Students, faculty and staff at Eastern Kentucky University made their voices heard in several ways over the course of the week, stemming from the announcement of the upcoming presidential visit of Donald Trump, who is campaigning for Congressman Andy Barr.
On Tuesday, a forum was held involving campus faculty and staff, students and EKU President Michael Benson to discuss their concerns over the Saturday rally. Many in the forum shared their experiences of sexual assault, racism or harassment that has occurred on and off campus.
Several students said they felt as though bringing Trump to the campus will only embolden those who support a message of hate and racism, making them question if the school cares about their safety.
"I just don't understand how you have this campus where you want to push the agenda of diversity, you accept all these people, but then once they get here, you're not protecting them, you're not accepting them, because you're allowing this (Trump rally) to happen," said London Nelson, an EKU student, during the forum.
Many echoed the same sentiments and called on Benson to make a public statement regarding the event.
On Wednesday, 120 faulty and professional staff sent a signed letter to Benson and the Board of Regents, which was sent in the "… profound opposition to the Donald J. Trump for President Campaign." The letter stated it was not due to any differences in opinion with the political content that will be present at the rally, but rather, objecting to the campaign "… which has consistently, openly and unambiguously attacked the values of inquiry, learning and free speech, which lie at the heart of higher education and form the core mission of this university."
Gerald Nachtwey, associate professor at EKU, said during the revision of the letter, the creators realized that the true audience they were trying to reach was going to be students and community members who felt threatened and silenced by the presence of the Trump administration on EKU's campus and in Richmond.
"For very legitimate legal reasons the rally must be allowed to take place, but we did not want people to think that EKU's role in hosting the event meant that everyone -- or even most people -- in the university community endorsed it," Nachtwey said in an email to The Register. "Moreover, we wanted to acknowledge the contradiction inherent in bringing to a college campus a campaign that, in its rhetoric and actions, has attacked both open discourse and academic inquiry."
Nachtwey said Benson emailed him back personally, acknowledging he had received the letter and that he was polite in his response. The 120 signers of the letter also stated that since the announcement of the Trump campaign, they have heard many reports from students who have become concerned for their physical safety.
Per the letter, "We want to acknowledge that the fears of these students are fully justified and are founded in the attested fact that real acts of violence have occurred at and around other rallies sponsored by this campaign in the past three years. We sincerely hope that all measures humanly possible will be taken to ensure the well-being of every single person on campus in the time leading up to, during and after this rally."
One Richmond resident, Scott Richmond, said it's great to have a sitting president come to the area.
"Him coming is a great privilege and honor for this county. If you don't like him, then don't go. If you do -- then go," Richmond said. "But we just need to find a way to heal and move forward."
Richmond isn't the only person who is excited for the president to come to town. Many readers of The Register have voiced their pleasure in the upcoming visit on the paper's Facebook page.
One reader, Paula Isaacs, said "We welcome him very much! Not offended by his coming here at all!!!"
Another, Stacey Carpenter, said "I think it's great! I'm a Democrat, and I have no problem with the president coming. This doesn't happen very often!! Throw in that the president is a well-known celebrity and business man and it raises the excitement level. Who would've thought Trump would ever be coming to Richmond?!"
The cumulation of events came to a head on Thursday afternoon, as students, faculty and staff took to campus in a unity march, chanting things such as "Show me what democracy looks like, this is what democracy looks like." As students made their march around campus, it drew the attention of people passing by, some who shouted their approval -- or their opposition -- of what they were doing.
At the end of the march, attendees gathered in The Ravine to share their thoughts about the visit on Saturday. Benson was in attendance as students, staff and faculty gathered.
"First off, I think this is great, I think this is the First Amendment in action -- the right to assemble, the right to speech, the right to press -- and that's what this is about," Benson said.
Benson also mentioned that a board member plans on being in attendance at the rally on Saturday to mingle with both sides, protestors and supporters, but Benson himself would not be there.
"I don't want this event to define who we are," Benson said. "I don't want this event to, in any way, divide our campus. And I feel like it is for a lot of students, and it's my responsibility to let them know that I support them, and I'm glad they're here."
Reach Kaitlyn Skovran at 624-6608; follow her on Twitter @kaitlynskovran.