Since protesters gathered at the Student Union Building on Sept. 15, the University of New Mexico has released a statement condemning actions made that night that caused speaker Tomi Lahren to leave early. The Daily Lobo spoke to 11 protesters — nine UNM students and two non-students — about their experiences that night, reinforcing that those protesting remained nonviolent.
The protest was in opposition to the Turning Point-sponsored event “Talking with Tomi” that was held inside of SUB Ballroom B featuring speaker Tomi Lahren, a Conservative commentator. Protesters gathered outside and inside the SUB, chanting and speaking against the racist and hateful rhetoric Lahren has spread in the past.
“The safety of our campus community and visitors is our first priority. We are deeply disappointed in the actions of those individuals who intentionally chose to disrupt a scheduled speaker and infringed upon the rights of the speaker and those who attended the event to listen and engage, vandalized University property and unlawfully pulled a fire alarm,” in a statement from the UNM Newsroom.
Since Thursday, videos of the protest have garnered lots of traction on social media. Fox News published an article on Sept. 16 quoting UNM’s statement and an interview with Lahren, but failed to include the voices of any protesters present that night.
Numerous protesters, including Jose Martinez, prime minister of the Burque Autonomous Brown Berets-New Mexico, do not believe that article is an accurate depiction of what happened that night.
“They can say whatever they want, but all we did was make sure that everyone was safe in our group. It was still a peaceful protest. Nobody got hurt, got injured. Everyone went home safely,” Martinez said.
UNM student Soraya Reynaga echoed that sentiment and said that while protesters did bang on the walls to get Lahren to leave the premises, the actions were not violent. Andrew Michael, another UNM student who attended the protest, felt similar to Martinez and Reynaga.
“I think that a lot of Conservative-aligned people have a misconception that a ‘peaceful protest’ is quiet picketing in a non-conspicuous location. That kind of protest is acceptable to them because it doesn’t inconvenience them in any way and allows them to continue to ignore the people their ideologies are actively harming,” Michael wrote to the Daily Lobo. “As a queer Asian American student, I felt safer with the protestors than I ever would in a room full of Turning Point-aligned individuals.”
Blair said that, per UNM’s request, there would be legal action taken with the UNM Police Department to further investigate the hole that was created in the wall of the SUB and the fire alarm that was pulled during the protest. Any code of conduct violation reports that were made against students will be dealt with via the Dean of Students Office, and any reports against non-students will be directed to UNMPD. The Compliance, Ethics and Equal Opportunity office will further investigate students being denied entrance based on their race.
“They are looking into anything that anybody's brought up,“ Cinnamon Blair, UNM spokesperson, said in an interview with the Daily Lobo.
Several students that attended the protest and spoke with the Daily Lobo voiced concern over whether or not the investigations will be done justly and if cases involving students of color will be a primary concern. Others understood UNM’s reasoning for investigating.
“I think UNM’s actions are unnecessary as the protest was not violent. I think it is unfortunate that university property was damaged, but I think it is more unfortunate that UNM allows a hateful group such as Turning Point to gather on campus and utilize university facilities to host an individual such as Tomi Lahren. Property can be fixed and replaced, the safety of students cannot, and UNM is letting their minority students know that their safety on campus is not valued,” Michael wrote.
With video documentation of physical intimidation by police, multiple students said that the police presence at the protest made them feel unsafe.
“I think, and like so many protests we've seen in the past few years, that police presence just kind of riles things up … We never got physical in the first place, but we made sure that at that point, it never would, just because the police presence there did kind of make it a little more uneasy,” Reynaga said.
Several student protesters felt supported and safe, more so by those in attendance alongside them. Medics were also present at the protest.
“I really respect the number of people I saw protesting there. I think even if UNM doesn't always do what's right, I think people on campus — the UNM community — shows out in support of its students, and I really do appreciate that,” Marcela Johnson, a student and protester at the event, said.
According to Tyler Jacobs, one of the students of color who was not allowed entry into the event, there are currently no updates on the status of that specific investigation; he has not received a reply from the dean of students.
At the time of publication, the Dean of Students Office, UNMPD, the Compliance, Ethics and Equal Opportunity office, and Turning Point USA at UNM have not responded to requests for comment.
“One of the things I said that's kind of stuck with me since then is that this protest was something that was like, as a Chicano individual, my livelihood was at stake. Knowing that these kinds of people are on campus, these far-extremists makes me feel so much more unsafe than ever,” Reynaga said.
This is a developing story.
Maddie Pukite is the managing editor at the Daily Lobo. They can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @maddogpukite