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Former vice president Mike Pence discusses critical race theory, freedom of speech during event at Old Cabell Hall Tuesday

Pence covered a wide range of topics before answering questions from students in the audience

<p>Pence discussed President Joe Biden and criticized his administration for rising inflation, largely unsuccessful attempts at major policy overhaul on the U.S. border, the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan and Biden’s response to the war in Ukraine.</p>

Pence discussed President Joe Biden and criticized his administration for rising inflation, largely unsuccessful attempts at major policy overhaul on the U.S. border, the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan and Biden’s response to the war in Ukraine.

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Former vice president Mike Pence discussed critical race theory, freedom of speech and current issues like the Ukraine-Russia conflict and rising inflation during an event held in Old Cabell Hall at 7 p.m. Tuesday evening. The visit was the latest in a speaking tour titled “How to Save America from the Woke Left,” part of the Young America’s Foundation

The event was hosted by Young Americans for Freedom, a student organization at the University. The group has previously attracted criticism for an event it hosted in November titled “In Defense of Mr. Jefferson.” Students hung signs around Grounds and defaced promotional materials ahead of the event, criticizing its organizers for overlooking Jefferson’s history of enslavement at the University. The national organization, meanwhile, previously posted selectively-edited videos of a Student Council meeting, leading to the harassment of several representatives of color.

During Tuesday night’s event, Nickolaus Cabrera, chairman of YAF and second-year College student, introduced Pence and noted the controversy surrounding Pence’s visit to the University. 

The University became the center of national attention after an editorial published by The Cavalier Daily drew controversy. Faculty wrote both in support of and against the editorial, and University President Jim Ryan and Provost Ian Baucom also wrote in response to the situation.

Cabrera began his speech by drawing attention to The Cavalier Daily, then warned audience members not to disrupt or impede the former vice president’s speech. Cabrera then welcomed Pence to the stage, who described his personal and professional history from growing up in Indiana to starting a career in Congress.

Pence said much of his identity relies on his deep religious beliefs. 

“I’m a Christian, a conservative and a Republican — in that order,” Pence said.

Pence described his time as vice president under former president Donald Trump, highlighting achievements including rebuilding the U.S. military, creating jobs, reducing illegal immigration and mobilizing a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Notably, Pence did not discuss Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election or the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Pence also discussed President Joe Biden and criticized his administration for rising inflation, largely unsuccessful attempts at major policy overhaul on the U.S. border, the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan and Biden’s response to the war in Ukraine. 

In reference to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Pence called on the Biden administration to provide more military and humanitarian aid and to increase economic sanctions. 

“Putin only understands strength, and America must meet this moment with American strength,” Pence said.

Although the conflict between Russia and Ukraine has been ongoing since Russia’s seizure of Crimea in 2014, the conflict escalated Feb. 24 following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine. In response, President Joe Biden placed a number of sanctions on Russia – including banning Americans from investing in Russia and placing sanctions on Putin’s daughters and some of his political colleagues. 

Pence also criticized Biden’s response to critical race theory. In March 2021, Biden reversed Trump’s September 2020 Executive Order censoring federal contracting from using “offensive and anti-American race and sex stereotyping.” According to the American Bar Association, critical race theory is “a practice of interrogating the role of race and racism in society that emerged in the legal academy and spread to other fields of scholarship.” Pence claimed that public schools in the U.S. were turning towards “political indoctrination” instead of education. 

“Critical race theory is nothing more than state-sanctioned racism and it should be rejected by every state in every city in this country,” Pence said.

Some state legislatures — such as the Georgia state legislature —  have recently passed bills banning teachers in public schools from teaching students that the state or nation is inherently racist. Critics say these bills are vaguely worded and represent a wave of censorship. Newly-elected Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin promised during his campaign to ban the teaching of critical race theory in schools. Pence mentioned Youngkin during his speech, saying that the newly-elected Governor won his election by focusing on Virginia’s educational freedom.

“I'm telling you what, that election was about education freedom,” Pence said. “It's about empowering parents.”

Freedom was a consistent theme of the speech.

“This generation, I believe, is a freedom generation,” Pence said. “The truth is, every one of you must be prepared to stand on the ramparts of freedom in your life.” 

During the question and answer section of the event, five students asked Pence a question. One student asked Pence’s opinion on first-year College student Emma Weyant’s second-place finish in the NCCA 500-yard freestyle behind Lia Thomas, the first transgender woman to win an NCAA swimming championship. 

Pence responded by misgendering Thomas, adding that in his perspective, Weyant “won that race.”

“Common sense needs to reign, and it will reign,” Pence said.

Another student commented that he theorized that one cause of division in America today was a lost presumption of good intent, or that people no longer assume that those they interact with have good intentions. Pence responded that it is important to maintain civility and respect.

“Democracy depends on heavy doses of civility,” Pence said. “So as you stand for your values, do so with gentleness and respect. That's how we move our country forward.”

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