WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas technical school canceled plans for Ivanka Trump to give a virtual commencement speech to graduates because of criticism of President Donald Trump’s response to protests over the death of George Floyd.
Administrators at Wichita State University and WSU Tech announced the decision late Thursday, just hours after they had announced that the president’s daughter would be speaking to WSU Tech graduates. Administrators of both universities, which are affiliated, said Saturday’s graduation for the technical university would be “refocused” on students, with a nursing graduate as the only speaker.
Ivanka Trump visited WSU Tech’s National Center for Aviation Training last fall. She responded in a tweet, saying, “Our nation’s campuses should be bastions of free speech. Cancel culture and viewpoint discrimination are antithetical to academia. Listening to one another is important now more than ever!”
The tweet included a link to YouTube video of her telling the students who finished their degrees amid a global pandemic, “You are a wartime graduate,” and that their training has prepared them “for exactly this moment.”
The announcement that the president’s daughter would speak drew immediate criticism, led by Jennifer Ray, associate professor of photo media at Wichita State, who sent a letter asking school administrators to cancel the speech. It circulated on social media and garnered 488 signatures from faculty, students and alumni before the speech was canceled, The Wichita Eagle reported.
While noting that Wichita State does not have administrative control over WSU Tech, Ray said having Trump speak would taint both institutions. Protests have broken out around the world since Floyd, who was black, died in Minneapolis after a white police officer pressed a knee on his neck for several minutes even after he stopped moving and pleading for air.
Ray wrote that President Trump has said he might use federal military troops to quell the U.S. demonstrations and has made his “callous disregard” for minorities well known, while refusing to criticize police tactics during the demonstrations.
“We owe it to our students to stand up for the right thing when and where we can,” Ray wrote. “To our students of color, and to me, inviting Ivanka Trump to speak right now sends the message that WSU Tech does not take diversity seriously.”
In a separate statement, WSU Tech President Sheree Utash acknowledged that “the timing of the announcement was insensitive” and apologized.
Republican U.S. Rep. Ron Estes, who joined Ivanka Trump on the trip to the Wichita State facility, said in a statement that he was “disappointed.”
“As Kansas faces many challenges recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic to get back to our booming economy,” he said, “now is the time for us to be working together.”