Kansas college Republicans call for KU student president's removal after her 'death to America' tweets

Jason Tidd
Topeka Capital-Journal
A Jayhawk sculpture outside the KU Memorial Union on March 8, 2021.

The student body president at the University of Kansas has defended her tweets about "death to America" amid mounting criticism from political figures and the school chancellor.

Student Body President Niya McAdoo gained national attention after retweeting a post last week that read, in part, "death to America." The Sept. 3 retweet came from the official @KUPresident handle, which has since had at least one more retweet and an original tweet mentioning "death to America."

Conservative commentator Todd Starnes was one of the first public figures to criticize McAdoo.

"Hey Kansas taxpayers --- are you okay with this?" Starnes tweeted.

The student government at KU is tasked with allocating about $25 million in student fee dollars but does not appear to receive taxpayer funding. The Student Senate Twitter account, @KUSenate, also retweeted the "death to America" post.

Starnes, in a post to his website, linked the anti-American tweet to the upcoming 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, as well as last month's suicide bombing that killed 13 American service members in Afghanistan.

Starnes said McAdoo shared "a message normally chanted by terrorists" and suggested that students and alumni "boycott unless university leaders address the racist, anti-American garbage spewing from the university’s student government agencies."

Starnes, who has "warned the country about the cancel culture mob," called for administrators to take action against McAdoo and the rest of student government.

"The University of Kansas should immediately remove President McAdoo from her office and dissolve the entire student senate," Starnes said. "They need to send a clear message to donors and taxpayers that they will not provide safe harbor to hate."

Student free speech at Kansas universities

In a statement, KU Chancellor Douglas Girod said the post was "disappointing and concerning." However, "the opinions in the student's post are protected by the First Amendment." The university is committed to serving as a "marketplace of ideas," even if they are offensive to some people.

Constitutional free speech protections similarly were cited a year ago when Kansas State University President Richard Myers resisted calls to expel a student over "racist messages on social media." The student, Jaden McNeil, later left the university.

In April, Wichita State University officials didn't comment when a WSU student senator wore a "white lives matter" mask the day after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of the murder of George Floyd.

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All nine members of the Kansas Board of Regents, which oversees the state's public universities, signed a statement on protection the free speech rights of students earlier this year. The statement said, in part, that the Regents and university administrators "cannot use a desire for civility and respect as the basis to silence expression," even if many people consider the ideas to be abhorrent.

Regents Chair Cheryl Harrison-Lee said Thursday that the sentiments expressed by McAdoo "do not align with the Regents’ beliefs or the type of productive dialogue we hope to encourage on our university campuses."

"U.S. citizens strive daily to make a more perfect union," Harrison-Lee said in a statement. "Often times we fall short. Nonetheless, we are proud to be Americans and despite its imperfections we are proud to call America home."

Student defends her comments on Twitter

McAdoo, who is a senior at KU, isn't backing down.

"Please know that it is death to an America that was built on Indigenous genocide and the backs of Black slaves," McAdoo said in a follow-up tweet on Sept. 3. "If you’re worried about people in the service of the military, be mad at your government because my words shouldn’t make you this mad."

On Monday, she retweeted popular and controversial musician Lil Nas X: "Nothing makes me happier than making people that hate me, hate me more."

"It’s very telling," McAdoo said in a tweet the same day, "that more people are concerned with a re-tweet opinion and not the actual racial and sexual violence that has happened in student senate and on KU campus. Where is the outrage for Black and Brown folks? Where is the outrage for sexual assault survivors?"

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Two days before the "death to America" tweets, McAdoo spoke at a Student Senate meeting about creating a more inclusive campus and student government.

She recalled former KU student body vice president Grant Daily, who resigned in March amid allegations of racism, "carelessness" in addressing sexual assault and other discriminatory behavior. McAdoo said many systems of governance were "built on racism and white supremacy" and accused other student leaders of being complicit in the discrimination.

Republican students, politicians critical of president

The Kansas Federation of College Republicans on Sept. 3 called for McAdoo to resign immediately over her "disgraceful" retweet.

The same day, the federation decried college campuses where "our voices are being silenced." The statement, which was a gubernatorial endorsement for Derek Schmidt, said he would "protect free-speech in our classrooms."

The federation has since called for KU student government to be nonpartisan, criticized student leaders using their platform to "peddle their political opinions," called for McAdoo to be "relieved of their duties" and demanded that university officials take action.

Starnes spoke with state Rep. Susan Humphries, R-Wichita and the chair of the Higher Education Budget committee, and called for state lawmakers to threaten the university's taxpayer funding. Humphries told Starnes that she prays for an "uprising" among students opposed to McAdoo's comments.

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State Sen. Kellie Warren, R-Leawood and chair of the Judiciary committee, said McAdoo's comments are offensive.

"It is ironic that she's endorsing death to America, when America’s liberties are what gives her the freedom of speech to say such outrageous things in the first place," Warren said in a Facebook post. "The remedy is for KU students to demand an atmosphere of civility and respect and not elect student government leaders who further incite the very hatred and division they claim to oppose.