As a member of the Trump administration, Mr. Sessions said, he was a potential witness in the inquiry and therefore should not lead it. The decision drew the president’s ire, subjecting Mr. Sessions to months of public criticism and private humiliation.
Mr. Sessions resigned in November 2018 at Mr. Trump’s request.
The Amherst College Republicans invited Mr. Sessions to deliver the talk on Wednesday. It drew protests from students and faculty members at Amherst, as well as from nearby schools.
In the opening minutes of Mr. Sessions’s speech, about 50 attendees — more than a third of the audience — walked out of the campus chapel where the event was held. Many joined protesters outside, denouncing the policies he helped establish as attorney general as an attack on civil rights and saying that they targeted vulnerable groups.
In particular, the protesters singled out Mr. Sessions over his support for hard-line immigration tactics, like moving to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which shields young undocumented immigrants from deportation, and his backing of policies that remove Title IX statutes that would protect transgender students.
More than 100 demonstrators in total joined the protest, chanting slogans like “no justice, no peace” and “no racist beliefs.”
Huey Hewitt, a senior at Amherst and a member of the campus activist group that coordinated the protest, said it had a larger purpose. “It’s not just about Jeff Sessions, but about the policies that he’s come to uphold,” he said.
Mr. Sessions suggested that undergraduates should respect their peers’ decisions to invite speakers with a range of political views as a display of free speech. “I am concerned about the American values of free speech being eroded, particularly on college campuses,” he said.
And he said he believed conservative students in today’s political climate faced more disrespect than when he attended college. “My impression is college Republicans nationwide are having a harder time today,” he said.