Tennessee students plan protest against university for hosting Trump

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The students say white supremacy has no place on their campus.

Donald Trump is scheduled to face off against Joe Biden in the final presidential debate on Thursday at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee.

But some students are not happy with the university's decision to welcome Trump, given his repeated refusal to disavow white supremacy.

The group of students pointed out that the CEO of CoreCivic — the world's largest private prison company, formerly known as the Corrections Corporation of America — sits on the university's board. CoreCivic is headquartered in Nashville.

Brady Surface, one of the student organizers at Belmont University, told the American Independent Foundation that students have long demanded the university distance itself from CoreCivic, to no avail.

"CoreCivic CEO Damon Hininger has donated large sums to the Trump campaign and also sits on the Board of Belmont University — the site of the upcoming Presidential Debate on October 22nd," Surface said.

"Despite student, alumni, and community requests for the university to cut ties with CoreCivic and condemn President Trump’s remarks on white supremacy in the last debate, Belmont University President Dr. [Bob] Fisher remains silent and unmoved," he added.

CoreCivic CEO Damon Hininger donated more than $35,000 to Republican candidates in 2019 and 2020, while people with ties to the company have donated a total of $242,000 to political campaigns so far — with most of the money going to Republican candidates.

The private prison industry as a whole has spent more money on the 2020 election cycle than any election in history, with much of that money going toward Trump's flagging reelection campaign.

"Be Better Belmont formed in order to discuss how the Belmont community can move forward towards a more ethical anti-racist future. As a Christian University that wants to take a stand against systemic racism, Belmont must honor those values and that claim by divesting from the for-profit prison company CoreCivic," Surface added. "...We as Be Better Belmont ask, when is a good time to stand up for those marginalized communities? When is a good time to be better? As always, the answer is right now."

The Belmont University students say that Trump's refusal to condemn white supremacist groups creates a dangerous and unwelcoming environment for students of color at the university.

During the Sept. 29 presidential debate, Trump instructed the Proud Boys — an SPLC-designated hate group — to "stand back and stand by." He later said that "somebody's got to do something about antifa and the left," referring to antifascist protesters.

This is not the first time Trump has refused to disavow white supremacist groups. In August 2017, white supremacists gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia, for the infamous "Unite the Right" rally. The rioters marched with torches, and chanted, "Jews will not replace us."

Heather Heyer, 32, was at a counter-protest in downtown Charlottesville when a Unite the Right attendee, James Alex Fields Jr., rammed his Dodge Challenger into the crowd, hitting Heyer. She died from "blunt force injury to her torso."

When asked about the Charlottesville riots, Trump said there were "very fine people on both sides."

This article was updated with additional comments from Brady Surface.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.