UNC ends conservative student-group event based on COVID-19 mask violations – The Denver Post

An event hosted by a conservative University of Northern Colorado student group was terminated Monday because of violations of the university’s mask policy during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to university officials.

A student leader of Turning Point USA at University of Northern Colorado said a double standard employed by UNC allowed the evening to turn “rowdy” and “one step away from being violent” after a group of protestors interrupted a speaker event for about 100-150 people in the University Center ballrooms.

Sophomore Sarah Gieslinger, president of the new six-member Turning Point chapter at UNC, said the evening was about the discussion of “political topics with a conservative alignment” and featured Will Witt of PragerU.

PragerU is not an accredited academic institution, according to its website. The organization is a conservative nonprofit focused on changing minds through the creative use of digital media.

Witt is a Colorado native and University of Colorado Boulder dropout who creates online content for PragerU, and helps inspire young people worldwide to fight for their values, according to information on the organization website.

Gieslinger said protestors were allowed into the ballroom and to stand in the back in violation of pre-arranged COVID-19 protocol with event staff. Gieslinger said Turning Point was told the protestors had to be admitted to the speech because they are university students.

Gieslinger said she did not know the affiliation of all of the protestors, who initially formed a line in front of the event check-in. She said some were from Black Lives Matter.

Gieslinger said the protestors then were provided with additional seating, which she said was also a violation of the university’s COVID-19 protocol. Gieslinger said protestors banged on tables and chairs and yelled during Witt’s address, leading those who wanted to hear the speech to move closer to Witt and take seats on the ground.

Witt eventually took off his mask based on the behavior of the protestors, and staff ended the presentation. Witt was escorted out of the building by university police and finished his speech to a group outside.

“The fact that the protestors were allowed to break protocol, and Will takes off his mask on stage, and it’s an issue?” Gieslinger said. “UNC claims to be an inclusive campus, but if you disagree with that, it’s not an inclusive environment.”

UNC Director of News and Public Relations Deanna Herbert said Turning Point organizers rearranged the socially distanced designated room for the speech.

Herbert said room had 6-foot tables with one chair at each throughout the three ballrooms allocated for the event. Turning Point staff moved chairs from one room to a centrally located area in violation of social distancing.

Herbert said event staff brought in additional chairs to repopulate chairs taken from tables so the protesting individuals could sit down. As the staff finished that work, Witt “willfully took off his mask and acknowledged doing so may result in the cancellation of the event,” according to a statement from UNC.

“That led to many others in the audience also removing their masks,” the statement said. “At that time, UNC’s event staff took the action necessary to ensure the safety and well being of everyone present and terminated the event.”

The university said in the statement it shared its mask policy with Turning Point in the weeks leading up to the event. The policy requires anyone on campus to wear face coverings at all times while in public or shared spaces.

“There are no general exceptions to this policy based on distance from a presenter/speaker nor for vaccinated individuals,” according to UNC. “It is expected all persons that take part in an event activity, whether as host, presenter, or guest, follow UNC’s mask policy during all phases of the event.”

UNC said staff from the university and the Turning Point students helped clear people from the room in an orderly manner until UNC police arrived. Gieslinger said she did not see or have contact with university police until later, after she returned to the building to gather her things.

Gieslinger said she spoke with university police in advance of the event to let them know Turning Point’s plans. Gieslinger said the group received a tip earlier in the day “that something could happen.”

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