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Planned Challenge to Oyelowo’s Speech Fizzles

Rachael Franchini ’19, Editor-in-Chief

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A conservative motivational speaker, who was invited by the Dickinson College Republicans to speak at their March 3 meeting, planned to challenge, and confronted the Poitras Gleim speaker David Oyelowo at his lecture on Monday, March 6 in ATS.  According to several eye-witnesses, Kevin Martin jumped on stage at the end of the lecture and called Oyelowo a “Hollywood elite” and maintained that the attendees should not listen to Oyelowo spew “white guilt.”

“He [Martin] started saying that we shouldn’t listen to him [Oyelowo] and he’s [Oyelowo is] a Hollywood elite,” stated Liam Stenson ’19.  “[Martin] was mostly trying to discredit the speaker.”

“A man jumped up on the stage and began stating things along the lines of “this man is an elitist. Don’t listen to him. No matter how black or brown you are we can all be successful. He’s spewing white guilt,” said Megan Magruder ’17.

“After shaking his [Oyelowo’s] hand, he [Martin] said something re[garding] anti-Trump rhetoric but I didn’t catch it since we were heading out,” stated Susan Rose, professor of sociology and moderator of the event.

Similarly to Rose, hardly any students and attendees heard the exchange, and if they did, many did not appear interested.

“Once audience members realized he was going on a tangent and [that he was] simply criticizing David Oyelowo/expressing his own opinions, people disregarded him and left the event,” stated Magruder.  “Essentially, he wasn’t awarded much attention by anyone after about 30 seconds.”

“It was clear that the audience wasn’t really paying him [Martin] any attention and had gotten up to leave,” maintained Rose.

One attendee, Meredith Jones ’20, was “interested” in why Martin “thought that was appropriate behavior,” so she decided to stay with Martin and listen to what he had to say.  She was joined by Zoe Kiefreider ’20, among a few others.

“It just ended up that we kept walking with him for probably an hour afterward and kept listening to him and trying to understand his point of view, but he was consistently really rude and really aggressive and not respectful to any of us,” Jones maintained. “I didn’t talk to him a lot; he didn’t really acknowledge me…and that’s how he was behaving towards most of the girls who were there…he kind of ignored us.”

According to Kiefreider, Martin said things like, “Black lives matter is a terrorist organization,” and “Black and white people have the same opportunities in this country.”

Additionally, he asked Kiefreider “Are you white?” to which she responded “I’m half Mexican.” He then said, “So you’re Mexican. What do you think about the wall?” She refused to answer and tried to steer the conversation to a different topic, although he kept going back to his original question.

He also maintained several times that “I know everything that happens at Dickinson College. I know the ins-and-outs of Dickinson.”

Later on, Jones looked at Martin’s Facebook page. “All of the videos were kind of verbatim and just like the things he said on stage,” she stated. “I think that it shows that he wasn’t really paying attention to the speaker because [his words at the disturbance] didn’t make sense with what David Oyelowo had said…it was just kind of saying things to incite anger…He was mostly just like very angry, and just like, very emotional about it in general, and very adamant about the fact that he was right.”

“I don’t really care if he has differing views, like I don’t have a personal problem with that, I just think that he was very disrespectful, [he] showed us multiple times that he had brought a large thing of mace [with] him, and even kept on talking about how he usually carries a gun…which was more just kind of a concern because he showed that he was very emotional.”

When Martin was on stage, Rob Stone, communication officer for the Department of Public Safety (DPS), encouraged him to get down, stating that he wasn’t “invited up there,” according to Jones.  “It was a little strange that Kevin showed us his mace right outside of ATS and it was clear that he had had it with him, I don’t think that the DPS officer had seen anything…but it seemed really strange that he would feel comfortable enough to pull that out when he sees an officer standing right there,” she maintained.

Chief of Public Safety Dolores Danser was reached out to for comment, but stated only that the “situation with Mr. Martin” is “under investigation,” and therefore could not give more elaborative information at the time.

