A WKU Alumni: Crosses and Condoms

When a friend sent me photos of the anti-abortion display on the Collonades at WKU, I was flabbergasted. Who the hell do these people think they are? I asked myself. I told my friend that she should cover their sign with one that said “Each cross represents a woman who was free to make her own choice” or “This is how many women will die each day if totalitarians succeed in taking away safe, legal abortion.”

I also wondered just what were these anti-choicers thinking, completely taking over a very popular gathering space for students, for an entire week. People drink coffee, study, or just soak in the sun on the Collonades. Nor is it unusual for professors to hold classes there on a nice day.

The Collonades are one of the beautiful architectural landmarks of Western. It is also affixed to the Ivan Wilson Fine Arts building, which houses the Art, Theater, Music, and Language departments.

Let me tell you something. If you believe that this ridiculous little Hilltoppers for Life group didn’t pull this stunt not merely expecting a reaction, but hoping for one, then you are a fool. Western Kentucky University has a proud history of activism. Students are very involved on this campus. Students were not going to let this stand without responding. Frankly? I was expecting more. If this had happened in my time, there would have been much more than a few condoms draped over crude popsicle stick crosses.

During the weekdays, they set up tables, along with boards. They wanted discussion. They wanted students to share their thoughts. Elaina Smith did just that. Like I said, they set up in front of the Fine Arts building. They expected some kind of art display. They expected a response, so they could throw a hissy fit. As Dr. Molly Kerby pointed out in her brilliant response to this hissy fit, the anti-choicers set up the crosses to spell out “life” on the bleachers, which could only be seen from the windows of the art department. This was provocation. This was a challenge. In my day, many, many more students would have taken up that challenge. Including me.

Now look. They’re calling for Elaina Smith to be arrested. They’re calling for the university to force her professor to give her a failing grade.

They want the police to violate Elaina’s first amendment rights to free speech.

They want the university to violate the academic freedom of their faculty.

It’s absolutely outrageous, but entirely consistent with their primary goal of calling for the government to forcibly violate a woman’s right to control her own body.

Hilltoppers for Life is no different from the man dubbed “Preacher Man” that occasionally visits campus. If you’re unfamiliar, Preacher Man sets up behind the university center during the day, insulting and provoking students in the name of the Christian god. The more students engage this man, the more insulting he gets. Meanwhile, his companion circulates throughout the crowd with a camera, snapping photos of the students who engage with Preacher Man. This man hopes to provoke the students into assaulting him, so that he may sue the student and the university. And, of course, claim martyrdom for himself and his religion.

These fools kept someone hidden at the Collonades each night, hoping to catch someone doing something to their display, so that they could claim martyrdom for themselves. Did you notice that when Elaina showed up to place her condoms, Hilltoppers for Life member, Matt Sohl, called the Students for Life for America before he called the police? Apparently their parent organization failed to instruct them properly.

(Did these student plan to skip class the next day? Or show up exhausted and unable to participate properly in their classes?)

If you still doubt that their goal was for someone to mess with their display, let me tell you something else about Western Kentucky University. Students interact with campus art on a regular basis. There is a statue of Sergeant Guthrie, in front of the Guthrie belltower, his right hand uplifted, and cupped just so. Students regularly put items in the statue’s hand. Coffee cups, bananas, ice cream cones, to name just a few. Behind McLean Hall, there is a statue of a woman, mid-stride. She is regularly dressed up with hats, scarves, and dresses. The wooden bunny, beside Garrett, is regularly dressed up as well. The students aren’t the only ones who do this–the university participates in this pastime. The abstract art affectionately dubbed the “Big Red Vagina” had bushes planted around it last time I visited campus. And I’m sorry, but that was not a coincidence.

It is shameful that President Gary Ransdell has condemned Elaina. She is a student–participating in a campus pastime, exercising her right to free speech and self-expression, and creatively completing a class project. Aside from the Hilltoppers for Life, this people crying foul are not part of WKU’s community. They all, including HFL, are part of an organized effort to curtail other people’s rights, creating controversy and provoking others to reaction. Garbear, as an alumni, I am ashamed that you are not standing by a fellow Hilltopper. I am ashamed that you, blinded as you are by your desire for good PR, turned your back on the students and faculty, falling hook, line, and sinker for their manufactured martyrdom.

Today, as a Hilltopper, I am ashamed, President Gary Ransdell, that you represent my university. I am proud, Hilltoppers for “Life” excepted, of the students and faculty. I am proud of Elaina. I am proud of Dr. Molly Kerby for taking a public stand for student’s right to free speech, and academic freedom. (Though, of course, I expected nothing less from Dr. Kerby. She is a fantastic person.)

I expect SGA to pass a resolution on Tuesday, supporting Elaina Smith, and condemning HTL and President Ransdell’s efforts to silence and punish students for expressing themselves.

I expect the Faculty Senate to rally as well, supporting their colleague’s right to grade her student’s work as she sees fit.

I expect the campus community to stand up, and call this manufactured outrage for what it is: an attack on freedom.


