A high-ranking member of U.S. President Donald Trumps’s cabinet is set to visit Lipscomb this week.

Alex M. Azar II, who was sworn in as Secretary of Health and Human Services on Jan. 29, 2018, will be the keynote speaker at a special Nashville Health Care Council event on Thursday at Shamblin Theater.

The member-only event begins at 11 a.m. CT and is closed to the general public and University students, but it will be available via live stream.

To make room for the event in the Shamblin, MASK Chapel, which celebrates diversity and inclusion, was cancelled this week.

“We are gathering and standing in solidarity with those who feel unsafe because of the presence of tomorrow’s speaker,” DSC president Leslie Garcia said.

The Diverse Student Coalition has organized the gathering in Zebi’s Lounge from 10:40 – 11:40 a.m. The coalition is encouraging students to wear black to show support for students who feel unsafe by his presence. The DSC put forth a statement confirming the “gathering”:

“[Azar’s] presence on this campus is a threat to our students of Latin descent, to our DACA students, to our students of color, to our students of Central and Latin American descent, and to our immigrant and refugee students . . . This is not a political protest, but rather our showing of support for students who might feel unsafe by his presence tomorrow.”

During Azar’s tenure as Secretary of Health and Human Services, the HHS has played a role in the Trump administration’s crackdown on immigration, detaining immigrant children after their parents were arrested for attempting to enter the country illegally.

The practice of detaining children has been condemned by the United Nations and the Vatican. The president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Dr. Colleen Kraft, told CNN in June that the separate detainment of children from their parents amounts to “government-sanctioned child abuse.”

Azar told CNN in July that his department was doing “one of the great acts of American generosity and charity” by caring for the immigrant children.

The department was responsible for returning all separated immigrant children to their parents within 30 days, a federal judge ruled June 27. But as of August 31, almost 500 children remain in HHS custody without their parents as they wait for family verification and background checks from the U.S. government.

Azar, the former president of global pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Company, has worked in both the public and private sector as an attorney and in various healthcare leadership roles. The Darmouth and Yale grad previously spent time at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services from 2001-2007 as a member of the General Counsel and later as Deputy Secretary.

This developing story will be updated with student reactions and more information as it becomes available.

In Lumination’s original article, the word “protest” was used by those Lumination had previously contacted and who are planning to attend the event tomorrow. Originally, Garcia was not available for comment, but she recently confirmed with Lumination that the DSC’s intent is not a “protest” of any kind, but rather a “community gathering.”

This story was updated with information regarding Garcia’s statement at 8:40 p.m.

This story was updated with information regarding the student protest at 5:10 p.m.

Lipscomb University and its Office for Intercultural Development declined comment for this story.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

Erin Franklin, Cole Gray and Russell Vannozzi contributed to this report.

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