When 22-year-old Mia Rawls attended a Donald Trump campaign rally on her college campus last Monday, she didn’t expect to get kicked out.
But that’s what happened to Rawls and about 30 other black students who attended the rally at Valdosta State University in Valdosta, Georgia.
The group decided to attend the rally dressed in black as a symbol of their grievances against Trump, Rawls said, but they did not plan to disrupt the event.
"[Trump] has a very dangerous, inflamed, racist, homophobic, sexist, xenophobic rhetoric," Rawls told Vox last Tuesday. "He is a major presidential candidate, but we find it troubling that the university would allow him to use that venue."
But before Trump came out to speak, she said, they were escorted out of the school complex, as Trump supporters looked on and shouted at them.
Since the confrontation took place, neither the group of students nor the officials involved can agree on the circumstances of the group being removed from the event.
Rawls and several other students have suggested racial bias as a factor behind this treatment.
"I think we got kicked out because we are a group of black people," said 19-year-old Tahjila Davis, in a tearful statement to USA Today. "They’re afraid we’re going to say something or do something, but we just really wanted to watch the rally."
Valdosta State senior Tamelonie Thomas, who was in the group, disagrees. Shortly following the event, Thomas told Vox that she and the other students only attended to listen to Trump's speech. In a follow-up conversation, however, Thomas said she now believes some members of the group were also there to protest.
Valdosta Police Chief Brian Childress was not in the complex at the time of the incident, but he said the students were asked to leave after cursing in the arena, according to a Time report.
Rawls said she did not hear any profanity before the students were asked to leave. Thomas later told Vox that she heard a few students curse in the complex, but did not immediately connect this to the reason behind the group’s removal.
Trump's campaign has denied being involved in removing the students, which had been alleged in other reports. Trump spokesperson Hope Hicks told Vox Tuesday in an email the campaign "had no knowledge of the incidents prior to these false reports."
USA Today reports that Secret Service and Valdosta police both deny responsibility for the decision to ask the students to leave. Video footage of the incident shows Valdosta police directing students out of the arena. Another video shows Valdosta police arguing with students outside about the tickets they purchased for the event.
"Protestors" escorted out of Trump Valdosta event before it begins pic.twitter.com/x9aoA0l5wb— Noah Gray CNN (@NoahGrayCNN) March 1, 2016
Valdosta State’s interim president, Cecil P. Staton, addressed the incident to the university community in an email statement obtained by Vox:
One negative aspect of the event receiving considerable attention today was the removal of a number of people from the rally. While some are suggesting racial motives, law enforcement leaders are rejecting this claim. While this is disturbing, it should be remembered that this was not a VSU sponsored event, but a private function. The Trump campaign, together with the Secret Service and other law-enforcement officials, had responsibility for such decisions, not VSU. As we reminded the campus via email last Friday, current federal law (HR 347) does not allow for protesting of any type in an area under protection by the Secret Service.
Rawls expressed disappointment with the university's response.
"I'm very offended by the email," Rawls told Vox. "There was no type of recognition of the fact that students that were kicked out, one of them being myself, were racially profiled."
Earlier on Monday during another Trump speech at Radford University in Radford, Virginia, a different group of predominantly black students were escorted out after chanting during the event. Video footage of the Radford rally also shows a Secret Service agent taking down a Time photographer after a verbal confrontation.
This controversy comes after Trump, who has vocally criticized Muslims and Mexican immigrants, refused to rebuke endorsements from former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke and other white supremacists during an interview with CNN.
The incidents Monday are just two of a number of the controversial clashes to take place at Trump rallies over the last year. These rallies have gained a reputation for including aggressive outbursts against Trump's opponents.
A video posted Tuesday by New York Daily News columnist Shaun King shows Trump supporters repeatedly shoving a female black protester at a rally in Louisville, Kentucky.
Trump has yet to comment on this, but has condoned aggression toward his critics in the past. Last month at a rally in Las Vegas, he said he’d like to punch a disruptive protester in the face; members of the crowd cheered in response.
With Trump winning seven out of 11 states during the Super Tuesday primary elections, more altercations like these could happen in the future.
Valdosta students expressed being "hurt" by Monday's incident. Rawls said she hopes the recent discord among the group does not cause people to lose sight of the big picture.
"I don't want differing statements to distract us from the goal, part of which is recognizing that this treatment is unjust," Rawls told Vox. "Our narratives tend to be taken away from us, so it's important to keep the main focus out there."