Former U.S. Vice President Mike Pence spoke on UNC's campus Wednesday evening at an event titled “Saving America from the Woke Left."
Sponsored by Young America’s Foundation and the UNC College Republicans, Pence discussed a range of issues, including free speech and religion at the event. Afterward, he opened the floor for students to ask questions.
In the Carolina Union's Great Hall, hundreds of students and community members gathered to hear from Pence. He opened his time onstage by saying that he believes American freedom and the American dream is under attack.
“I came here tonight to say that I believe we're on the verge of a great comeback for freedom, and I believe we will save America from the woke left, and this freedom generation will lead the way,” he said.
Pence pointed to the Biden administration for the rise of the “woke left,” and condemned their embrace of the “all-encompassing assault” on culture and free speech. He called on the students in the crowd to have faith in the American people and put an end to Biden's time as president in the next election.
While Pence did not announce whether or not he planned to campaign for president in 2024, he said that there may be another candidate that he supported more than Donald Trump, his previous running mate and former U.S. President. Pence said that “different times call for different leadership,” and that he hoped to be a part of the Republican primaries in some way.
Before the start of Pence’s speech, the UNC Young Democrats held a rally in the Pit opposing his presence at the University. The rally, called “Saving America With the ‘Woke Left,’” featured over 15 campus and community organizations.
At the assembly, chairperson of the North Carolina Democratic Party Anderson Clayton said that Pence’s vision leaves out too many people.
“When we think of UNC, we think of progress and opportunity. We don't think of Mike Pence,” she said.
Sawyer Husain, a UNC first-year at the rally, said he was “overjoyed” with the reaction from the student body. Hussain is from Pence’s home state of Indiana and said that it can be tough to “see no outcry” in response to some of Pence’s statements.
“It definitely gives me some pride as being a UNC student,” he said.
When asked at a press conference about his thoughts on the rally, Pence said that he hoped his presence on UNC’s campus would “help level what has been the imbalance of liberal thinking” across the country. He commended the UNC Board of Trustees for being welcoming and said they were working to defend academic freedom on campus.
Pence’s words reference the Board's recent efforts to accelerate the proposed School for Civic Life and Leadership at the University. The School sparked controversy in regard to its inception and intentions.
David Boliek, chairperson of the BOT, said that despite Pence’s words, the Board had no hand in Pence’s visit to UNC.
Boliek said that he was proud of the range of student reactions to the event, from the students who attended inside the Union to those protesting outside.
“There's no violence and everybody has free speech and civil discourse, and when it's over we go back and we're all Tar Heels together,” he said.
Still, the event was a cause for concern for some students at the University. UNC first-year Moira Kelly said that she found Pence’s presence on campus “disturbing” and that she had friends who drove home because they were scared for their safety in anticipation of the event.
According to a statement made via social media by the Black Student Movement, an “adult non-student individual” walked into Davis Library and the Sonja Haynes Stone Center the day before the event. The self-proclaimed Pence supporter created flyers that featured homophobic and racist language along with anti-Semitic symbols, the post said.
“We will continue to advocate for a better campus for those who have far too often been excluded from the privilege of safety awarded by whiteness and heteronormativity,” the statement read.
For other students, Pence’s visit signified something beyond politics. The incoming treasurer of the UNC College Republicans, Jackson Albert, said that he hoped Pence’s time at UNC would open the door for other politicians to visit the University in the future.
“This is not about who it is. It's about what office he held. And no matter who would have come, it's really cool to see somebody like this,” he said.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.