In light of the recent decision by the College of St. Catherine administration to disallow both Senator Hillary Clinton and conservative pundit Bay Buchanan from speaking on campus, the students of St. Kate's feel compelled to offer a response to the situation.
It is our understanding that St. Kate's has pursued a path of neutrality during this election year in order to avoid the "appearance of partisanship during the volatile weeks preceding the election" (as quoted in college President Sr. Andrea Lee's recent letter to the Board of Trustees). This "neutrality" is both disheartening and disturbing.
Firstly, as students participating in a university setting, we are expected to behave as adults in our academic studies, athletic competitions, and extracurricular pursuits. We have proven ourselves worthy of higher education and now stand at the vanguard of academia. How is it, then, that our own administration presumes that we are incapable of handling the volatility of this 2008 election season?
Secondly, the administration of this college has declared their intent to pursue "'neutrality'" throughout the election process while encouraging strong and active campus engagement" (again, as quoted in Sr. Andrea Lee's letter to the Board of Trustees). The students of St. Kate's would like to challenge the notion that there is such a thing as "neutrality" when it comes to the political world. Even if Vice President of Academic Affairs, Colleen Hegranes believes, as she stated in the Star Tribune article, that inviting three speakers of each party would bring neutrality, she would be incorrect. There is simply no such thing as an all-inclusive way to engage students of every political stripe. Many students at St. Kate's and elsewhere would challenge the idea that they fall into either of the dominant political parties. Do we then need to invite an equal number of Socialist, Green, and Independent party members to campus as well? And what of the anarchists? It is quite evident that a path of "neutrality" is, in actuality, more difficult to negotiate than a path of political engagement. And, let there be no mistake about it: political neutrality is not, in any way, political engagement.
Additionally, the line drawn between what is political and what is neutral is a thin, blurred line indeed. For instance, St. Kate's prides itself on the diverse artists and speakers we invite to campus each semester. We challenge the concept that art somehow exists outside of politics. Thus, how can we have the James Sewell Ballet or the Ananya Dance Company (both upcoming events at the O'Shaughnessy on campus) and not invite their politics with their art? When people in authority begin deciding what is neutral and what is political, they are navigating dangerous territory. The Ananya Dance Company, a collective of women of color who use art to express social, political, and economic concerns, is just as political as Senator Clinton or Ms. Buchanan.
Thirdly, the message we are sending to St. Kate's students--the past, present, and future--is an unfortunate one. It is more than unfortunate--it is frankly embarrassing. We are the nation's largest college for women. We were founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, sisters who believed in the education of women at a time when educating women was not the social norm or even an acceptable norm. We pride ourselves, supposedly, on grooming leaders. How then, can we choose political 'neutrality' over active political engagement? We recognize that administrators will challenge this point; however, it is quite clear to the students that political discourse cannot be properly expressed on our campus unless our differences are given the appropriate forums for discussion. How can we foster political engagement in a climate that does not allow either side of the aisle to speak on campus during a critical election year? How can any sort of resolution be arrived at between students of differing political beliefs when there is no encouragement from our administration to do so? Engagement and discourse cannot exist where neutrality is the dominant school of thought. Besides stifling student debate, we are stifling political identities. We are telling young women that it is acceptable to disenfranchise themselves in order to save face in the public eye or the financial realm.
For us, the students of St. Kate's, this is unacceptable. We believe that students at a college-level are more than ready to face the political disputes and 'volatility' that accompany an election season. We believe, furthermore, that political neutrality is a figment of our administration's collective imagination. Finally, we believe that our administration's decision to disallow both Ms. Buchanan and Senator Clinton is embarrassing and inappropriate on the grounds that this college was rooted in stronger stuff.
The disconnect between our activist past and our neutral present seems nearly impossible to overcome at this point. However, we implore the community of the College of St. Catherine--soon to become St. Catherine University--to challenge the administrative norms just as the Sisters' did in founding this educational institution.