The Student News Site of Saint Louis University

The University News

The Student News Site of Saint Louis University

The University News

The Student News Site of Saint Louis University

The University News

Protests erupt over far-right speaker on campus

Aditya Gunturu
Sophomore Julian Garcia stands in BSC entryway as officer K. Dalton reaches for handcuffs in her vest, which she was reportedly holding the entire protest, at Saint Louis University on March 26.

Updated on April 4 at 11:38 p.m. to include information provided by Julian Garcia, one of the protesters affiliated with OccupySLU. A previous version of the story named Garcia as the leader of OccupySLU, but instead, the organization’s coalition leads together. This has been changed at the request of the individual.  

OccupySLU protesters, a student activist organization, disrupted far-right republican Allen West’s “Not Propaganda” talk hosted by the College of Republicans leading to potential repercussions for those protesting at Saint Louis University on March 26. 

The event, claiming to be a “historical perspective, not propaganda on the Israel-Hamas conflict,” was met by a group of about 40 protesters led by OccupySLU. One of the members or the organization’s coalition, Julian Garcia, was almost immediately escorted out by DPS officer Joshua Johnson.

Garcia, a sophomore standing psychology major on the pre-law track, was meant to head the protest against West but was escorted out due to blocking the entrance to the event. 

“I totally understood the consequences if I blocked it,” Garcia said. “So [DPS] escorted me out. I didn’t resist obviously, I just blocked them.”

Story continues below advertisement

Garcia explained that he was blocking the door as an act of nonviolent protest to SLU allowing controversial speakers such as West, Troy Horn and Matt Walsh, those that he and OccupySLU consider to be unqualified to speak on matters of immigration, LGBTQIA+, women’s rights and global conflicts.  

“For someone to come in here and call me a bigot and a racist, well that’s just not okay,” West said.

Allen West speaks in front of a crowd mixed with supporters and protesters in the BSC at Saint Louis University on March 26. (Aditya Gunturu)

West’s topics throughout the speech consisted of the history behind the Israel-Palestine war, but cited no sources throughout his speech. West sought to provide historically relevant information to when the Gaza Strip was formed, information about the Holy Wars and religious principles for each side. 

West also mentioned the Instagram post made by OccupySLU that consisted of his face with an Israel-Nazi flag printed on his shoulder, sharing his disgust with the matter. 

After receiving backlash from their post, OccupySLU made another post on their Instagram explaining their actions and stating they are not anti-semitic, but anti-Zionist.

“We use our platform to bring light to the parallels between the Nazis and the IDF,” the post said. “Zionism is white supremacy, and we stand firmly against any ethnocentric ideology that perpetuates genocide.”

OccupySLU Instagram post of an edited Allen West flier that has sparked controversy for the group. (Provided by: Lauren Hutchens)

After giving his speech, West then answered audience questions, where he was asked about his time in the military and experiences in Congress. He was challenged to a debate about the conflict in Palestine. 

Nadia Abusoud, one of the leading four of OccupySLU alongside Garcia, said ahead of the event she compiled a list of quotes made by West consisting of his misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic and anti-Black comments that he has made previously and sent it to the Dean of Students office.

“I connected each one of the things that he said and how they did not relate to the Jesuit mission of the university,” Abusoud said. “As a woman, as a Muslim and as a Palestinian, having him come to talk on campus and [College of Republicans] categorizing it as non-propaganda, does not sit well with me.”

After Abusoud sent her list to the Dean of Students office, she was told they could meet the day of the event, but that this would not change whether the event was held or not.

“Me personally, that [lack of acknowledgment] just made me feel so completely disregarded. I felt almost made a fool of in a way, as she had read the list and seen all the horrible, disgusting things that this man has said,” Abusoud said.

OccupySLU decided to not meet with the Dean of Students as they felt it would not change anything. This, according to Abusoud, brought extra meaning to their protest. 

“[We] hosted a protest against college republicans bringing a speaker to our university who has zero credibility to be spewing misinformation about the genocide in Gaza and spun it as a war on terror when, in reality, it is the Israeli apartheid state’s terror campaign that has slaughtered more than 31,000 civilians to date,” Garcia said.

The secretary of the College of Republicans, Morgan Tomaselli, stated that the event intended to give “historical accuracy on things.”

“Everyone is entitled to the right to protest, as long as we are having differing opinions and talk to each other respectfully, that’s the most important part,” Tomaselli said.

After being escorted out of the room, the group of protesters then sat in a huddle towards the entrance of the BSC shouting chants in unison as DPS surrounded them.

Marquis Govan leads chants to the group of protesters as they sit as a group inside the BSC surrounded by DPS at Saint Louis University on March 26. (Aditya Guruntu)

The protesters peacefully moved out of the BSC and into Pius Memorial XII Library. At this point, only about a quarter of the protesters remained to walk through the library.

“There were people in the library that joined in on the chant,” Garcia said. “It is so ironic. DPS did not even have to remove us.”

