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UIC Students Will Protest Far-Right Speakers Charlie Kirk, Candace Owens Thursday

The university is not sponsoring the event, but school leaders are "committed to upholding the First Amendment" and protecting the rights of speakers to share their views, a spokesperson said.

Students walking through UIC campus on the Near West Side Monday.
Mauricio Peña/ Block Club Chicago
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NEAR WEST SIDE — University of Illinois Chicago students will protest a Thursday event organized by a student-led chapter of conservative group Turning Point USA.

Far-right media personalities Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens — who have created controversy with bigoted rhetoric — are scheduled to speak 7 p.m. Thursday at UIC’s Dorin Forum, 725 W. Roosevelt Road.

UIC Against Hate, a coalition of undergraduate- and graduate student-led affinity and progressive groups, will protest the event. The protest starts 5 p.m. Thursday at UIC’s quad. Attendees will march toward the front of the forum, organizers said.

Turning Point USA at UIC did not return requests for comment.

The national arm of the “right-wing student organization” has promoted conspiracy theories about election fraud and COVID-19 and has “demonized” transgender people, according to the Anti-Defamation League. Kirk’s events have attracted racists, extremists and white nationalists, according to the defamation league.

Thursday’s event is part of a nationwide college campus tour to speak about “American values,” according to an event listing.

Credit: UIC Against Hate
Students on UIC’s campus were seen tabling ahead of a Turning Point USA event planned for Thursday.

UIC Against Hate members said Kirk and Owens have propagated hate speech and their presence on campus makes minority students feel unsafe. A petition against the event has more than 300 signatures.

Egle, a UIC graduate student who asked not to use their last name for fear the event could draw violent hate groups, said the university “has no place for fascists on campus” and the school isn’t doing enough to protect minority students.

They pointed to comments Kirk, who is from the suburbs, made Monday in which he called LGBTQ+ identification a “social contagion,” according to nonprofit Media Matters.

“He’s doing a college tour and bringing racist and hateful rhetoric to a place where there’s a variety of students from different backgrounds. It’s a safety risk,” said Egle, a DACA recipient. “It makes me upset about the hypocrisy of UIC, which says it is a welcoming and diverse institution, for them to allow an event like this to take place.”

In a statement, UIC spokesperson Sherri McGinnis Gonzalez said the event is not sponsored by the university and UIC’s branch of Turning Point USA is not a registered student organization.

The student group rented out the venue for the event, but a “rental agreement does not constitute endorsement,” McGinnis Gonzalez said.

“UIC’s core values of freedom, equality and social justice for all, regardless of race, religion, national origin, disability status or sexual orientation, are deeply rooted in our diverse community and not endangered by the presence of any speaker or organization on campus,” McGinnis Gonzalez said. “Consistent with its role as a public university, UIC is committed to upholding the First Amendment.”

The university supports “counter-speech” from protesters and is “working closely with the event sponsor” to ensure safety and security plans, McGinnis Gonzalez said.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
The Chicago skyline is visible as students cross Roosevelt Road at Halsted Street in University Village on Feb. 16, 2022.

Students voiced concerns about the Turning Point USA event at a February town hall with administrators, who told them the event would continue as planned “basically because of free speech and that they paid for it,” said Nathan, another organizer who asked not to use his last name.

“This situation has really put the university’s supposed values to a test,” Nathan said.

UIC Against Hate has been in contact with students at University of California-Santa Barbara, where hundreds protested Kirk’s appearance last week, organizers said. The group is hoping to model their action off a 2016 protest that led former President Donald Trump to cancel a rally at the UIC Pavilion, students said.

“Now, people are raising the alarm again,” Egle said. “Except this time it’s the silence that’s most telling.”

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