Guest Commentary: Commencement 2011



There’s been quite a bit of discussion over whether or not there should even be a protest at commencement this year. My response is that I get it. I get that it might be disruptive to others in the audience. I get that it seems (to some people) like the wrong time, or the wrong place. I understand the arguments about disrespect, and the decision process, and why he was chosen, and so on.
We all get it, and we’re moving forward with a demonstration that has adapted to this discourse while still holding on to the things we feel are most important.
In short, Senator Bond held a position where the decisions he made mattered; he created laws and policy, and those things trickle down to create culture. His decisions have the power to shape individuals for success or failure, and they have a lasting effect on how people are treated in formal and informal interactions.
In some cases, Senator Bond supported laws and policies that place government-sanctioned discredits upon some individuals, based on their personal characteristics. He made these decisions over and over and over again, and it’s extremely difficult to ignore that the populations Senator Bond discredits were most often non-whites, non-heterosexuals, social welfare recipients, women, and immigrants.
That’s not okay.
The demonstration on May 7th is not, “Stand up if you think that Senator Kit Bond is a bad person!” It’s not about being better, or more enlightened than him. Nothing about this demonstration is vindictive or spiteful and none of us are here to show Senator Bond “to his face” that there’s something fundamentally wrong with who he is.
The demonstration is about believing that diversity is a privilege of the human condition and its lessons are invaluable. It’s about hoping our politicians and CEOs will all soon understand that there is no such thing as ranking human value. It’s about standing up and identifying yourself as an ally, as a supporter, and as someone who others can look to (or remember) for confidence if they feel targeted.
Further, it is a commitment to non-discrimination in your personal and professional life and a promise to use your voice to identify oppressions when they are being over-looked. It’s proof that you have learned that our world is smaller and more connected than we think it is, and there is no ethical explanation for excluding some identities from access to the parts of it that can be shared.
The plan is very simple: display an “equal” sign. Do it any way you want. Preferably, one attached to your cap. Use glitter or duct tape or fabric or paper scrap. Be-dazzle the crap out of that thing, or simply print one off in black and white and attach it with tape or glue. Any font, size 700 or higher, printed horizontally, will look great. Use a Sharpie to draw it on your hand. Make a huge poster. Shave it into your head. Make it yours – your statement.
Are we standing? Yes, I will be. Do you have to? Not necessarily. Standing is bold. You decide if that’s important to you, but imagine the possibility of an entire graduating class, standing, with all of our differences between us, behind one statement that we can all agree on. With this demonstration, we can scream volumes of wisdom without saying a word and still listen respectfully to what Senator Bond will say.
The demonstration is very simple, although the “equal” sign requires forethought on the part of participants. This, to me, makes the message sent by each individual more meaningful.
Our idea is a culmination of several weeks of conversation. Students of all majors and interests, professors and staff, alumni, and administrators have contributed their opinions. The power of listening, and of alternative perspectives, is evident when we look at how our message has been modified from the (often) irrational and (sometimes) hateful spews on Facebook when news of our keynote speaker was first released, into something that is well thought-out and soundly supported.
If you need some inspiration for your capthere are examples of caps on the protest pages on Facebook. Search: “Kit Bond Webster” and several pages will pop up. If you aren’t wearing a cap and gown and still want to participate (or you find yourself finishing finals up until an hour before the ceremony and do not get to put something on your cap), please, stand with us. And thank you, in advance, for your solidarity.
Our differences must be named as important, and not used as something to determine who receives what privileges.

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  1. I applaud this young ladies intellect, her opinion, and her passion. Most of all, I appreciate her approach to attempt to channel otherwise irrational diatribe, into something constructive, thought provoking, peaceful, respectful.

    It would behoove us all to remember that this man is an elected official. He had been voted into his position, repeatedly, by a majority of those casting votes… So perhaps the “demonstration” is really against the majority of Missourians. The ultimate “demonstration” is your vote…

    Bond spent the past eight years as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee and thus “privy to our nation’s deepest secrets.” This man is to be respected… you can disagree and be disappointed in his work… but he deserves the respect has he garnered the allegiance of more people than any body else in the state, who vied for the same office.

  2. While I sit here reading the articles from the journal I cannot help thinking is this the real antagonism? I wonder if this protest (as well meaning as it is) is just another way to forget a fundamental problem on Webster’s Campus. As a membership without a history, after all what kind of cultural history can be created in a social and educational structure that only has 66% graduation rate and a student body that on average leaves after 4-5 years. In a place with a fluctuating student body, with a diversity that dwarfs other contemporary institutions, I wonder if the only culture on campus is the culture of the institution.

    The fundamental problem in my opinion is the focus of this protest. While I believe that the this is a worthy cause in general I also believe that the protest is aimed in the wrong direction. The protest being considered in this article will show solidarity in the face of what some students feel is an attack on diversity, but what of the institutional structures and administration that perpetuate the marginalized voice of the student body? I see no protest of the Board, I see no petitions or counter-discourse over the pronouncement. This is at its core a discourse over the face of Webster. Who is defining the space you live in and are educated in? Who is deciding the course of the University you call home? Is it the student body? I would argue that the student body is content with having its decisions handed to them and stand only when these decisions create a dissonant perception of the University that cannot be ignored. If it was not so we would have a student member of the board, or a proactive statement from our elected representatives telling the administration that no choice will be made without us.

    Yes, President Stroble did explain the process to students at the delegate’s agenda. She explained that an e-mail went out to only certain people on campus asking for suggestions for speakers. Students were passively conferred with through email to its leadership (to which I would say is impossible to determine). These leaders were to gain an understanding of students wants on this issue. I ask, were you consulted about this? In many ways I feel like this protest follows many of the hierarchical structures of Webster. This has not been used as a point of leverage to incite debate or critical discourse about the community we live in. This seems to be an act of commodification of identity instead of a social discourse. This manufacted consent over the direction and voice of the Webster graduating class is the real travesty. In the coming year I would ask all students to take an active interest in the day to day activities of the campus. These structures and individuals that work behind the scenes to manufacture your experience may in fact be the forces that are silencing your voice. No matter if this is achieved through active manipulation or passive consent on our behalf makes no difference; our voice is still silenced. I truly believe in diversity, but diversity without a voice is not diversity.

    My next concern is that without grassroots education on these issues and discourse how will this message be received and what if any will be the lasting effects. This protest has been hierarchical in structure since it began. I have not seen public forums on the subject or educational opportunities available. What I have seen online is a collection of students who feel very strongly about an opinion but have not engaged the campus in a meaningful way. This is the same way in which the administration made the decision for the speaker without us. How will this protest spark debate or concern? Will it offer viable solutions based arguments? If this is activism how will it achieve lasting change instead of a display of identity, or will it die as the seniors of this campus move on? What ground work will this lay for the larger context of social struggle? In this context I am very critical of this movement.
    I feel the student body has a right to protest at this event in the way that they have outlined, but I also feel that this has not been done in a democratic way and has been as hierarchical and structured as the boards response to the original question. I feel like this protest has become identity politics and that the idea of diversity espoused in the argumentation is commodified and conflated with democratic diversity.

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