By Heather Harmon
In my three years as a Senator, I have largely advocated against making a stance on politics happening outside or on the fringes of the university. Senate has historically remained apolitical, attempting to strike a balance between representing the majority views of the student body while refraining from alienating constituents with minority views. As elected representatives of a fiery and sometimes polarized academic community, Senate sometimes faces internal struggles on how to balance our dedication to social and academic programming with calls to respond to campus politics.
The selection of George Will, however, was not an issue that we could ignore. Some of the loudest and most valiant voices in the protests against Will’s selection came from within our community, and Will himself was at one time a Madison professor. Given the ties the issue had deep within JMC’s culture and identity, many Senators felt a responsibility, even a moral imperative, to voice the concerns and criticism they were hearing from within their respective majors.
Student Senate scrambled to arrange an emergency session during finals week; when I arrived to the meeting, a draft resolution in hand, I was ecstatic to see not only the necessary number of senators in attendance but also at least 10 other members of the JMC community who came to voice their support for a response –impressive numbers indeed for the Wednesday night of finals week. Dean Garnett also spoke to us as the meeting opened, emphasizing the need for the Senate to follow their hearts and heads when addressing the matter. Both an educator and an advisor, the Dean implored us to balance academic criticism of the columnist’s statements with a respect of Will’s right to free speech. The Dean left us with a sense that the alarm and disappointment with Will’s selection had reached deep into the academic leadership of the Madison community.
After an hour and a half of public and Senate discussion, to my surprise and personal satisfaction, the language of the resolution co-authored by myself and Vice President Justin Allen was strengthened so far as to ask the University to “disinvite George Will from the commencement ceremony and revoke his compensation as a speaker” due to the “inappropriate and offensive message” his selection sent to MSU’s sexual assault survivors and the Fall 2014 graduating class–language that echoed the demands of ASMSU and COGS. When the final resolution went public, Senate was met almost unanimously with pride and support from the JMC community. This response was both personally gratifying and a reaffirmation of the emotional intelligence, passion, and pride within James Madison College.
As easy as it is to wax poetic and give myself and my body a proverbial pat on the back, I don’t want to see the momentum gathered throughout the last few weeks of the fall semester die. The storm that was the mobilization of Michigan State University students against the selection of George Will as a Fall Commencement speaker has largely passed, but work remains undone. This was made clear in the student mobilization and response to the University’s recent town hall about the SARV program, and continued media coverage of student activists demanding administrative reform and action. Student Senate hopes to launch a new wave of programs on topics like consent, human trafficking, and women’s rights, and I urge our constituents to bring forward ideas on the sort of programs and conversations they would like their elected representatives to host. The national and campus response to sexual harassment and assault cannot die; it is the responsibility of elected student governments to keep the fight alive.
Treasurer Heather Harmon is a Senator in the CCP Caucus. She is a third year student studying Comparative Cultures and Politics, Arabic, Muslim Studies, and International Development. Heather is also a Resident Assistant and HR Student Supervisor in MSU’s Culinary Services Department. She can be reached at email@example.com.