As President Donald Trump delivered a speech about criminal justice to a room full of political allies at the historically black college Benedict College, in Columbia, S.C., most students were reportedly asked to stay in their dorms.
The President delivered the speech Friday afternoon to a room that only included a handful of students. Benedict College Spokeswoman Kymm Hunter reportedly told the White House press pool that only seven students attended the speech, and CNN reports that Columbia’s Mayor Stephen Benjamin said the White House chose who else attended.
“This should have been an opportunity for at least scores of students to attend this event,” Benjamin reportedly said to CNN.
Hunter said in a statement to The State that asking students to remain in their dorms was part of a safety plan the school made in conjunction with the Secret Service and that classes were canceled.
“The campus was closed and streets surrounding the campus were shut down to all vehicle traffic from 1:30 p.m.-3:00 p.m. Faculty, staff and student who were on campus were asked to stay inside, but if anyone needed to go to work or to another building, it was not problem,” Hunter reportedly said in the statement.
Hunter did not respond immediately to comment.
Nia Byas, a 20-year-old sophomore at Benedict College, tells that TIME that students were asked not to leave their dorms from 12 to 4. Byas chose to protest the speech.
“I protested for all historically black institutions. My goal was to make my voice be heard that I don’t want Donald Trump visiting any historically black colleges, especially my campus,” she tells TIME.
Trump’s speech kicked off the Second Step Presidential Justice Forum, a bipartisan criminal justice forum intended to help build upon the progress of the First Step Act passed in 2018. According to the forum’s event page, all presidential candidates were invited and many Democratic candidates will speak this weekend. On Friday, California Sen. Kamala Harris said she would protest the forum because the President received an award for criminal justice.
In his speech, Trump spoke about the need for criminal justice reform, and also mocked the Obama administration and said that Trump administration has made more progress for African Americans than “in the history of our country.”
Protests formed outside the auditorium as the President delivered his speech on Friday.
Reporters in the area highlighted some of the students protesting.
Others associated with Benedict College expressed frustration on Twitter.
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