The protesters only went up to the second floor of the library chanting for about 10 minutes as other students chimed in on their chants, leaving on their own volition.

After the event, reports and screenshots of potential protesters, though their identities still remain unknown, received emails with a list of violations. These emails, along with a “Drop the Charges, Free OccupySLU” flier and a compiled list of zoomed-in pictures of some protesters seeking information were uploaded on YikYak.

Screenshot of a list of violations that was uploaded anonymously onto YikYak by someone who has potentially faced the following violations.
(Provided by: Lauren Hutchens)

While it is still unclear who is sending or receiving such emails, Clayton Berry, vice president of communications has confirmed that there is an ongoing review on an Instagram post uploaded by OccupySLU.

“The use of antisemitic imagery in a recent social media post by a non-official student group [OccupySLU] was unacceptable and is not in alignment with SLU’s mission and values,” Berry said. “The post is being reviewed in accordance with SLU’s Bias Incident Protocol and other University policies and procedures.”

Seeking information flier about the OccupySLU protesters with zoomed in pictures of their faces that was anonymously posted on Yik Yak.
(Provided by: Ulaa Kuziez)

DPS was not responsible for the “seeking information” flier posted on YikYak and the origin still remains unknown. Chief Melinda Heikkinen of DPS said they will never upload anything onto an anonymous platform. 

After a University News investigation, it was revealed that the email address listed does not exist. According to Garcia, the flier posted on YikYak protesting the alleged charges was not created by OccupySLU.

As of now, OccupySLU has made an announcement stating they will temporarily stop their weekly Starbuck’s sit-ins due to multiple “doxing threats to protesters and racially targeted phone harassment.”

They confirmed that there is an ongoing administrative investigation into the doxing and threats but emphasized to not believe any misinformation spread on YikYak.

“The anonymous threats made by those who want to intimidate us into silence and complicity will NEVER keep us from advocating for truth and justice,” read the post. 

The announcement ended by saying they as an organization “are not going anywhere.”

As far as the event went, president of the College of Republicans, Alexandra Leung, who helped plan and host the event, said they gained more members to their club after the event. 

“Even if you disagree with a topic that is being presented to you, I felt the disruption of the event was completely disrespectful since that was not the time nor the place,” Leung said.

Leung also explained that the event was fully funded by the Young America’s Foundation which aims to increase free speech and conservative ideas on campus. She said she hopes that the university will recognize this and help them invest in similar events in the future. 

Students also expressed their disappointment in West’s presence on campus in an open letter to the SLU administration. The letter was signed by several on campus committees including the SGA Diversity Leadership Cabinet and International Affairs Committees.

“Allen West is not just a speaker that happens to be aligned to conservatism and Republican values,” read the letter. “As a collective, we reject the associations that West has made regarding Muslims alongside his other bigoted commentary.”  

OccupySLU declined to comment on any of the emails, ongoing cases or investigations going around.

The division of diversity and innovative community engagement and its representatives also declined to comment on ongoing cases.


View Comments (1)
Donate to The University News
Our Goal

Your donation will support the student journalists of Saint Louis University. Your contribution will help us cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
About the Contributors
Lauren Hutchens
Lauren Hutchens, News Editor
As a news editor, Lauren finds pride in meeting people, developing stories and learning more about various topics on a personal level. Lauren has always enjoyed writing since she was young, which has brought her to where she is today. From St. Louis, she is familiar with the city's beauties and struggles. This year, Lauren is hoping to delve into deep topics that pertain to campus life and spread awareness of issues not often talked about.
Sophia Brummond
Sophia Brummond, Copy Editor
Donate to The University News
Our Goal

Comments (1)

All The University News Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • C

    C GreenMay 20, 2024 at 1:56 pm

    As a SLU alumnus, I have always been proud of my association with the university. But over the last several years, I have grown increasingly uncomfortable and even ashamed of the behavior of a small, but vocal, minority of students who seem intent on tearing down all that is good about SLU. Case in point is the protests against Allen West. No one is required to listen to Mr. West, no one is required to agree with him. But obviously, based on the invitation, there are those who DO want to listen to Mr. West. When a tiny group of reactionary students attempt to block entry into the lecture, and attempt to disrupt the speech, as if they were a bunch of children throwing a fit when their parents would not buy them a new toy, is an embarrassment to the university, to its students, and to its alumni.

    Instead of protesting and disrupting, why did OccupySLU not engage in civil discourse with Mr. West? If they were so certain of their facts and the rightness of their cause, why did they not ask him questions during the Q &A, forcing him to answer difficult questions, and requiring him to defend his positions? Could it be that OccupySLU is not so certain about their own facts and beliefs? Perhaps they are not interested in getting answers and proving the rightness of their cause, but rather are interested in making a scene and getting attention?

    It would appear that Dr. Pestello’s capitulation to OccupySLU in 2014 has only emboldened and encouraged the group to continue to act in such a juvenile way. I miss the days of Father Biondi.