By Olivia Yepez
Kelly, a former Marine Corps commander in Iraq who served President Trump as director of Homeland Security and White House chief of staff, is a featured speaker of the Drew Forum series.
Students said they petitioned Drew University’s administration unsuccessfully for the removal of Kelly, who pushed for a wall along the Mexican border and defended the practice of separating migrant children from their parents when they attempted to enter the United States illegally.
“I don’t think I’m speaking out of turn when I say this is about our faith,” said theology student Christopher Dwyer, 48.
As Christians, Dwyer said, students felt it was their evangelical duty to resist the separation of families.
Dwyer emphasized that their objection was less with Kelly than with the university. Kelly’s inclusion in the Forum series speaks to the disconnect between the Methodist school in Madison and its student body, he said.
“Here at Drew we are touting diversity, and then we pay money to host John Kelly,” said Dwyer. “That’s not the school I applied to. This is on our school, they asked him to come.”
Theology students also were troubled by the inclusion of former Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, a Drew Forum speaker last November, Dwyer said.
Kirsten Trambley, 26, a theology school student focusing on social justice advocacy, said concerned students spent months seeking an audience with Drew President MaryAnn Baenninger.
Baenninger reached out for a meeting during the past week — too late for the Forum to change plans, Trambley said.
A Drew spokesperson responded to MorristownGreen.com:
“The speakers in the Drew Forum lecture series are not, and have never been, selected to please particular sets of political beliefs.
“The series is a public lecture platform, not an endorsement of any distinct point of view. In accordance with its mission, Drew supports the rights of all voices to be heard, including those of the protesting students,” the spokesperson said.
An assortment of prominent scholars, journalists, diplomats, authors, political figures and celebrities have addressed the Drew Forum over its 25-year history. The list includes former Vice President Joe Biden, newsman Dan Rather, astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson and comedian John Oliver.
Tickets to Kelly’s speech at the 1,300-seat theater on South Street are $50 to $75.
After Kelly left his White House job at the end of 2018, the retired General joined the board of Caliburn International, parent company of the operator of the nation’s largest detention centers for migrant children.
Drew’s inclusion of Kelly in the Forum directly conflicts with what the university stands for, according to Trambley. Kelly’s record on immigration and his “targeting of people of color” are very problematic, given Drew’s student population, she said.
Sign-making events are scheduled in Drew’s Seminary Hall Atrium on Feb. 11 from 7 pm to 9 pm, and on Feb. 12 from 4 pm to 6 pm.
A 6 pm rally at Seminary Hall is planned ahead of Wednesday’s speech. Carpools will take students to Morristown, where they intend to picket outside MPAC before the 8 pm talk, and for its duration.
Trambley said she is reaching out to Drew alumni and the Madison/Morristown community to join the demonstration. She anticipates a turnout of between a dozen and 50 people.
MorristownGreen.com correspondent Olivia Yepez is an honors student at Drew University (’22), where she is an editor of The Acorn. Morristown Green editor Kevin Coughlin contributed to this report.