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Student Protests Surge Ahead of Kyle Rittenhouse Event at Kent State

KENT, OH - Kyle Rittenhouse, whose actions in Kenosha, Wisconsin in 2020 led to a high-profile legal battle and polarized national discourse, is slated to speak at Kent State University on April 16, 2024. The event, organized by the university’s chapter of Turning Point USA, has ignited a firestorm of controversy reminiscent of the campus's tragic history involving protest and violence.

Kyle Rittenhouse, left, with backwards cap, is shown Tuesday, the night of the shooting, in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Adam Rogan/The Journal Times via AP
Kyle Rittenhouse, left, is shown the night of the shooting, in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Adam Rogan/The Journal Times via AP

Turning Point USA, a conservative organization that champions limited government and free markets, announced Rittenhouse's engagement as their semester's highlight speaker. The event is set to take place at the Kiva Auditorium and promises an intense focus on themes like freedom and patriotism, core to the group’s mission. Rittenhouse, acquitted in 2021 after claiming self-defense for shooting three men during civil unrest, has become a contentious figure, symbolizing both victimhood and vigilantism, depending on one's viewpoint.

Rittenhouse's post-trial period has been marked by a visible alignment with conservative platforms and causes. His engagements range from meetings with prominent political figures to participation in conservative media productions. Additionally, ventures like a controversial video game for raising legal funds have kept him in the public eye.

The choice of Rittenhouse as a speaker at Kent State is laden with irony and pain, given the university's history. Nearly 54 years ago, the campus was the site of the Kent State shootings, where four students were killed by the Ohio National Guard during a protest against the Vietnam War. This event has left a lasting scar on the university's psyche, symbolizing the dangers of state overreach and the volatile mix of youth activism and military presence.

In response to the announcement, student and local groups have organized protests. The Kent State Spanish and Latine Student Association and the Ohio Student Association are at the forefront, planning a march, vigil, and walkout. Their mobilization centers on themes of racial justice and the inappropriateness of Rittenhouse's presence at a place marred by violence against protestors. Promotional materials for these events feature powerful symbols like raised multicolored fists and calls to amplify marginalized voices, highlighting a continuation of the university's legacy of activism.

Turning Point USA at Kent State has publicly addressed the growing backlash, asserting their commitment to a safe and orderly event. Their statement emphasizes adherence to university policy, which protects free speech while prohibiting actions that would obstruct or interfere with the event. The statement also underscores the planned security measures, including mandatory ID and contact information collection at the door, and a significant police presence, reflecting the tense atmosphere surrounding the event.

Social media reactions have been overwhelmingly negative towards Rittenhouse's appearance. Comments on Turning Point USA’s posts reveal a community deeply divided, with many expressing concerns about safety and the message his presence sends. Interviews with students conducted by TPUSA show a split in opinion, illustrating the broader national debate over the boundaries of free speech, especially in academic settings. Cleveland 13 News contributors are standing by to provide updates on this event.

Additional news coverage on this, from other local networks, can be found at the following sources:

  • IdeaStream, "Kent State Students Plan Walkout to Protest Kyle Rittenhouse Speech," published on April 15, 2024. Available online.

  • Spectrum News 1 Columbus, "Kyle Rittenhouse to Speak at Kent State University," published on March 22, 2024. Available online.

  • Atlanta Black Star, "Opposition Mounts Against Kyle Rittenhouse's Kent State Visit; Nearly 5000 People Sign Petitions Calling for Speaking Event's Cancellation," published on April 13, 2024. Available online.



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