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Students and faculty at the University of Florida gave Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) a hostile reception at their campus in Gainesville after he was announced as a finalist to be the university's next president.
Hundreds of protesters gathered outside Emerson Alumni Hall, where Sasse was scheduled to participate in a Q&A forum with students on Monday. Minutes after the forum started, an estimated 300 anti-Sasse demonstrators entered the building and began chanting and banging on the hallway walls outside the President's Ballroom, where Sasse was trying to answer questions.
"Hey hey, ho ho, Ben Sasse has got to go," the protesters yelled. They carried signs reading, "Keep Sasse out of our swamp" and "Ben Sasse is ass."
The demonstration was filmed by reporters for the Alligator, a campus newspaper.
\u201cProtesters have gotten into the forum hall and literally and figuratively taken the stage here\u201d— Christian the Rocky Raccoon Defender (@Christian the Rocky Raccoon Defender) 1665425683
The shouting from the protesters drowned out Sasse's responses, and the Q&A session was cut short 15 minutes ahead of schedule, according to the Alligator.
“Obviously, I wish they didn’t have the position they have, but I strongly support the right of people to protest,” Sasse said. “I don’t precisely welcome the protesters, but I intellectually and constitutionally happily welcome the protesters.”
The protest was reportedly organized by the Alachua County Labor Coalition, Graduates Assistants United, the UF Young Democratic Socialists, United Campus Workers UF, UF College Democrats, and Take Action Florida.
After the forum ended and Sasse and the moderator, student body President Lauren Lemasters, left the room, the protesters entered and took the stage.
“If you see Ben Sasse, shout at him,” a protester said from the stage. “Scare the s**t out of him.”
“Get the f**k out of our swamp,” they gleefully chanted.
Sasse went on to participate in another Q&A session with staff and the presidential search committee, though this one was livestreamed and there was no audience. The protests continued until this final session ended.
The two-term senator was later seen being escorted into a waiting car by the University Police Department, the Alligator reported.
Sasse was announced as the sole finalist to be the University of Florida's next president on Thursday. He was the unanimous choice of the university's presidential search committee. News of his possible resignation from the Senate was first reported by KFAB-FM radio host Ian Swanson, who was employed by the Nebraska senator's office from October 2020 to February 2021.
In a statement last week, Sasse expressed admiration for the University of Florida and said the school was "uniquely positioned to lead this country through an era of disruption."
But students objected to Sasse's conservative voting record and statements defending traditional marriage. They also criticized him for only taking pre-approved questions at the Q&A forum.
“I think he’s a coward,” public relations junior Grace Smith, 20, told the Alligator. "As a queer student, I think his presence is a threat to my well-being here, and if he actually becomes president, he won’t live a day of peace.”
“He doesn’t represent who we are,” 19-year-old design sophomore Jazlyn Rivero said. “That’s why I’m here to protest the ridiculousness of this candidate.”
In 2015, Sasse criticized the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which established a constitutional right of same-sex marriage. He called the decision a "disappointment to Nebraskans who understand that marriage brings a wife and husband together so their children can have a mom and dad" and said the court had overstepped its authority.
Dr. Paul Ortiz, a history professor, spoke at the protest and condemned Sasse for comments he made in August raising concerns about Chinese espionage in America to FBI Director Christopher Wray. Sasse, an expert on Chinese theft of intellectual property and cybersecurity, has called the Chinese Communist Party an "unparalleled security threat to the American people."
Ortiz characterized Sasse's position as anti-Asian and accused him of failing to draw a distinction between the Chinese state and individuals.
“The senator invokes the principle of collective punishment to imply that no one from China can be trusted,” Ortiz said.
\u201cDr. Paul Ortiz, the president of the faculty union and a professor of history, said that Sasse\u2019s comments on Chinese students disqualify him from becoming UF president.\n\n\u201cWhen you say, \u2018It could have been worse,\u2019 that is a point of privilege,\u201d Ortiz said.\u201d— Christian the Rocky Raccoon Defender (@Christian the Rocky Raccoon Defender) 1665425683
Freshman chemical engineering student Joshua Zeffren, 18, said the protest was a success because it forced Sasse to leave.
“He’s gone,” he told the Alligator. “It means we as a student body accomplished something. It means when we get together we can show administration that our voice matters.”
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