In a celebratory event Friday at the White House, Columbia University's national championship fencing team failed in a plan to rebuke President Donald Trump. While being honored with several other NCAA national championship teams (see photo of the president posing with some championship team members), the Columbia activists sought to hand deliver a letter to the president criticizing his "gender-based prejudice." Their intentions and the letter were publicized ahead of the celebration by The Washington Post, and the Secret Service informed team captains they were not going to be allowed to hand the grievance to the president.
The Post explained:
The Columbia University fencing team’s plan to confront President Trump over gender equity policies mostly fizzled out Friday after the athletes were not allowed to hand him a letter spelling out their concerns during a ceremonial photo opportunity.
Shortly before the athletes were escorted into the East Room, a White House aide told them that the Secret Service discourages visitors from handing items to the president, captains Nolen Scruggs and Elise Gout said. The aide took the letter and promised to deliver it to Trump, they said, and the athletes did not directly express their objections in their brief interactions with the president, which were part of a White House celebration of 22 college championship teams. Fencing team members later joined the other teams in a tour of the Oval Office at Trump’s invitation.
Columbia team co-captain, Elise Gout told USA Today the letter was, however, handed to a member of the White House press team, but she wasn't certain if it would be delivered to the president.
The Columbia Lions won their 16th national fencing title in March and received an invitation to the White House event two weeks ago. Some team members boycotted the event for political reasons, but others went in hopes of raising a ruckus.
An early Friday morning story by the Post's Jacob Bogage and David Nakamura indicated members of the coed team intended to wear matching white lapel pins at the White House and hand Trump a letter that states, in part:
"The invitation to the White House that you extended to us, alongside other 2019 NCAA Championship teams, to honor our athletic achievements was not something we considered lightly. A few of our teammates made the respectable decision not to attend, following the examples of outspoken professional athletes like Megan Rapinoe, Stephen Curry, and Sean Doolittle. We have chosen another path, akin to the White House visit by NBA Chicago Bulls player Craig Hodges in 1992, that we hope you will recognize in our personal delivery of this letter.
"Mr. President, fencing is one of only three co-educational sports in the NCAA. To win the National Championship requires the strength and the aptitude of a combined force of gender identities, none of which have any greater importance or stature than the next. ....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."
Additionally, the letter accuses President Trump of removing protective measures in Title IX that protect survivors of sexual assault, “choking access” to family planning and contraceptive care and “perpetuat[ing] a culture that conditions women and minority gender identities to be silent.” The students asked the president to recognize his harms to gender equality.
Several fencing team members planned to carry signed copies of the letter into the White House to display in photo opportunities with the president, but that didn't happen.
The intentions of the Columbia fencing team further elevates the sport's growing reputation for social justice activism. This summer, U.S. fencer Race Imboden won a medal at the Pan American Games and kneeled on the victory stand during the national anthem. Columbia team co-captain Nolen Scruggs, one of the Lions who trains with Imboden, said, “Seeing him use his platform as an athlete to create conversations in society inspired me to do that, too."
Though the Secret Service rained on the Columbia activists' parade, President Trump said, "We've had a great time. And meeting these athletes — they’re real athletes, I can tell you. It’s a tremendous achievement. And we’re bringing many of them over to the Oval Office. I guess all of them. So far, nobody has turned that one down — because it is a special place."