A day after George Mason University last week announced Gov. Glenn Youngkin as its commencement speaker, a petition began circulating that aims to get the university to change its mind.
The university announced last Wednesday that Youngkin had been chosen as speaker for the May 18 ceremony. University President Gregory Washington cited the governor’s “drive for lifelong learning and his entrepreneurial mindset.” The university also mentioned the $33.4 million in new financial aid for Mason students in the biennial budget Youngkin signed last year.
The petition, started by senior Alaina Ruffin, takes issue with the pick, citing Youngkin’s actions regarding transgender rights, racial equity, and reading materials in public schools. It cites the atmosphere on campus for LGBTQ+ and pro-choice students. It asks the university to “take appropriate action to ensure Governor Youngkin does not attend or speak at the Spring 2023 Commencement Ceremony.”
Youngkin last year changed Virginia policy to require a parental signature if a student wants to be addressed by a name or referred to by a pronoun other than what’s in the student’s record. Students are required to use the facilities and participate in the programs that correspond to their biological sex. He stood firm on his policy changes during a recent town hall on CNN.
Youngkin told WTOP the change was necessary to emphasize “the role of parents in these most important decisions.” The announcement of the changes has led to student walkouts. A couple of Northern Virginia school systems, including Fairfax County and Alexandria, announced that they won’t follow the policy.
Youngkin last month ordered a review of the College Board’s Advanced Placement class in African American history. His administration claimed the course might violate his executive order against teaching “inherently divisive concepts, including critical race theory.”
Critical race theory is the concept that American institutions were founded on racism and perpetuate white supremacy. The concept is not taught in K-12 schools, but has become a hot topic in conservative circles in recent years, applied to any classroom concepts that teach about racism.
Youngkin’s review of the course comes after Florida rejected the course in January. Arkansas, Mississippi, and North Dakota are also reviewing the course, The Washington Post reported.
Virginia law last year was changed to require parents be notified when any sexually explicit content is assigned to their children. The problem, critics say, is the definition of “sexually explicit” — it’s not spelled out in the new law, and some say a vague description could be used as a smokescreen to keep kids from content for less-defensible reasons.
Youngkin spokeswoman Macaulay Porter said in a statement, “Governor Youngkin looks forward to addressing the 2023 graduates of George Mason University and celebrating their tremendous accomplishment.”
Featured image courtesy CNN
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