By Jenna Billings
Public Relations Manager
In the midst of what is arguably the most controversial election in history, Sacred Heart University students and faculty got a closer look at the fanfare surrounding general election campaigns this summer when the university hosted a campaign rally for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
When Trump took the stage in the William H. Pitt Center on Saturday, Aug. 13, he spoke to over 5,000 attendees about a variety of topics, including the Secretary Hillary Clinton email scandal, immigration, and General Electric’s (GE) headquarters relocation from Fairfield, Conn. to Boston, Mass. He named unreasonably high taxes as the reason for GE’s move.
“General Electric: one of the great, great monster great companies. You lost it, so you have got to vote for Trump. You’ve got to vote for Trump as a signal to your incompetent governor that you’re not going to take it anymore,” said Trump.
Political analysts have defined Connecticut as a Democratic state, as it has voted blue in every presidential election since 1988, thus making it a surprising location for Trump to speak.
Regardless of the reason for his visit, Donald Trump caused a stir amongst university members and sparked a larger conversation about whether or not the university should have allowed the rally to occur.
Social media posts authored by students, administration, and faculty expressed concerns about some of Trump’s language and positions on issues, particularly foreign policy and immigration, and how they might offend students. One such post was published on Facebook by Communications and Media Arts professor Greg Golda, and shared by dozens of students.
“As an educator here I welcome and encourage all points of view in my classes as we examine the workings of the mass media. I draw the line at hate-filled speech,” said Golda in his post. “I’m hoping my administration will carry that ethic to the university level in re-examining this decision.”
Some defended Sacred Heart’s decision to allow Trump to speak on campus property in non-political terms.
“Any press is good press for Sacred Heart,” said senior Kelsey Foster, who attended the rally. “Whether or not you believe in Trump’s policies, it is always a good thing to have a well-attended event that will be covered by the media on campus-it definitely boosted our school’s national name recognition.”
President John Petillo took to his blog following the event when addressing criticisms from alumni, students, residents, and faculty.
“Mr. Trump would not be the first controversial person—nor will he be the last—to speak at our University, whether by design or circumstance,” said Petillo.
“As a liberal arts institution, these opportunities provide our students and many diverse audiences the opportunity to assess the facts, observe the actions and measure a speaker’s words. With this first-hand knowledge, we are then better prepared to debate and determine for ourselves a person’s viability, legitimacy and competence. It is a vital step in the democratic process,” said Petillo.
Petillo also addressed the fact that Sacred Heart has now hosted two Republican presidential hopefuls, having hosted Ohio Governor John Kasich this past March.
“Since Mr. Trump’s visit, we have reached out to the Democratic, Green and Libertarian Party campaigns to make it clear to all what our longstanding practice has been and to let them know that our facilities are available to them in the same way they were open to the Trump campaign,” he said.