UPDATE: WSU Tech reverses course; Ivanka Trump will not be a commencement speaker



Ivanka Trump, senior advisor to the President of the United States, listens to students at WSU Tech on Thursday, Oct. 24.

Following backlash from students and other Wichita State stakeholders, Ivanka Trump will no longer be a commencement speaker at WSU Tech’s virtual graduation ceremony on Saturday.

“The WSU Tech commencement plans have been refocused more centrally on students — student voices in particular,” reads a Thursday night release from WSU President Jay Golden and WSU Tech President Sheree Utash.

Rebecca Zinabu, a WSU Tech practical nursing graduate, will now be the only speaker during the ceremony. Following the ceremony, WSU Tech graduates will have the choice to hear “prerecorded congratulatory messages from more than 30 speakers,” including Ivanka Trump.

After WSU Tech originally announced Ivanka Trump’s speech on Thursday morning, an open letter criticizing the decision began circulating among WSU students, staff and faculty, and alumni. 

Jennifer Ray, associate professor of photo media, wrote in the letter that she was “disgusted and horrified” at Ivanka Trump’s planned speech. A version of the letter on Google Docs garnered nearly 500 digital signatures from current and former WSU stakeholders. 

Ray acknowledged that the university “doesn’t have direct decision-making control” over WSU Tech but called on administrators to “make it clear that there will be consequences for WSU Tech’s actions should they proceed.” 

“… as [WSU Tech’s] academic partner, we can expect to be impacted by its actions,” Ray wrote. “We have considerable influence over our partner institution and have a responsibility to do all that we can to discourage it from acting in ways that send a hateful message to our collective community.”

In a separate statement on Thursday night, Utash said Ivanka Trump offered to record a congratulatory message for graduates in February.

“In light of the social justice issues brought forth by George Floyd’s death, I understand and take responsibility that the timing of the announcement was insensitive,” she said. “For this, I’m sorry that was never the intent, and I want you to know I have heard you and we are responding.”

“I respect and understand the sharply divided reaction to today’s announcement. The college stands with those who fight injustice and advocate for social equity, and we’re profoundly proud of the diversity and social change being brought forth by our students, alumni, faculty, and staff.”

Ivanka Trump posted her recorded message to WSU Tech graduates in a tweet on Friday evening.

“Our nation’s campuses should be bastions of free speech,” she wrote. “Cancel culture and viewpoint discrimination are antithetical to academia.“

Kavya Natesan, a 2018 WSU graduate and former Miss Black and Gold, is one of hundreds who signed Ray’s open letter.

“An institution of learning could not be more profoundly and willfully ignorant of the challenging battle for equity we currently all find ourselves in,” she said in an email to The Sunflower.

Natesan said she would have preferred a guest speech from “someone who resonates with the students this college strives to support.”

“WSU is the most diverse institution in Kansas and by extension WSU Tech’s community benefits from hosting students who come from many different backgrounds,” she said. “There is a vast pool of people who have achieved so much while often times not given the means or opportunity to do so.”

ORIGINAL STORY, 9 a.m. Thursday

Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and advisor, will speak at a virtual commencement ceremony for WSU Tech’s 2020 graduates.

“We are excited to host a truly unique commencement ceremony during this unprecedented time for our students to celebrate with family and friends their accomplishments” said WSU Tech President Sheree Utash said in a release. “Additionally, it is a great honor to announce that Ms. Trump will join us virtually as our special guest and commencement speaker for this special celebration.”

Utash serves on the American Workforce Policy Advisory board, where she has worked closely with Ivanka Trump. In October, WSU Tech hosted Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the National Center for Aviation Training campus.

The commencement will begin at 3 p.m. Saturday. The public can watch the ceremony by visiting WSU Tech’s official Facebook page.

Axios reports that Ivanka Trump’s speech will refer to the graduates as “wartime” graduates, saying their training at WSU Tech is “critical to rebuilding our economy for the longterm.”

WSU Tech posted on Facebook Thursday morning about Ivanka Trump’s appearance at the virtual commencement ceremony, but it appears the post has been taken down.

Utash and Andy McFayden, vice president of WSU Tech strategic communications, did not immediately respond to The Sunflower’s requests for comment on Thursday.

WSU Tech is sending celebratory boxes to all graduates participating in the virtual ceremony and hand-delivering yard signs to graduates’ homes.