The Student News Site of Villanova University

The Villanovan

The Villanovan

The Villanovan

Community Members Respond to Event Hosting Trump-Appointed Judge on Campus 

Katelyn Van Mater
Villanova’s Law School hosted Trump-appointed judge Kyle Duncan this past Tuesday.

Community members protested an event titled “Free Speech and Higher Education” hosted by the law school on Monday afternoon, with Trump-appointed judge Kyle Duncan as the featured speaker.

Duncan has been met with similar protests before, notably in 2023 when protesters clashed with him as he spoke at Stanford University last spring, making national news and adding fuel to the ongoing conversation about free speech in higher education, bringing up questions of who is allowed to speak at institutions (both public and private) and how administrations should handle student-led protests. 

Duncan is a federal judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which covers Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi and is headquartered in New Orleans. Before joining the bench on the Fifth Circuit, Duncan was a prominent anti-LGBTQ+ lawyer and has been an outspoken opponent of transgender rights. 

Because of his anti-LGBTQ+ stances, students and faculty banded together to protest his presence on campus in different ways. 

Stephanie Sena, the law school’s inaugural anti-poverty fellow, assisted law students of the student organization OUTlaw, an organization for LGBTQ+ students and allies, in organizing an alternate event for students who felt uncomfortable with Duncan’s presence on campus.  

The event was titled “Protecting LGBTQ+ and Civil Rights,” which invited Thomas Ude Jr., Esq. of the Mazzoni Center and Professor Janine Dunlap Kiah, VLS Director of Public Service and Pro Bono Initiatives to discuss “challenges to LGBTQ+ and civil rights, how to work towards safeguarding these rights as attorneys, and how to best support impacted communities,” according to the flyer that advertised the event.  

Sena said the work of people like Duncan can have real life implications, some that affect marginalized students on campus. 

“Judge Duncan’s decisions from the bench have real life implications,” she said. “They are quite literally a matter of life or death for some people.” 

Sena said it was important to her to provide a space for students who might feel threatened by the presence of someone like Duncan, although she supported the students who decided to protest in other ways. 

“I felt like a better course of action would be to deny him the attention that he is seeking, and instead, create alternate programming so that students could have a choice whether or not they attend the talk or whether they go to one that is hopeful that offers messaging about what the current challenges to the LGBTQ community are, and what is the work that legal advocates are currently doing,” she said. “[I] wanted that to be a space where students felt seen and loved and appreciated.” 

Student organizers like Landon Holben, a 3L at the law school and President of OUTlaw, used the alternate programming as an opportunity to make sure students felt comfortable on their own campus. 

“It really boils down to making sure students are comfortable and not disillusioned with their place at Villanova Law,” he said. 

Holben said, that while he and OUTlaw never reached out to the University saying they should not invite certain people to speak, he thinks the University can do a better job at vetting guest speakers or at letting students know when controversial figures are coming to campus. 

“There could be a little bit more of a proactive approach by administration when they know something’s coming that may disrupt students, especially minority students who are already even more of a minority than general at Villanova Law,” he said. “I think that would go a really long way.” 

VUPride, the University’s undergraduate organization for LGBTQ+ students and allies, planned a peaceful and silent protest to show solidarity with these marginalized students on campus.  

The protesters filed into the event with VUPride merch and pins on. They sat in on the event, laying a trans flag across the desk, just to show their presence at the event and take up space.

“Our presence will be enough to take a stand,” the flyer advertising the event read.

While Duncan did not acknowledge the protesters during the event, the organizers of the protest still were happy with their efforts and the results. 

“I’m happy with the results of the protests, because we accomplished exactly what we set out to do,” SGA’s Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Akintade Asalu said. “This was planned to be a silent, peaceful protest, and that’s exactly what it was. I’m glad that we were able to draw attention to ourselves.” 

Max Cabral, President of VUPride, hoped their protest efforts sent a message to the administration.

“We are here. We’re queer,” they said. “We’re ready to show you that we are not going to just stand by and let you invite these people to bring up this new generation of judges and lawyers.”

The University supports students’ right to protest, while also defending its decision to invite Duncan to speak at the law school, offering the following comment to the Villanovan regarding the protest: 

“As a faith-based institution of higher education, fostering dialogue and discussion is core to our values, Augustinian mission and Catholic heritage. We are committed to providing the Villanova community opportunities to engage on relevant topics—controversial and otherwise—believing that everyone benefits from open, thoughtful, rigorous, and respectful discourse. In the pursuit of education and understanding diverse viewpoints, a wide variety of speakers are invited to campus.” 


Leave a Comment
Donate to The Villanovan
Our Goal

Your donation will support the student journalists of The Villanovan with technological needs, training, etc!

More to Discover
About the Contributor
Lydia McFarlane
Lydia McFarlane, Co-News Editor
Lydia McFarlane is one of three Co-News Editors for 2023 after starting as a Co-News Editor in the summer of 2022. Lydia is a senior double majoring in Communication and Political Science. She is also minoring in Russian Area Studies. Lydia is active in several cultural organizations at Villanova, and hopes to combine her talents in journalism with her passion for social justice. Lydia's writing has also appeared in The Hill, Education Week and Resolve Philadelphia.
Donate to The Villanovan
Our Goal

Comments (0)

All The Villanovan Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *