Accountability, free speech protesters clash over actions of College Republicans


Matthew Brown

Attendees gathered for the “Hold Kent State Republicans Accountable” protest bear signs with social media messages pulled from College Republicans members’ social media accounts May 1, 2023.

Adriana Gasiewski, Reporter

Editor’s note: A quote from Emmett Geul was removed because it incorrectly stated the Kent State Students for a Democratic Society had a part in planning the protest against the College Republicans and created/distributed a flyer about the event.

Two months after Kent State College Republicans hosted a screening for the documentary “What is a Woman?” March 20, protesters are demanding that they be held accountable for their actions.

Senior fashion design major Autumn Pritchard organized Monday’s protest to hold the College Republicans accountable through Instagram. Pritchard’s concerns come from the viewing of the documentary.

“They have delegitimized the trans, non-binary and queer experience by sharing this film, because in the film, there is quotes such as that LGTBQ people and trans people need to stay out of public, they are freaks and need to stay out of public for their own safety,” Pritchard said.

Kent State student and protest organizer Autumn Pritchard speaks to gathered protesters during the “Hold Kent State Republicans Accountable” protest May 1, 2023. (Matthew Brown)

Another reason Pritchard felt the College Republicans should be held accountable is for their leaked messages.

“There were also messages such as ‘What are they going to do? Call the National Guard?’ Which is not only extremely insensitive to May 4 but also extremely dangerous because it enlists violence,” Pritchard said.

A petition made by senior visual design communication major Marina Difranco was made in response to these messages and brought to the dean of student affairs.

“It [the petition] was brought to the dean of student affairs,” Pritchard said.” He said that a lot of these messages were not enough to think it would enlist violence, which it clearly does, especially when you are saying something like, ‘Do you want Nazi, I’ll show them real Nazi.’”

Pritchard explained why she felt the need to give people the opportunity to voice their concerns about holding the College Republicans accountable for their words.

“I feel like not only do they need to be held accountable for these messages and the film that they showed making students extremely uncomfortable on campus to the point that they don’t feel safe being here.” She continued, “But also I think there needs to be a policy change in the university to hold hate speech accountable.”

She then explained how those such as Difranco have been treated since the creation of the petition.

“The person that started the original petition to have them held accountable can’t even be on campus right now because she has been stalked, harassed and given death threats toward her and her family.”

Kent State College Republicans painted the rock with a message advocating for freedom of speech May 1, 2023. (Matthew Brown)

Many have expressed similar sentiments to Pritchard in regards to the safety of certain students being in jeopardy.

“I feel like any student organization on campus should be a safe space for everyone and I feel that the Kent State Republicans are making it clear that LGBTQ members are not welcomed, especially trans folk,” said freshman fashion design major Grace Goodin.

Goodin was not satisfied with the university’s response to such issues and proposed what she believes should have been done.

“It’s hard, I know that there is politics within the university and within administration but, just the group chat in particular and the posters in the LGBTQ center and the amount of posters in the LGBTQ center,” she said. “Those things in specific should have been enough for the university to ask the Republicans to at least apologize, at least address that the things in the group chat are not what they represent because they have not done so yet.”

Goodin also felt that the lack of trans support should not only be unwelcomed amongst the College Republicans but also for any Kent student organization.

“I feel like specifically with the Kent State Republicans, trans lives and LGBTQ rights should not be a part of their agenda and it should not be a possibility for any organization to basically say we do not support our trans women,” said Goodin.

Former Kent State student Helena Richardson felt that the lack of support for members of the LGBTQ+ community extended past the university into the city of Kent.

“A lot of my friends have been having people throw things at them while they’re trying to walk home and yelled really derogatory hate speech slurs and it’s getting scary so I just wanted to be here and be with everyone,” said Richardson.

Richardson felt that the situation regarding the College Republicans plays a part in such hate.

“I think it magnifies the divisions between people and I think it feels dangerous. I don’t think it’s helpful. It doesn’t come with love,” she said.

While some students were protesting about holding the College Republicans accountable, the College Republicans were taking part in an anti protest about free speech.

Blake Shiplett speaks to attendees gathered for the “Free Speech Party” about how to conduct themselves before the counter-protest begins May 1, 2023. (Matthew Brown)

Freshman political science major and member of the Kent State College Republicans Emmett Geul explained why the College Republicans organized their free speech protest.

“We streamed a documentary called ‘What is a Woman?’ and we had a pretty large turnout, and the leftist organization on campus didn’t liked that we watched that, so they decided to stage a protest so we decided to counterprotest to make it fun vibes saying hate speech is free speech and there is no real definition of hate speech so we’re out here supporting free speech,” said Geul.

Geul then explained briefly the original intent of the leaked messages.

“A lot of them were taken out of context, like supremely out of context. So they were making a joke of how leftists always go overboard and how they would send in the national guard if we started protesting them,” he said.

He began to explain how the flyers for the documentary were handed out on campus.

“We advertised all around campus. We put them in the library, in the basement of the Student Center here so just getting the message out to people to get interested in our club,” he said. “You can be on the left or right, we welcome all to our meeting.” In regards to the reaction of the documentary, Geul stated that they were positive until after spring break.

When questioned whether what the College Republicans did was considered hate speech, Geul responded.

Kent State student Emmett Geul joins other students in a counter-protest hosted by the Kent State College Republicans May 1, 2023. (Matthew Brown)

“No, definitely not because we didn’t call for the violence of any group of people and to classify hate speech as something that’s a pretty dangerous road to go down because people can start classifying hate speech as whatever they don’t like,” he said.

Recent Kent physics and political science graduate and former Kent State College Republican member Jameson Payne echoed similar sentiments to Geul.

“It’s not hate speech because we’re not calling for violence against anyone, in fact quite the contrary, we think that free speech should be open to anyone without fear of repercussions in the form of violence or social shunnings,” said Payne.

While others such as sophomore photography major Noah Cook felt differently about it.

“It’s hate speech, hate speech is not free speech. It’s as simple as that and if they’re going to try to say that isn’t hateful then they’re just being illogical at that point,” he said. “I’m not going to try to argue with people who aren’t using reason.” 

Although Pritchard was disheartened by the counter-protest from the College Republicans, she was pleased by the amount of support that came and is considering future actions.

“Moving forward, if this continues to happen and the university does not want to hold them responsible for their actions, maybe I’ll start a petition about there being a policy change at the university to hold student organizations to a higher standard,” said Pritchard.

She explained what types of changes she’d like to see.

“Not to limit their speech but, if transphobic, homophobic or sexist things like that maybe change policy that hate speech does have consequences because other universities do have policies in place that do not allow any certain of hate speech on campus because it makes its students feel uncomfortable and not safe,” she said.

Pritchard wanted to assure people in the LGBTQ+ community that they have support on campus.

“No matter who you are trans, queer, woman, anything in between, that you’re welcome here on campus,” she said. “There’s a loving community on campus.”

Adriana Gasiewski is a reporter. Contact her at [email protected].