The police presence was heavy Monday night at the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex (KCAC) for IUP’s Turning Point USA chapter event. 

Charlie Kirk, TPUSA founder and executive director, visited IUP to the disappointment of protesters. Chalk writings in the Oak Grove were in opposition to the event, one of which read “The IUP Way enables bigotry.”

The protesters consisted of students and Indiana residents. 

The leader of the student protests, Alaura Johnson (sophomore, criminology), IUP’s NAACP chapter president, said they felt their voices were not being heard, and they do not support the “professor watch list,” which TPUSA has on its website to “advance radical agenda in lecture halls.”

“Defamation is not okay,” Johnson said. “It’s only a matter of time before Dr. Downie is on there.”

Johnson was referring to Dr. Alison Downie, a religious studies professor at IUP who was under criticism for taking disciplinary actions against Lake Ingle (senior, religious studies) when he disrupted the class and pushed that there were only two genders.

TPUSA member Mariah Browning (senior, child development) was outside, watching the protestors and occasionally responding to their comments.

“They deserve the right to protest,” Browning said. “We’re just happy it was peaceful.”

The event kicked off with a TPUSA staffer asking everyone to rise for the national anthem. 

During a staffer’s rendition of the national anthem, many audience members removed their hats, sang along and cheered at its finale. 

Before Kirk approached the podium, he was introduced by Brandon Uhalik (senior, communications media), IUP’s TPUSA president, as well as two other members of the organization, Jonathan Cintron (senior, criminology and political science) and Maggie McGahen (senior, economics). 

Uhalik praised the KCAC and its staff; his chapter members; Kevin Thelen, the director of public safety and university police at IUP; and the police force present at the event. 

After his introduction, Kirk approached the podium to loud applause. 

He was sporting a blazer with a T-shirt underneath that said “There are only two genders.” Kirk wasted no time once introduced.

“I took high school biology;  there’s two genders and you’re done,” Kirk said. 

He went on to criticize Bill Nye “The Science Guy,” and said the science didn’t change, Nye had become “a mouthpiece for the liberals.”

Ingle, who recently came into the public spotlight because of the dispute between himself and Downie, was in attendance for the event but maintained that he was not affiliated with TPUSA. 

“Free speech is under attack on college campuses,” Kirk said before pointing out Ingle. 

“Thank you for what you’re doing,” Kirk told the IUP student who appeared on Fox News to share his side of the dispute. The audience erupted into applause for the student.

The religious studies professor involved in the dispute, Downie, gave her first public response to the event in an April 3 statement.

In a March 23 student testimonial in The Penn, Katherine Bradshaw (junior, religious studies), who was present during the class when Ingle and Downie allegedly argued, criticized the press coverage and the way Ingle handled the event. 

During the Q&A section of Kirk’s appearance, the Ingle incident was brought up again, and Kirk gave Ingle a chance to respond directly to the question. 

Logan Hullinger (senior, journalism and public relations), a reporter for The HawkEye, asked Ingle, “Were you mischaracterized by your classmates?”

“Is it possible they have a bias against me?” Ingle asked in response, to a loud applause from the audience.

Sticking with the topic of gender, another student brought up that certain Native American and African tribes had concepts of multiple genders long before the current political debate was ever acknowledged. 

“Just because someone believes an idea for a long time doesn’t make it right,” Kirk said.

Kirk covered a wide variety of topics from the border wall and immigration to Hillary Clinton and the Democratic party to the First Amendment, hate speech and the press.

“The answer to hate speech is not shutting them up; it’s more speech,” Kirk said on the topic of ending hate speech. He also criticized the press.

“CNN is fake news, by the way,” Kirk said, which triggered a loud applause from the audience.

In contrast to the conservative speaker visiting IUP, the university also welcomed Holocaust survivor Moshe Baran to speak about his experience at the Six O’Clock Series: The Dangers of Hate Speech. 

Baran also writes an anti-hate blog called “Language Can Kill: Messages of Genocide.”

IUP’s department of journalism and public relations also welcomed Pulitzer Prize winner and IUP alumna Alysia Steele, who gave an optimistic outlook for the future of journalism at a lecture held in the Humanities and Social Sciences Building the same day.

“Journalism isn’t dying,” Steele said. “It’s evolving.”

One of the main messages of Kirk’s appearance was the need for civil discourse, and the inevitability of disagreeing with people’s ideologies but being able to discuss facts and statistics without being swayed by emotion.

“There’s two people in the world that care about how you feel: yourself and your mother,” Kirk said.

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