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Liberty graduates send back diplomas in protest of Jerry Falwell Jr.'s support of Donald Trump

Alumni protesting comments made following Charlottesville violence

LYNCHBURG, Va. – This week, a group of Liberty University alumni have been advocating their fellow graduates to return their diplomas. This is a protest in response to Liberty President Jerry Falwell Jr. tweeting his support for Donald Trump's comments following the violence in Charlottesville earlier this month.

As of right now, the "Return Your Diploma to LU" group says about 50 graduates have done just that, along with sending letters to the university. But WSLS also spoke with a political analyst Saturday who says, it's important to look at protests like this one within the larger context of the national debate over confederate statues and white nationalism.

Following the violence in Charlottesville August 12th, President Trump characterized it as "Hatred, bigotry, and violence, on many sides."

A statement quickly supported by Falwell, who tweeted "Bold truthful statement about Charlottesville tragedy. So proud of Donald Trump."

That was the moment that former student and faculty member Chris Gaumer says he had to speak up.

"Because of who Jerry Falwell is in representing Liberty University at least publicly, somewhat aligned the University with the President's position, which was clearly very problematic to say the least," said Gaumer.

Gaumer worked with other Liberty graduates over the past week to start an online campaign, and Friday, the diplomas started going back.

"We've started mailing them off yesterday was the first day. If you just counted individual letters, there'd be 50 people sending 150 letters at the present," said Gaumer.

But political analyst Ed Lynch says, while the move is newsworthy, it doesn't reflect the larger national sentiment.

"When you look at the numbers, the actual amount of outrage is considerably less than some of the national new outlets have led people to believe," said Lynch.

Lynch says polling data supports his conclusion.

"About 50 percent in one sample said that the President was right to blame various sides in the tragedy, in the terrorist attack in Charlottesville. About 60 percent in an NPR sample said the Confederate statues were perfectly okay with them, including about 60 percent of millennials," said Lynch.

But Gaumer says, in Lynchburg, he just hopes his campaign starts a meaningful dialogue.

"We hope that they get involved in the larger discussion. We're interested to know if they are concerned at all about aligning themselves with a president who doesn't necessarily represent the moral and ethical values that Liberty University was founded on," said Gaumer.

Liberty University did respond to the campaign, stating "The tactic of returning diplomas has been used by students of many other schools to draw attention to various causes, but let's also remember that those same diplomas are quite helpful in helping these graduates secure well-paying jobs."

Gaumer says he was disappointed in the university's response, and continues to encourage more alumni to join the protest.