YSU Quickly Prepares for Trump’s Visit Monday

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Turning a college campus into the site of a presidential rally, as Youngstown State University has learned, is a whirlwind of a process.

It was announced last night that the university would host Republican nominee Donald Trump Monday afternoon. The first indications that he would come to the Mahoning Valley, according to YSU’s vice president of university relations Shannon Tirone, sprang up on Tuesday.

That day, university officials spoke with members of Trump’s Ohio campaign team, who then passed them up the chain to the campaign headquarters in New York on Wednesday. By Thursday, members of Trump’s campaign were on campus, looking at sites. The announcement came later that night.

“That’s the longest period of time we’ve had to work with that I can remember,” Tirone said.

The speech comes at no cost to the university, she added, and the only payment YSU is receiving is to cover any “incurred costs, like overtime for police,” she said, a standard practice for these events.

During the 2012 election, Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan spoke in the Chestnut Room in Kilcawley Center, the same room Trump and his vice presidential nominee Gov. Mike Pence will be in. In 2008, Barrack Obama took the stage in Beeghly Center.

Setup for the speeches – Trump is scheduled to begin speaking at 2 p.m. Monday – will begin Sunday, Tirone said.

David Johnson, chairman of the Columbiana County Republican Party, told The Business Journal that Trump will speak about foreign policy. Johnson also told the newspaper the event is by invitation with county party leaders given tickets to distributed.

“It’s not a rally,” Johnson said, “but a foreign policy address to a limited audience.”

Johnson said he met with Trump Monday during the candidate’s visit to Canton. He also spoke with Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and discussed the importance of the Mahoning Valley in winning Ohio. “They chose Youngstown because Trump won every county in eastern Ohio and YSU was the kind of academic environment they are looking for. It’s a real positive for the Valley,” he said.

It’s unlikely that Trump will meet with anyone from the university, Tirone said.

“That’s typical. The candidates fly in, come to the site, speak and they fly out. There’s no mix and mingle or VIP reception,” Tirone said. “They’re all on a tight schedule right now.”

President Jim Tressel said that he will be out of town Monday, eliminating any chance he’ll meet with Trump. Tressel endorsed Ohio Gov. John Kasich during the state’s primary campaign.

While YSU does have larger spaces available – Beeghly Center can hold up to 6,300, although that number doesn’t include the chairs that would be set up on the floor for nonsporting events – it was the Trump campaign’s decision to use the 500-seat Chestnut Room.

“Would we like it to be a larger arena so it isn’t ticketed but a come one-come all? Of course, but at this point they dictate what they’re looking for,” Tirone said.

With just a couple of weeks before students return to campus and the fall semester begins, parking won’t be an issue, says YSU director of support services Danny O’Connell. The M-70 lot, across Fifth Avenue from DeBartolo Hall, will be used for the event.

“There’s well over 500 spaces in there and if we need, we’ll send overflow to the service lots around it,” he said. “Had it been in the gym, it would have been crazy, but we don’t have students in session, so it’ll just be normal stuff for us.”

The U.S. Secret Service will control security for the event, with local police – including the YSU Police Department – acting on their behalf.

“When we talk about our police officers, they’re in charge of securing [campus], but it’s really the Secret Service who comes in,” Tirone said. “They’ll be the ones indicating where we need people and we’ll fall in line.”

Nationwide, Trump’s speeches have drawn widespread protests at almost every stop. For Trump’s stump speech at the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport in March, there were no protestors inside the event – all visitors were bussed in from Eastwood Field in Niles – though some did show up across the street from the airport.

Whether protests this time will be organized remains to be seen.

Dylan Edwards, president of the YSU College Democrats, said that there has been some talk of protesting the speech, but nothing is formally planned yet.

“We never thought of this scenario because we never assumed either candidate would come to our university specifically,” he said, noting that protest isn’t always in the form of picketing and chanting. “It can be as simple as expressing disapproval to the press or writing a letter to the candidate.”

When he first heard about the event, Edwards said he was frustrated that the university would be tied to Trump’s message.

“It’s disappointing to see that this candidate associate his message – which to many of us is a message of hatred, bigotry, homophobia and xenophobia – with a university that prides itself on diversity and has a motto that translates to ‘the freed mind,’ ” he said. “We feel that having him, despite the fact that he’s the Republican nominee, is degrading to what our university stands for.”

The university has also reached out to the Clinton campaign to gauge their interest in bringing the Democratic nominee to YSU, Tirone said. It’s typical for the university to reach out to the candidates during election years, she added.

Around campus, Trump’s arrival is being met with a mixture of excitement, anger and some hesitation. Social media posts on Facebook and Twitter were largely against the Republican nominee coming to Youngstown, though there were plenty of pro-Trump comments to be found on the announcement postings.

“I’m approaching it with excitement, but also with a bit of trepidation,” said Justin Wier, managing editor of The Jambar, YSU’s student newspaper. “I don’t really know what to expect. The media coverage of Trump rallies has portrayed them as hostile to the press.”

Officials at the university, however, are looking beyond what Trump says and seeing this as a chance to bring publicity to the university and the Mahoning Valley.

“It’s great anytime we get this kind of spotlight on the university and we’re excited for that,” O’Connell said. “I’m excited that they’re coming to the Valley. I’m guessing they’ll both be back before the end. It’s good for us and shows who we are.”

Tirone added that Trump’s divisiveness is less important that bringing a spotlight to the area.

“We know northeast Ohio is extremely important, whether you’re Democrat or Republican,” she said. “When you look at it from a university [standpoint], no matter where you are in the United States, to be able to bring in someone to express their points and views, you’ll always have some for it and some against it.”

Pictured: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump makes his second visit to the Mahoning Valley Monday. He spoke at Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport in March.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.