On September 20, a Republican campaigner representing Vivek Ramaswamy ran a table in the Young Student Center; a collection of students quickly set up their own opposing signs next to it. 

Vivek Ramaswamy, campaigning under Vivek 2024, is a Republican presidential candidate currently running for the party nomination. The signs at the representative’s table listed Ramaswamy’s campaign views, such as “an open border is no border,” “parents determine the education of their children,” and “human flourishing requires fossil fuels.” One of the points that seemed to stand out most to passing students was “there are only two genders,” which a small group took immediate response to.

“You should not be allowed to say there’s only two genders because… who is that benefitting? It’s not factually correct,” junior Katelyn O’Brien stated.

“When I walked in, the first thing I saw, actually, were some people that go to Keene State holding up a lot of signs,” senior Andrew Capello said. “The first thing [I saw] were the LGBTQ+ resources, some were holding flags…and then I turned my head slightly and that’s when I saw the table and I saw the signs. That’s when I immediately realized that’s what it was about.”

Kaitlyn Ferdinand, one of the first students to set up next to the Ramaswamy table, said, “I’m looking at the different points, and I’m just like, ‘This is just hate speech, this is hateful.’ I don’t like that on my campus.”

Ferdinand continued, “[I realized that] I can just go into the campus bookstore and make a sign. So I went in, I got some paint [and] I got a [poster].”

Ferdinand and Levi Leboeuf set up their own sign with a QR code and printed out a list of student resources provided by the college.

One by one, more students joined the protest.

Julia Sterns, president of KSC Pride, said, “I think it’s really inspiring that a lot of queer students came down to protest… to have students come down and see this and say that, ‘No, this isn’t fair, I’m going to do something about it,’ is really inspiring.”

“There’s activism happening,” Sterns continued. “There’s active change.”

When asked what Keene State administration should’ve done, the response from students was generally critical.

Zachary Schraier, when asked his opinion of what happened, said, “This representative had two signs up, and these two signs were very provocative in nature. It seems to have caused some issues on campus.”

Schraier added that a fight almost broke out, resulting in Campus Security being called.

Capello said, “The messages that were being displayed on those signs and at that table were ones I don’t think Keene State should be promoting.”

Ferdinand suggested that administration should screen tables being set up on campus and make sure that the message being put up is kind.

When asked about guidelines for politicians applying to run a table, Accreditation and Assessment Officer Kimberly Schmidl-Gagne said, “This is where free speech gets a little tricky. What I think was really challenging about that table [was that] the language was challenging for a lot of students.”

Schmidl-Gagne said that the perceptions students had for the table changed when they realized that it was for a presidential campaign. The plan for the future is to have tables be clearer in regards to their purpose.

“And if they don’t do that, we may provide some signage of our own to help clarify for students what’s going on.”

In regards to politicians promoting their campaigns at Keene State, Schmidl-Gagne said, “My goal is that the students get to meet the full range of political candidates. It’s a balancing act between free speech, helping the students move to this place in their life, to be engaged active voters and having access to information and not having it be intrusive.”

In regards to the challenging views from political candidates tabling at Keene State, Schmidl-Gagne said, “Yeah, I think it’s everywhere, right? There’s no way around it.”

Continuing, she said, “Dottie [Morris] and I have looked at the language and agree that it is provocative. Inflammatory for some, but it falls under free speech…this is where democracy gets very messy.”

Capello, who works at the Young Student Center, said, “The student center is a public building; anyone is technically able to set up spots in the room or for tabling… this is not the first time we’ve had people like this in the student center.”

In response to the protest, Schmidl-Gagne added, “I thought the students did a great job…I’m very proud of the students who quickly organized, pulled together appropriate stuff, and then stood there for two hours, and smiled at people and talked to people and offered support to people.”

The protesting group of students plans to reserve a table next time the Vivek campaign is on campus.

“We’re gonna stand up for our voice,” Ferdinand said.

The representative running the table had left the area before The Equinox could ask for comment.

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