Doug Strickland of the times free press takes video of protesters march outside of Hunter Hall to Chancellor Angle’s Office in Founder’s Hall on UTC campus in protest to the firing of Jacqui Helbert. . Photo By Chad Pasinger.

By Alina Hunter-Grah, News Editor —

After the controversial termination of WUTC reporter, Jacqui Helbert, induced suspicion from the public about government involvement in her firing, Student Activists For Equality held a protest outside Founders Hall where Helbert and several other citizens voiced their frustrations.

The protest, held on March 29, began in front of Hunter Hall where protesters then marched to the front of Founders Hall where University Administrative offices are located. The march and rally were planned, at first, to be staged outside Cadek Hall where the WUTC studio is located. However, SAFE leaders rerouted the protest after Helbert felt that WUTC and NPR had supported her sufficiently through the initial situation.

“We’re following Jacqui’s lead since she was the one who was fired,” the Co-Chair of SAFE, Lillie Stubsten, said. “We’re marching down to Founders since they’re the ones who buckled under lawmakers’ pressure.”

About 45 to 50 people attended the protest. Many carried signs that read phrases such as “Fuck Todd Gardenhire,” “Say no to censorship,” and “Protect Free Speech.”

Protesters explained that they were both frustrated with the administration’s and the lawmakers’ handling of the situation as well as how members of the LGBT+ community were treated during the original meetings recorded in Helbert’s story.

“It’s an infringement of a basic freedom,” Greyson Dukes, a freshman from Nashville, said before the protest about Helbert’s termination. “It’s the politicians who are getting to say what they want.”

“It’s a blatant attack on freedom of speech and on our fellow LGBT+ members,” a member of SAFE, Grace Berry, said.

Before leaving, Stubsten practiced chants with the protesters before announcing that the doors to Founders Hall had been locked.

“It’s supposed to be open, but apparently it’s locked,” Stubsten said to the crowd. “So that’s how scared that man is of us.”

Once protesters posted outside of Founders, protest leaders led the group in chants that also referenced the lawmakers suspected to be involved with Helbert’s termination. “Who are we going to fire? Gardenhire,” “The people united will never be divided,” and “Justice for Jacqui” were among these chants.

After the chants, Jacqui Helbert was invited to come to the front and speak.

“The reason I started my career in journalism was so that I could be a voice to the people who were voiceless,” Helbert said during her speech. “…I cannot be silenced and you cannot be silenced. We must protect the freedom of the press and hold those who silence us accountable.”

Helbert also announced at this time that she would be seeking legal counsel to help her seek justice.

After Helbert’s speech, SAFE members used a cardboard coffin to hold a “funeral for freedom of the press.” A member of SAFE presented a eulogy and flowers were placed over the makeshift coffin.

After singing commonly known protest songs, the signs used during the rally were placed in bushes and leaned against Founder Hall’s front doors. A sheet that read “We will not be silenced” was ducktaped to the door blocking the windows.

See below for the University Echo’s Facebook Live coverage of the protest.

 

We’re here at the protest of Jacqui Herbert’s termination directed by SAFE. Watch to see what happens.

Posted by University Echo on Wednesday, March 29, 2017

 

We’re here at Founders Hall as protesters speak out against UTC administration for actions taken against Jacqui Helbert. Helbert is expected to speak. Watch to see what happens.

Posted by University Echo on Wednesday, March 29, 2017

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