EDITORIAL: Students #StoodWithGolden over Ivanka Trump’s scrapped keynote. Let’s hope he remembers that.



Sierra Bonn, who studies engineering technology management at Wichita State, created #IStandWithGolden stickers and t-shirts. She passed out the stickers last week at the food truck plaza.

If one thing is clear after the controversy that surrounded Ivanka Trump’s invitation and subsequent disinvitation to be a keynote speaker at WSU Tech’s virtual commencement ceremony, it’s that the Wichita State community shows up for what it believes in. 

Whether it was denouncing WSU Tech’s original plan to let Ivanka Trump headline its virtual graduation ceremony or standing in support of President Jay Golden for reversing course, students made sure their voices were heard. 

An open letter, written by a faculty member and signed by hundreds of students and other campus stakeholders, influenced the university’s decision to move Ivanka Trump’s speech from a keynote presentation to an optional message at the end of the ceremony. 

And when donors and local business owners called for Golden’s resignation over the scrapped speech, students quickly planned a rally outside of Koch Arena on Wednesday in support of the president. Students expressed their concerns using a new hashtag — #IStandWithGolden, with one group printing the phrase on stickers and t-shirts. The Black Student Union also started an online petition supporting Golden that has now collected more than 10,000 signatures. 

What did Golden do to deserve this support? In the eyes of some of the outspoken students, it was simply his willingness to listen and talk to students throughout his first six months on the job. For the first time, students felt they had a leader who weighed and valued their input, and not just that of insiders. 

The Sunflower thinks students’ solidarity with Golden speaks volumes about the way WSU has operated in recent years. The Wichita Eagle’s report, which kicked off the controversy on Wednesday, also shines light on the school’s modern history. 

The report illustrates perfectly the kind of WSU that business leaders and connected donors have come to expect in recent years: one that bends and contorts to their desires, regardless of students’ best interests. 

David Mitchell, who served on the nonprofit organization that manages public-private partnerships on the Innovation Campus, told The Eagle that free speech is at the core of WSU’s identity and that students had been robbed of an opportunity to be exposed to differing views. 

Mitchell also told The Eagle he resigned from his seat on the Wichita State Innovation Alliance because of the decision and said he won’t be involved with the university in any way until Golden resigns or is fired. 

“We were nationally known, finally prominent in our area of innovation and the Innovation Campus and learning at WSU. Now, in this one fell swoop, he has rebranded us as just another leftist university.”

It’s ironic to see critics, including Ivanka herself, try to paint the situation as a violation of Ivanka Trump’s “free speech,” when her speech was never canceled altogether. Graduates could still choose to hear a recorded congratulatory message from more than 30 speakers, including Ivanka Trump, at the end of the ceremony. She also posted her full speech online. 

Let’s also remember that WSU and WSU Tech have hosted conservative figures in the past, like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Attorney General William Barr and Senator Jerry Moran.

By reacting to community response, Golden stood by the free speech of students, faculty, alumni and staff. Responding to the student body is one of Golden’s duties as president. His job should have never been on the line for that. 

Since he became president, Golden has talked about shared governance and focusing foremost on the “student experience.” We’re encouraged to see he not only talks the talk, but is walking the walk.  

It’s worth noting, of course, that there are some students who would have had no problem hearing from Ivanka Trump at their graduation. But you’d be hard-pressed to find a unified student voice on campus that actually believes Golden should have been fired for removing her as a keynote speaker. 

Even the WSU College Republicans threw their support behind Golden in a statement on Wednesday, saying the university has supported their organization and has “helped make this University a bastion of free speech.”

“Not once have we been rejected for a proposal to bring a conservative figure on campus,” the statement says. “To claim President Golden does not stand for free speech or diversity of thought is a gross misrepresentation of his character and his short history here at Wichita State.” 

The Sunflower believes universities play an important role in promoting diversity of thought, and that means not catering to one political ideology more than another. WSU should be willing to host controversial speakers on campus, but only if the speakers are willing to take questions and engage in a meaningful discussion with students. 

That’s what the free exchange of ideas looks like. As for celebratory occasions, the university should avoid political figures and should instead highlight inspiring alumni or community members. 

Ivanka Trump is undoubtedly a controversial figure. Her speech would not have allowed for pushback and would have served as nothing more than a dog-whistle to conservative donors. 

Some have asked, “would the students have been upset if Chelsea Clinton was picked?”

In a world where that somehow happened at WSU, we at The Sunflower hope so. Inviting a controversial political figure puts all the attention on that person and could create backlash that takes away from the graduation ceremony. 

Aleks Sternfeld-Dunn, president of the Faculty Senate, put it aptly when he called Ivanka Trump’s invitation a “distraction from what this event is really about — a commencement, a celebration of our students.” 

Last week’s debacle put an ideological tension between the campus community and donors on full display. Balancing the wants and needs of local business with those of students is a tough act. Make the donors mad and you hurt your pockets; make the students mad and you hurt enrollment. 

And while Ivanka Trump’s speech likely won’t mean much in the grand scheme of things, we hope the university and Golden continue to listen to student input when tackling bigger issues, like maintaining the cost of tuition and fees, responding to budget cuts and lost revenue, and expanding the university. 

Most of us don’t have our names on buildings or the resources to write million-dollar checks, but students collectively write a big check to the university every year: tuition and fees. 

Remember that.