White House aides parried the effort of several members of Columbia University’s fencing team to use their visit to the White House on Friday as a time to hand President Donald Trump a letter criticizing his administration.
The team was at the White House as part of a celebration that involved 22 national championship college teams, Fox News reported.
Fencer Elise Gout said that the letter claimed Trump’s administration has “perpetuated a culture that conditions women and minority gender identities to be silent — to sacrifice the space they have every right to take up.”
But as the athletes were getting ready to enter the East Room, they were told by a White House aide that the Secret Service does not like guests handing anything to the president, Gout and Nolen Scruggs said, according to The Washington Post.
“Secret Service made it pretty clear that something could happen, and I don’t want to find out what that is,” Scruggs said.
They gave the letter to an aide and kept mum about its contents during their time with Trump. The letter was signed by four team members who graduated earlier this year, and was not a document supported by the team or college.
However, they did conduct what they considered a protest by wearing large white lapel pins to show solidarity with the suffrage movement, a gesture that emulated the protests by some members of Congress who wore white during Trump’s State of the Union speech in February.
Scruggs said the fencers were asked by the White House aide to remove the pins, but they did not.
White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement that the president congratulated the team on its championship and took as a group photo, as he did with all of the other teams.
“The team was cordial, and nothing was handed to the president,” Deere said, noting that the team presented Trump with a gift.
“White House staff also spoke with members of the team and the coach and extended an invitation for them to come back to the White House to discuss any policy concerns they have.”
Columbia Fencers Sought To Rebuke Trump At White House Celebration https://t.co/52qIF2yRF1
— NewsBusters (@newsbusters) November 23, 2019
Members of the team had huddled with The Washington Post prior to Friday’s event to show The Post a copy of the letter they wanted to give Trump.
The letter criticized the administration for “choking access to family planning and contraceptive services.”
“We as collegiate fencers have committed our athletic careers to understanding how our individual strengths, irrespective of gender, may be best leveraged for the advancement of the collective,” it said. “But while ours is a victory born from values of gender equality, yours is one shadowed by continued acts of gender-based prejudice and partisanship.”
Gout told The Post before the White House visit that the letter was an important statement.
“There is this larger conversation over whether athletes should have political views or use their platforms in political ways, but if we are being recognized for our success, we need to stand up for the things that allowed us to have that success in the first place,” Gout said. “We have a responsibility to fight for the values that led us to become national champions. In my opinion, the values that allowed us to win are not valued by this administration.”
Afterward, Scruggs said just the fact that the fencers did what they did mattered.
“The goal might not necessarily even be to communicate with the president but to communicate with the American people and get them to jump-start a conversation that might not already be happening,” Scruggs said.
“There’s physical evidence that we did this, and just that alone is important.”
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.