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The Statesman

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Turning Point USA holding anti-mandatory vaccine protest on campus

Students returned back to in-person classes this Fall 2021 semester. Turning Point USA will protest against mandatory vaccines due to SUNY mandating students to submit proof of COVID-19 vaccination to attend in-person classes. CAMRON WANG/THE STATESMAN

The Stony Brook chapter of Turning Point USA will be holding an anti-mandatory vaccine protest on Sunday, Sept. 12, from 3 to 4 p.m. The protest is expected to take place on West Campus, but the exact location is still to be determined.

Turning Point USA (TPUSA) is an organization founded in 2012 that promotes conservative values on high school, college and university campuses. With 1,400 chapters across the country, TPUSA claims to be the “largest and fastest-growing conservative youth activist organization in the country.”

The upcoming protest is in response to the State University of New York (SUNY) mandate that all students who intend to engage in-person at a SUNY campus or facility, must receive a COVID-19 vaccination. Stony Brook University is giving students until Sept. 24 to submit proof of their vaccination in order to remain enrolled for in-person fall classes or continue using in-person campus services and facilities.  

“COVID-19 vaccines have proven highly effective at preventing serious illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19,” Stony Brook University officials said in an email to The Statesman. “They are important tools to keep patients, patient-facing healthcare workers, and the wider community safe as we observe a rise in COVID cases in New York State, driven by the Delta variant.” 

As of Aug. 25, 88% of all registered students in at least one in-person class have submitted proof of vaccination, according to an email from the university. While this is a large percentage of students who have already complied, there are others who disagree with the mandate and are willing to protest against it. 

The Stony Brook chapter of Turning Point USA said in correspondence with The Statesman over social media that they “believe that it is up to the individual to make the choice on whether the vaccine is a decision for them.” 

Emily Talento, a recent graduate from Cedarville University and field representative for TPUSA, spoke to passing students in the SAC Plaza on Sept. 8, sharing details of the organization and upcoming protest. 

She explained how Stony Brook’s chapter is not yet an official club because they still need to find a faculty advisor to sign off on it. The organization’s mission, according to their website, is to educate students on certain conservative beliefs such as free markets and limited government while “equipping activists with the knowledge and strategies needed to combat the left.”

Christine Kelley, a 22-year-old transfer student and journalism major who came to Stony Brook after getting her associate’s degree, engaged in a heated conversation with Talento and TPUSA chapter members outside of the SAC, questioning their “purpose here” and beliefs. 

She later voiced her concern in an interview with The Statesman that this protest “may begin a potential COVID-19 superspreader event on campus” and pose “an immediate medical risk to immunocompromised students.”

“I believe that, with the exception of people who cannot receive COVID-19 vaccines for medical reasons, people should get vaccinated for their own sake and that of others,” Kelley said.

News of the protest has also spread to Saint John’s University and Long Island Loud Majority, a conservative organization with over 6,000 members, dedicated to rallying the Silent Majority.” Talento is expecting about a couple hundred people to attend the protest.

Stony Brook organizations College Democrats and Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA) will be holding a peaceful counter rally in front of the SAC at the time of TPUSA’s anti-mandatory vaccine protest.

“We will make sure the voices in support of the campus vaccine mandate are heard,” Matthew Belzer, vice president of YDSA said in an email to The Statesman

Ian Smith, a New Jersey gym owner who defied lockdown orders by keeping his gym open during the first months of the pandemic, will be speaking at the protest. Isabella Maria DeLuca, a senior political science major at Stony Brook and a Turning Point USA ambassador, will also be speaking. Other speakers will include local conservative politicians and Ashley St. Clair, a former TPUSA brand ambassador that the organization severed ties with after a photo resurfaced of her with white nationalists and anti-Semitic content creators. 

In preparation for the protest, Maurie McInnis sent out an email to students on Sept. 9, outlining the university’s stance on “free speech and civility.”

“True freedom of expression demands that we acknowledge the rights of others to hold and express beliefs different from our own,” McInnis said. “So often this is easier said than done. Inevitably we will encounter speech we believe to be abhorrent, biased, or false. In keeping with our mission and values, we have the right to meet such expressions with a clear and persuasive response, but never with acts that restrain the speech of others.”

The Stony Brook University Police Department (UPD) will have officers and supervisors there on scene throughout the event.

“We don’t anticipate any issues with the event. There was an event a couple of weeks ago at the hospital that we did not have any issues with,” Interim Chief of Police Neil Farrell said. “We are going to have appropriate staffing and make sure everyone has a safe environment.”

Contributed reporting by Nistha Boghra 

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