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WKU preparing for protests following announcement of controversial speaker


Western Kentucky University is preparing for protests after an announcement that a controversial figure would be speaking on its campus.

A Western Kentucky University student organization has invited Kyle Rittenhouse to speak on the university’s campus on March 27. Rittenhouse received national attention after killing two protesters and shooting a third during a racial justice protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in 2020.

Rittenhouse, 18 at the time, was acquitted at a criminal trial in 2021. Fallout from the verdict reverberated across the nation, with critics of the acquittal saying it set a dangerous precedent for vigilantism, and supporters of Rittenhouse saying he exercised his Second Amendment right to carry a gun and defend himself. Rittenhouse has emerged as a figure in conservative politics and has been embraced by far-right wing commentators and organizations, such as the Proud Boys.

Here’s what we know so far:

A registered student organization, Western Kentucky University’s chapter of Turning Point USA, is hosting the event. The chapter is part of a national organization that advocates for right-wing causes on high school, college, and university campuses. The group announced the event on its social media account along with a graphic video of the deadly shooting in Kenosha.

In an official university email to all faculty and students, Molly Kerby, the university’s Assistant Provost for Institutional Effectiveness & Engagement, said the event is “not organized or sponsored by the university” and “as a public institution we cannot restrict or censor these types of events.”

WKU requires student organizations to apply with the Office of Student Activities. Part of the application process requires the organization to create a constitution they must abide by.

A provision includes avoiding restrictions on “the basis of race, color, national or ethnic origin, religion, sex, disability, age, sexual orientation, or veteran status except as expressly permitted by law.”

According to the University registered student organizations are expected to:

  • Abide by all applicable federal, state, and local laws as well as University policies and procedures.
  • Respect the dignity of all persons, and not physically, psychologically, or sexually abuse or haze anyone.
  • Strive to promote intellectual and academic achievement and integrity.
  • Respect the existence and rights of other student organizations and strive to establish a sense of community among student organizations

A faculty sponsor is also required for every Student Organization before being approved by the Vice President of Enrollment and Student Experience. WKU’s chapter of the organization lists Cade Holcombe as the president of the organization and the faculty sponsor listed on Western Kentucky’s official website is Mark Doggette.

Here’s how the community is responding:

News of the event has caused pushback among some in the student body and community. A petition has received thousands of signatures.

Multiple Western Kentucky University student-led organizations have condemned the event, including the Queer Student Union, the WKU NAACP Collegiate Chapter, Hilltopper Organization of Latin American Students, Black Student Alliance, and the WKU National Pan-Hellenic Council.

In a statement, the National Pan-Hellenic Council said “we categorically oppose the values espoused by Turning Point USA and their WKU Chapter, as well as any association with individuals who symbolize violence and injustice.”

The Bowling Green Freedom Walkers is planning a protest in front of E.A. Diddle Area on WKU’s campus the day of the event. The university also plans to hold an event on campus for students to attend. The Potter College of Arts and Letters will host that event outside of Cherry Hall from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. as a safe space for students to gather.

Western Kentucky University Chief of Police Mitchell Walker confirmed a police presence will be on campus during the March 27 event. Walker said the WKU Police Department, Warren County Sheriff's Department, and Kentucky State Police would be present to ensure the event is peaceful. Walker also said a private security company would be on hand.

Rittenhouse recently spoke at East Tennessee State University and is scheduled to speak at the University of Memphis on March 20, which has garnered backlash.

Jacob Martin is a Reporter at WKU Public Radio. He joined the newsroom from Kansas City, where he covered the city’s underserved communities and general assignments, at NPR member station KCUR. A Louisville native, he spent seven years living in Brooklyn, New York before moving back to Kentucky. Follow him on Twitter @jacob_noah or email him at
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