FIRE calls on George Mason students to resist censorship after demands to cancel Youngkin commencement speech

Gov. Glenn Youngkin is set to speak to George Mason University's class of 2023 on May 18

A civil liberties group is urging students at George Mason University to respect differing viewpoints following their calls to remove Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin from the institution's commencement ceremony.

George Mason University announced last week that Youngkin would deliver the commencement speech in May in front of the university's 2023 graduating class, which led to students demanding the governor be prohibited from speaking or attending the ceremony.

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), a nonprofit group that aims to protect free speech on college campuses, is asking the students to resist attempts to remove Youngkin as commencement speaker and instead engage with ideas they may disagree with.

"GMU students may disagree with Gov. Glenn Youngkin and are free to voice their opposition through protest," FIRE program officer Anne Marie Tamburro said in a statement to Fox News Digital. "But calls for GMU to disinvite Youngkin are calls for censorship antithetical to students’ intellectual development and GMU’s mission to 'embrace a multitude of people and ideas.'" 


Glenn Youngkin, governor of Virginia, speaks to members of the media

FIRE is urging students at George Mason University to respect differing viewpoints following their calls to remove Gov. Glenn Youngkin as commencement speaker. (Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

"We encourage GMU students to resist censorship and instead enter both their commencement ceremony and life after graduation with a willingness to engage ideas with which they may disagree," Tamburro continued.

FIRE has recorded more than 40 attempts to disinvite speakers from U.S. college campuses since the start of 2022, with the majority of those efforts aiming to cancel conservative guests, according to the group's Disinvitation Database.

Students started a petition at the university following the announcement to host Youngkin as the speaker for the May 18 commencement ceremony at EagleBank Arena. He would become the latest sitting Virginia governor to address George Mason graduates, joining former governors Jim Gilmore, Mark Warner, Tim Kaine and Terry McAuliffe.

The petition, launched by senior Alaina Ruffin, has more than 6,300 signatures as of early Tuesday morning.

"As a Patriot and prospective alumna of George Mason University, I and my peers do not want the memories of our graduation day to be tainted by an individual who has harmed and continues to harm the people he serves," Ruffin wrote on the petition. "On behalf of the GMU Class of 2023, we call on you to sign this petition and demand that George Mason University administration take appropriate action to ensure Governor Youngkin does not attend or speak at the Spring 2023 Commencement Ceremony."

George Mason University

George Mason University announced that Youngkin would deliver the commencement speech in May in front of the university's 2023 graduating class. (Getty)

Ruffin appeared to criticize the governor's record in approving legislation on transgender issues and controversial school curricula. Youngkin's proposals have included banning transgender students from using bathrooms or participating on sports teams that do not correspond with their biological sex, as well as banning critical race theory and sexually explicit books in schools.

"Selecting a speaker that has passed anti-trans legislation, promoted the abolishment of racial equity curricula, and restricted the availability of literature in public schools is an intentional target towards historically marginalized communities comprising Mason," Ruffin wrote. "It is harmful and disrespectful to the many students who continuously shape GMU's community to bring in an individual who has also neglected the needs of Virginians."

"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," she continued. "When satiating its own desire to appease the powerful few, the University, once again, has abandoned these principles."


Youngkin speaking

Glenn Youngkin is scheduled to deliver a speech at George Mason University's May 18 commencement ceremony at EagleBank Arena. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)


The university's student government also released a statement opposing Youngkin as commencement speaker.

"The Youngkin administration has supported and created policies attacking transgender youth, racial and ethnic minorities, and LGBTQ+ individuals," the student government's leadership wrote in a press release. "George Mason University's current motto stands as, ‘fostering Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion’; however, the actions of the Youngkin administration demonstrate their commitment to the opposite. To host Glenn Youngkin at our spring commencement is not only a betrayal towards every minority group on campus, but it also amplifies their hypocrisy and dishonesty from Mason's administration itself."

George Mason University President Gregory Washington said in the announcement about Youngkin's upcoming speech that the governor's "drive for lifelong learning and his entrepreneurial mindset is what we cultivate in all of our graduates."