Later on Monday night, Martin exchanged fiery discourse on Facebook with some Dickinson students who opposed the message he was attempting to spread.

The first post, which was posted at 9:58 p.m. on Monday night to Martin’s Facebook page reads:

“Thank you to the Dickinson College student body tonight, for the generous invite, and for letting me speak the truth on stage for a moment. Even thou[gh] we [may] disagree, we must love one another regardless of whether we agree or not. I love you all.  Truly an honor.  We shall meet again.”

This post received some responses on his page, including one from Ewurabena Ampofo ’19 who replied: “It wasn’t the truth.  It was merely your opinion. Get that right.”  Some of Martin’s followers then responded to her, one stating that “if Kevin spoke it, it was the truth, snowflake.” Others also praised Martin for his actions.

Brooke Carloss ’19 also responded to this post, stating, “I’m pretty sure nobody in the student body gave you permission to walk on stage uninvited after another speaker’s talk, for which everyone had to get tickets.”

Caleb Gutwilling ’18 said, “Let’s get one thing straight, the “Dickinson College Student body” didn’t invite you! It seems that the President of one of the least supported groups on campus paid for your ticket.”

In his next post of the night, Martin tagged Dickinson College in a post that stated: “Racism is taught at Dickinson College,” to which Gutwilling responded:

“Come on now, no need to disrespect our school like that! You were at Dickinson for what, a weekend?  Did you attend any classes, speak to any professors? How do you know what’s taught?

A third post by Martin claimed that when he took the stage, “the whole campus lo[st] their mind[s], and spiral[ed] into a frenzy of utter chaos and confusion,” whereas when “a black liberal Hollywood elite [Oyelowo]” took the stage, students “applauded, praised and bowed at his feet.”

Another post of the night proclaimed, “Liberals at Dickinson College only like the black people that [they] think like them.”

All posts and responses have since been deleted except for the first post, although the majority of the Dickinson student responses to it are no longer visible.

“I commented on two of Kevin Martin’s status updates after reading them and becoming frustrated with how he seemed to mischaracterize the situation,” stated Carloss.  “I was really alarmed by the fact that so many of his supporters believed that he was simply speaking at, what he portrayed [online, to his followers], as an event he was invited to speak at by the student body… I really wanted to post something to correct what he was telling his followers. It wasn’t meant to disrespect those who identify with his views, but I don’t think they were getting the full truth. I don’t blame his supporters for trying to defend him, but I think it became very clear that situations can become distorted when they’re recounted to trusting supporters and misinformation is embraced instead of questioned.”

She continues:

“I think Kevin Martin posted multiple statuses that were really misrepresentative of his exposure to this institution and its students, and I don’t think we deserve that misinformation to paint us in such a negative light, regardless of whether or not we agree with his personal views.”

Interim President Neil Weissman stated in an email, “The college welcomes the expression of diverse views and dialogue at speaking events.  Unfortunately, as often happens, there was not time at the lecture for everyone wishing to ask a question or make a comment to do so.  Particularly since we followed the very appropriate practice of allowing Dickinson students to ask the first questions.  The visitor’s attempt to speak from the ATS stage as the audience was in the process of leaving was, in my view, ill-considered regardless of what he wished to say.”  Weissman then affirmed that the minor disturbance did not prevent the audience from focusing on Oyelowo’s talk, and then congratulated the students who organized the event.

When asked about the Facebook posts, Weissman did not have a comment, however he did maintain that he has “high confidence in Dickinson’s integrity as an institution.”

On March 3, three days prior to the March 6 Poitras Gleim lecture, a video featuring Martin and Krysti Oschal ’17 was posted to Martin’s Facebook page.

In the video, the pair introduce themselves, Oschal qualifying herself as the “President of the Dickinson College Republicans.”

