Macalester College President Suzanne M. Rivera says the school will reimburse students arrested while participating in civil disobedience who can’t afford to pay the fine.
Rivera extended the offer this week to students at the St. Paul college in a letter to the college community and in a series of tweets.
“Offering to reimburse fines for civil disobedience is an equity issue,” Rivera wrote in the letter. “What I am emphasizing here is that if any students cannot afford the fines for peaceful protest, then I would be willing to reimburse them because freedom of speech is not a privilege only our wealthy students should enjoy.”
Students gathered Tuesday to rally support for the counting of all ballots cast in the election, but Rivera said the school’s offer wasn’t tied to any specific cause. Rather, she said, it was meant to encourage students, faculty, staff and alumni to rightfully and peacefully engage in social action and work to change laws and policies.
“Civil disobedience is a time-honored tradition in the U.S., and the rights to assembly and free speech are protected in the Constitution,” she wrote. “The free exchange of ideas — even when done inconveniently — is one of the cornerstones of a liberal arts education. It is our duty in this democracy to make our views known.”
Not everybody supports Rivera’s action. The president’s office has received numerous angry calls, e-mails and a threat of violence, she said.
“Some people will disagree with my opinion and I affirm their right to tell me so,” she said. “I only ask that when we disagree, we engage in constructive dialogue about our differences of opinion, appreciating that each member of this community is entitled to safety, courtesy, and respect.”