Multiple students of color were denied entry at the Turning Point USA-sponsored “Talking With Tomi” event at the University of New Mexico Student Union Building’s Ballroom B on Thursday, Sept. 15. Students who were denied entry did have tickets but were turned away by Turning Point staff, according to Tyler Jacobs, one of the UNM students who was denied. Multiple witnesses at the event reported seeing students being denied entry.
“Pretty much I was the first person of color to try to get in and then immediately after two white people came in and (the event organizers) said, ‘They look normal, they can go in’,” Jacobs said.
Simultaneously, hundreds of students and community members gathered inside and outside the SUB to protest the event. Protestors set up microphones from which they gave speeches during the event. No single group claimed to have been the sole organizer of the protest.
Tomi Lahren, a right-wing commentator, was booked by Turning Point USA at UNM to speak from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. The event taking place at UNM, a predominantly Hispanic-serving institution in a minority-majority state, was controversial, especially given Lahren’s track record: she likened the Black Lives Matter movement to the Ku Klux Klan and claimed Beyonce’s halftime show was used to demonstrate that “black lives matter more,” according to People.
After the protest, two more Latinx students also confirmed to the Daily Lobo that they were denied entrance, despite having a ticket to the event.
“I feel like it was racially targeted and targeted by class as well. And with UNM being a very diverse school, I don't really understand why we even allowed this to happen in the first place,” Jacobs said.
Thursday was also the first day of Hispanic Heritage Month, something that did not resonate well with those gathered to protest the event.
“We are a minority-serving institute. Why are we not serving the minorities attending this college,” a protester said.
Lahren took to Twitter to comment on the nonviolent protesters that were present at the SUB.
“Campus terrorists showed up at my @UNM speech tonight and UNM did not care. They shoved officers and tried to bust down the door to the speech room. They don’t care about the safety of conservative students or guests. Sickening,” Lahren wrote.
Despite her claims, the protesters remained nonviolent through the duration of their demonstration. Video footage from freelance journalist Lissa Knudsen on Twitter shows Lahren was eventually escorted from the ballroom just before 8 p.m. Nearly all attendees were escorted out through back doors by 8:30 pm.
Several New Mexico State Police swept into the SUB a little after 8 p.m. and stood in front of the ballroom doors for the remainder of the protest, alongside the UNM Police Department and other security officers. One UNMPD officer filmed protesters and physically intimidated one protester outside of the ballroom.
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Protesters had quickly moved into the SUB at around 7:20 p.m. Despite some attempts to get into the ballroom, the protesters remained in front of the entrance. The crowd banged on walls and doors, shouting chants including, “We don’t want you here!,” “Fuck Tomi Lahren!” and “Fuck you fascists!” Dan Matthews, a former UNM employee in attendance at the talk, said that he felt scared with everything going on outside of the ballroom.
Just outside of the SUB in Smith Plaza, UNM’s Student Activities Center was hosting “Silent Lights,” which drew a large number of students in attendance. Several protesters throughout the night, including Arthur Bell from Strong Black Fathers and Duke City Talk, said they saw the dueling events as tone deaf. Lahren’s talk was not hosted by nor associated with the SAC or UNM directly.
“It shows how you can have one group woke about a certain issue and then you could have another group on the same campus have no clue or care less about even supporting it. So it just shows that we're not all on one page. We're still kind of separate in a sense,” Bell said.
UNM released a statement prior to the event regarding Lahren being permitted to speak on campus.
“The University of New Mexico is committed to the principles of free speech and values its role as a public square for debate, a marketplace of ideas, and a place to test and challenge competing viewpoints and opinions. In this context, allowing speakers invited by a student organization on campus in no way implies an endorsement of the content of their speeches or their opinions. And those who disagree with the ideas expressed are encouraged to respectfully voice their perspectives,” the statement read.
Students at the event, including speaker Juile Bettencourt, said that they will continue to protest at Turning Point-hosted events on campus and their presence at UNM. Jacobs emphasized the anger and frustration among the protesters.
“To be honest, I'm fucking pissed. I'm pissed ... Obviously everyone here is pissed. We would not want to spend our night here when we could be silent lights because we're happy here … I really feel like our generation has a chance to change so many different things,” Jacobs said.
Protestors left the SUB at around 9 p.m., the scheduled ending of Lahren’s talk.
Maddie Pukite is the managing editor at the Daily Lobo. They can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @maddogpukite
Gabriel Saiz is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @gsaiz83