“I came out here tonight, they requested that I come out here,” affirmed Martin, in reference to him visiting the College Republican’s meeting that day.  Mitchell Synder ’19, treasurer of the College Republicans, verified in a Facebook post on Mar. 6 that Martin “was one of the speakers we had invited to our club…but he wasn’t invited or brought in by the College Republicans to attend the [Poitras Gleim] talk.”

The video continues with a short discussion of Dickinson College as Martin and Oschal claim to see it:

“Dickinson College is a very liberal college,” starts Martin. “…fair to say, one of the most liberal…on the east coast?”

“I would say that’s fair,” Oschal affirms. 

Then, the topic of the video shifts to the Poitras Gleim lecture, and the two gesture at the poster of Oyelowo for the event.  “This man,” Martin states, “is coming to the college, and I just got my ticket, thank you so much for the ticket,” he directs at Oschal, who responds with “you’re welcome.”

However, at 12:03 a.m. on Tuesday, Mar. 7, Martin posted on his Facebook page: “To the Dickinson College student body that is crying from their safe spaces, angry about free speech.  I am in no way affiliated with Dickinson College Republicans.  I attended the event on my own time, my own dime, and my own ticket, by way of a very generous invite weeks ago.”  This post has since been deleted.

Furthermore, Philip Morabito ’17, director of public relations and marketing for Student Senate, and one of the main organizers of the Poitras Gleim event, has maintained that when he scanned in Martin’s ticket to the event, it was listed under Oschal’s name.

In the video, Martin asks where the money to bring Oyelowo to campus is coming from and Oschal launches into her explanation of the Poitras Gleim grant, which she suggests is: “a grant endowed to the college many years ago to bring top notch speakers to campus to talk about relevant issues of the day.  And this year he [Oyelowo] has received the grant, and he will be coming to campus.  In the past we’ve had, um, Mark Ruffalo…and other very liberal-minded people here on campus as well, so, it’s much of the same.”

According to the Dickinson College website, Mark Ruffalo was the 2015 recipient of The Sam Rose ’58 and Julie Walters Prize at Dickinson College for Global Environmental Activism, which is a prize “created to focus attention on the need to reduce the impact of human lives on the planet.” He was not a Poitras Gleim grant recipient.

Next, the video shows Martin stating his plan for the evening of the lecture, including “pick[ing] his [Oyelowo’s] brain a little bit on some of the things that he brings to the table. I’m not sure about what he’s going to talk about, but, he’s obviously a Never Trump-er, he is very, very liberal, he is, I would assume if he’s a citizen now, he’s probably a Democrat.”

Oschal demonstrates that she had interest in asking Oyelowo about his motivation in being opposed to Trump’s policies, as opposed to certain “similar” policies enacted by former President of the United States Barack Obama, although Oschal and Martin admit in the video that they are not sure exactly what Oyelowo will bring up in the lecture.

Directly preceding the beginning of the event, Martin posted to Facebook a picture of himself, James Dobbs, a resident of Carlisle, Oschal and Evangeline Clapp ’17.  “Listening to a liberal black, immigrant and Hollywood elite spew hate, division and white guilt,” the post reads. “I am about to crash the party.  Time to wake some people up!”  This post has also since been deleted.

Kiefreider sat “three seats down” from the group of four, and went over to Oschal and Dobbs following the event and told them that they “made [her] feel uncomfortable at [her] own college by laughing and texting [during the talk].”  According to Kiefreider, Oschal did not acknowledge her, as she was on her phone. Dobbs reportedly said “oh, so I don’t have freedom of speech?”

Stenson comments, “The whole plan from the beginning…[was] to ask questions in the Q&A that would be conservative in nature to just bother the speaker. However, since the Q&A was so short, I’m guessing that he hyped it up so much on his Facebook page that he wanted to make sure he said something.  That’s why he decided to stand up without any permission and disturb the lecture.”

Zita Petrahai ’18, Managing Editor, contributed to the reporting of this article.

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Planned Challenge to Oyelowo’s Speech Fizzles