Monday, January 16th, 2017
I’ve been weighing for a while what I heard about Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY. I drive by often so my ears perked up when the college was in the news a few weeks ago—and not about the results of one of its well-regarded polls.
After applying previously with no success, the college’s 30 year old band was chosen this year to march down Pennsylvania Avenue to celebrate the inauguration. The application was submitted in the spring of 2016, long before the election. Even so, some in the Marist College community squawked loudly.
David Yellen, the college’s president, wrote them a memo. An excerpt: “Some critics of the President-Elect, pointing to his controversial or inflammatory statements and policy proposals, view Marist’s participation in his inauguration as either a political statement in support of Mr. Trump, or an ethical lapse for not speaking out against him.”
Noting the college hosted a campaign event for Bernie Sanders, which also didn’t constitute an endorsement, he wrote: “I believe [these concerns] are based on a misunderstanding of the role of a college in a free society….A college community….holding a wide range of political views cannot itself be a political actor by staking a claim to any one position.” He wrote that the college will support students whether or not they participate.
Yellen’s point that–“…participating in the ritual of the United States’ peaceful transition of power [does not] constitute a political statement”–was also made by two other university presidents whose communities objected to their participation in the parade. On insidehighered.com, Scott Jaschik observed that this year is different from others, where before “students and their institutions have boasted about being selected to march in the parade.”
The colleges, some of whose constituents also objected, are Olivet Nazarene University, Bourbonnais Ill. and Talladega College, Talladega, Ala. No Washington DC-based high school band nor Howard University will participate this year. “Several other colleges and universities will also be participating, but are not drawing criticism.” reported Jaschik.
According to him, Billy Hawkins, president of Talladega College, a traditionally black institution, wrote: “We respect and appreciate how our students and alumni feel about our participation in this parade. As many of those who chose to participate in the parade have said, we feel the inauguration of a new president is not a political event but a civil ceremony celebrating the transfer of power.”
Those who were in favor of marching made hay. According to Paul Resnikoff, in “All-Black Talladega Marching Band Raises $320,000 to Play Trump Inauguration,” they made more than enough to pay all expenses to attend via a Gofundme page.
More than 900 people signed a petition urging Olivet Nazarene to withdraw. “Sadly, President-elect Trump has consistently articulated and advocated policies that undermine the Christian commitments of communities like Olivet,” the petition began, noting sexism, alliances with white supremacists, hostility towards immigrants and refugees as “just a few positions incompatible with Christian teachings in general and the Nazarene message of holiness in particular.” The college president, John Bowling, made the same point as the other two presidents. The parade is “a civic ceremony that provides the students with the opportunity to visit Washington and observe the process of transition firsthand.”
If you were in one of the college bands, would you attend this inauguration? Do you think that the protestors have good reason or don’t they understand the point of the inauguration according to the college presidents? Are you planning to watch the ceremony on TV?