Former secretary Condoleezza Rice speaks in Thorne, students protest

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Author: Rachel Cohn

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice came to campus Monday afternoon to discuss her views on the state of international politics and domestic policy, in addition to the role race has played in her own career, as part of the Jack Kemp ’57 Distinguished Lecture Series. Before, during and after the speech students protested her presence at Occidental, drawing attention to her involvement in the U.S. decision to invade Iraq in 2003, which contributed to over 1 million casualties, according to a flyer supplied by student activists.

Rice’s speech was followed by an interview-style conversation moderated by Professor Coit Blacker ‘72, Rice’s friend and colleague at Stanford University. Blacker’s questions to Rice were informed by questions submitted by members of the audience in advance of the speech, which he sorted into four categories: the primary challenges and opportunities confronting the world, the state of American politics in 2016, race in modern America and personal questions about Rice’s past, present and future.

In the hour before Rice’s speech, roughly 20 students gathered along the walkway leading from the JSC quad to the security checkpoint in front of Thorne Hall. Students passed out fliers featuring a smiling picture of Rice positioned beside a list of claims about her endorsement of torture during the Bush administration.

These allegations included her support of torture in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, her dishonesty in relaying information about U.S. torture to the non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch and her failure to follow international protocol about the treatment of prisoners of war outlined in the Geneva Conventions.

At the security line, a staff member advised those charged with checking tickets and giving out name tags to collect the fliers and prevent them being brought into the auditorium.

During the speech, following an introduction by President Jonathan Veitch, a second phase of the protests began. An additional group of students dressed in black, scattered in seats throughout the auditorium, stood up as Rice made her way to the podium. As she began to speak, the students turned their backs to her.

Appearing unfazed by the protestors, Rice thanked Occidental for inviting her to speak and continued with her prepared comments, with no acknowledgment of the demonstrators. Throughout Rice’s remarks at the podium, the demonstrators remained standing, until they were asked to leave by administrators. In small groups, protesters began to exit Thorne Hall during the first half of Rice’s speech, with the last students leaving at the beginning of the discussion moderated by Blacker.

In her comments, Rice spoke of her commitment to democratic values and the importance of bringing “free markets and free peoples” to nations around the world. As a challenge to the spread of democracy, she mentioned two major global problems: states that were failing in places like the Middle East, and states that were behaving badly, including Russia and China.

In addition to her discussion of international politics, Rice also spoke critically about the need to reexamine U.S. domestic policy. In particular, she drew attention to the “crisis in K–12 education,” calling on college students at Occidental and elsewhere to make greater efforts to assist and educate those who are not as privileged to attend college. She drew the loudest applause of the afternoon when she criticized the U.S. refugee policy.

“It is at our peril that we turn our backs on immigrants,” Rice said.

By the end of her prepared comments, most student protesters had left Thorne Hall after confrontation with members of the administration. According to Interim Dean of Students Erica O’Neal Howard, student protesters were asked repeatedly to sit down because they were blocking the view of those sitting behind them and thus preventing others from enjoying the speech. Howard suggested that student protesters violated both the Right to Dissent and Demonstration Policy as well as the Code of Student Conduct and were subject to discipline in accordance with the latter of those policies.

In comments made after the speech, several student protesters, who asked to remain anonymous, explained they were given three options by administrators: sit down, leave or face academic disciplinary action. Most left the lecture before the conclusion of Rice’s speech, though all eventually exited the hall.

Following the speech, a larger group of students — including some of the demonstrators who had been asked to leave Thorne Hall and some of the students passing out fliers at the beginning of the event — sat on either side of the grass lining the entrance to Thorne. A few additional students joined their peers as they left after the conclusion of the event. Many students wore black tape over their mouths and had red paint covering their hands. According to a Facebook event titled “In Protest of Condoleeza Rice,” this final stage of the protest was intended to be a die-in to honor those who had been killed in wars waged by the Bush administration, in which Rice served.

At the time of publication, no student leaders of the protest were available for comment.

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