Rand Paul Needs Schooling Part 1

Rand Paul needs some education on campaign-running. In this article, when asked for specifics on one of the staples of his campaign, he responded that it was impossible to give specifics until after the election. Apparently, he’s taking his cue from incumbents in Congress, where it is common to postpone controversial votes until after the election.

I have several issues with this—as a voter, as a political scientist, and as someone with a wee bit of experience in campaigning.

First, annoying as it is, it is understandable when incumbents postpone controversial votes until election season has concluded. Why? Well, we all know the answer to that question. In a general election, politicians tend to swing toward the middle, to court the largest possible number of the electorate. A controversial piece of legislation may alienate moderates, the base, or both. It’s acceptable (if annoying if that particular legislation is important to you) because we have a solid voting record from incumbents that we as voters can judge from. With a brand-new politician, running for his first-ever political office? Not so much.

I spent two years in student government at Western Kentucky University. I learned quickly that voters want specifics. As a rookie to the whole scene, I fell into the trap of using idealistic platitudes as my platform. It was easy to do, because I really did want to “help the students.” My decision to join was based off my being a student, noticing issues that needed to be addressed, and deciding I should do something about them. Once elected, I met the then-Chief of Staff, who answered my questions and pushed me to come up with specific solutions. I did. As a senator, I got off easy. Later, when I chose to run for an executive position-the students, and the student paper, the College Heights Herald, weren’t having any of it. They wanted specifics. This is a problem, what exactly are you going to do about it? Where exactly do you stand on this issue?  I was well-prepared, but I had one thing going against me: reality.

I had two years under my belt by this time, as well as Dr. Sandra Audrey’s Campaign Management class. I was prepared with specifics, but not the specifics that the students wanted. Parking, they asked, what was I going to do about parking? Silly me, I was honest to a fault. Nothing. We’re in the middle of Bowling Green, we have nowhere to put more convenient parking lots, even if student government had the clout to push the university to fund a multi-million dollar project. I gave specifics, but not exactly what they wanted to hear.  I was experienced, but I didn’t have that mix of specificity, platitudes, and the dismissal of the hurdle logistics and reality. I lost.

Rand Paul could learn a thing or two from the Student Government Association of WKU. You don’t get to, as a rookie, make grandiose statements about an issue, and then refuse to elaborate. With this budget thing, Dr. Paul, you could go about it a whole of different ways. Some conservatives will like, some liberals will like, and some that everyone or no one will like. People need to hear the how.

You also don’t get to say that you’re too busy to figure out how exactly you want to do those things that you want to do. You’re campaigning for public office—your job, if elected, will be to figure out how you want to do those things you want to do, and then do them. Especially if you’re the libertarian you say you are—you won’t have an established party behind you to do everything for you. Campaigning is a full-time job. I sympathize. I ran myself, as well as running the 2008 campaign for Bowling Green commissioner Slim Nash. Doing those things while being a full-time student, I really sympathize. But the thing is, you can’t complain. It’s part of the job. A politician cannot complain about how hard it is, because he chose to do it, and a massive amount of his electorate is struggling to make ends meet. Who wants to hear a well-off doctor complain about the difficulty of running for office, when you may be struggling to pay the bills and put food on the table? Many of his supporters, or potential supporters, will never even dream of running, because just surviving is taking up all of their time, money, and energy. In short, it’s not a politically savvy thing to do. I know. I and my fellow SGA members did it, and we got ripped apart by the students and the campus media, and then we lost.

Rand, here’s some advice from me to you. Go speak to some of the current and former SGA members at WKU. It’s pretty close to home, so it shouldn’t take up too much of your time.

Inspiration: the Little Things Edition

As part of Western’s Erase The Hate week, there was a showing of the film Milk on South Lawn. I’ve seen the movie three or four times now, and it never fails. You know those movies that just make you cry–every time? Milk is one of those movies for me.

If you haven’t seen it, you should. If you have, you should watch it again.

The people of Castro moved. It started with Harvey Milk, but the gay community moved, they fought, and they won. It was a beautiful grassroots movement.

It was chilly and damp, but fifteen or twenty of us sat in the grass and toughed it out. We laughed. We made a sarcastic comment here and there. But mostly we just sat and watched in companionable silence. Sometimes it’s the little things that inspire you. Sometimes it’s the little things that give you the energy to brace your shoulders and confront the world.

Tomorrow is just another day, but maybe I can do something good tomorrow. Who knows, maybe you can, too.

(Now I’m going to get my butt in bed, because otherwise, my body is not going to be happy with me.)

The Fight for Domestic Partnership Benefits at Western Kentucky University

Skylar Jordan, a good friend of mine, has been trying to pressure the Benefits Committee of Western Kentucky University to add domestic partners to the list of those family members that share the benefits of Western’s employees.

He first brought it up last year in our Student Government Association, who passed a resolution supporting domestic partnership benefits. Next it came up at University Senate, where we also got a resolution passed supporting DPB.

But the Benefits Committee ignored both faculty and students, and voted against it. Skylar wrote his response, published on his blog, as well as in the student newspaper. He laid out a very eloquent argument; check it out here.