A group of Coastal Carolina University students and faculty don’t want Tim Scott, who was appointed to the U.S. Senate by Gov. Nikki Haley, speaking at next weekend’s graduation because he voted against a bill designed to curb violence against women while representing a state with one of the nation’s highest rates of domestic violence.
As of 4 p.m. Friday, at least 235 faculty and students had signed an online petition opposing Scott’s role as commencement speaker.
Organizers want that number to reach at least 500.
Tom Rice, who represents the Seventh Congressional District, which includes the Grand Strand, and other Republican Congressmen from South Carolina also voted against the Violence Against Women Act.
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Nicole Tedesco, a senior at CCU majoring in philosophy, is planning an individual protest to go along with the petition.
“It’s just kind of a slap in the face,” she said about Scott’s participation.
Coastal has no plans to replace Scott, said Eddie Dyer, CCU’s executive vice president.
Scott plans to speak.
Graduation ceremonies are a celebration of success, not political events, and Scott looks forward to being a part of it, said Sean Smith, communications director for Scott.
“As someone who nearly failed out of high school, [Sen. Scott] very much appreciates the value of an education and hopes to share some of the lessons he learned with the young men and women set to embark on their professional lives,” Smith said.
This is not the first time CCU faced controversy over a speaker for a campus event, something universities nationwide have experienced.
In the lead-up to the Iraq war, former chief U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter was invited to CCU to speak about his belief that then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein no longer had large stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.
Many Grand Strand residents wanted CCU to rescind the invitation to Ritter, but he was allowed to speak any way.
More recently, famed neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson declined an invitation to speak at Johns Hopkins University, where he teaches, because of a student protest over comments he made about gay marriage.
The outcry over Scott’s invitation to CCU graduation, as well as a planned honorary degree, stems from his vote against the reauthorization of the VAWA.
The state’s other senator, Republican Lindsey Graham, also voted no, as did S.C. Republican House members Jeff Duncan, Trey Gowdy, Mick Mulvaney and Joe Wilson.
Opponents of the act cited constitutional and funding concerns and also balked when protections for the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community were added.
Rep. Jim Clyburn, a Democrat, voted for it.
It passed the Senate and House on a bipartisan basis and was signed into law by President Barack Obama earlier this year.
First passed in 1994, the VAWA’s reauthorization includes protection for Native Americans, gays and lesbians and immigrant women who are victims of domestic and sexual violence.
Experts have said it has been crucial in helping bring down rates of violence against women. It was twice reauthorized without controversy or much discussion.
“As the son of a single mother, I strongly believe we must do everything in our power to protect women from domestic violence,” Scott said in February. “While I was unable to support the current bill because of special carve outs, vague language and a one-size-fits-all approach, I strongly supported amendments to strengthen the legislation and address those issues.”
Preston McKever-Floyd, a CCU professor of philosophy and religious studies, will announce the names of the graduates at the May 11 commencement. He signed the petition opposing Scott’s participation.
McKever-Floyd said 54 percent of the student population is female and the campus works diligently to provide as safe a place for learning as possible.
Having Scott speak “is kind of incongruous with the kind of message we are sending,” he said.
The Washington D.C.-based Violence Policy Center’s 2012 figures say South Carolina has the second-highest rate of women killed by men.
There were 46 women murdered by men in 2010 for a homicide rate of 1.94 per 100,000, according to the center’s report.
In Horry County, domestic violence calls make up 7 percent of total calls for service by police, a percentage that’s held steady over the last few years.
Erika Moreno, who transferred to CCU from a community college in New Jersey, interns at a rape crisis center.
She sees the aftermath of violence against women.
She plans to wear a T-shirt with Scott’s name crossed out to graduation to protest.
“I’m just completely opposed,” Moreno said. Fellow student T’ara Smith said a more liberal-minded school like CCU shouldn’t bring conservative speakers for graduation ceremonies.
“I think it’s a bad decision for Coastal,” Smith said.
CCU tries to balance its commencement speakers by selecting from “both sides of the aisle,” Dyer said.
Clyburn spoke at commencement a couple of years ago, he said.
“As you know, he’s a Democrat,” Dyer said. “We’ve done a good job of balance, I think. But we don’t dis-invite speakers because of protests about stances that the speakers take.”
“The First Amendment is a wonderful thing and we’re always glad to see our students forming opinions, regardless of their political leanings,” he continued. “We’d be just as happy if this were Republicans protesting a Democrat. It gives us hope that our students care enough to make their thoughts known.”