their life and of their identity.”
This visual aspect of this campaign was key to its success, Williams said.
“It’s hard getting out there to get people to discussions that you want to be there,” she said. “A lot of times they don’t come until you show them ‘this is my face, this is how it’s affecting me,’ and so we wanted to make sure it was something that impacted everyone, and not just those who are interested in coming to these things.”
Mondane said she hopes this event allows students to speak up for their rights.
“What we want to do is give a voice to those who have been silenced,” Mondane said.“It’s not even a matter of feeling like they have been silenced — they have been silenced on our campus and in our country,” she said.
Williams said not only does Pence represent the policies of the Trump administration, but he takes direct actions that warrant protest.
“I know that during his time as governor of Indiana and also during his campaign trail, along with Trump, he has made offensive statements towards minority groups that affect me, like women and African-Americans,” she said.
The selection of Pence as graduation speaker also violates the University’s Catholic mission, Williams said.
“I feel that is offensive to such a large population here at Notre Dame, and I also believe it goes against certain Catholic Social Teaching, which is something the University likes to broadcast that it stands behind, but it picks and chooses when it wants to stand behind them,” she said.
Mondane said she hopes the campaign challenges the dominant narrative that often exists at Notre Dame.
“I think that if you could come across to the people of our campus, the professors, the administrators, to [University President Fr. John] Jenkins, it would be amazing,” she said. “Maybe then he would … think and act in regards to the other people on our campus who are not white, conservative Catholics.”
Once all the photos have been collected, Mondane and Williams said they will assemble Facebook and Twitter pages to tell the stories of students who participated in the campaign. These pages will “hopefully” serve as the first step in fostering a greater dialogue about Pence’s invitation, Mondane said.
“We’re going to have a follow-up discussion in the weeks to come,” Mondane said. “Everyone is welcome to the discussion, and we’re going to have an event and advertise, but we really want to get the voices there who may not agree with us and who may take issue with what we’re doing. We both have an equal platform, and we’re on an equal playing field where one narrative isn’t totally dominant of the other.”