Why we chose Bristol: A response from SHAC

Scott Elman, Jen Guo, Megan Lane, Averill Guo, Brooke Cheatham

Since the appeal hearing on Tuesday night, there has been, to say the least, a great deal of talk about Bristol Palin. Concerns were voiced to family and friends. Facebook and Twitter exploded with status updates, tweets and wall posts. News of Bristol’s offer to speak found its way into Student Life, The Huffington Post and local news channels the very next day.

One of the Student Health Advisory Committee’s (SHAC) goals is to promote information regarding protection from unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. Furthermore, Sexual Responsibility Week (Sex Week) is aimed at sparking a dialogue among the student body about sexual health, sexuality and relationships. Our aim was, and still is, to create diverse and stimulating programming throughout the week, and we believed that a panel with Bristol Palin, the Catholic Student Center, Planned Parenthood and Student Health Services would have helped bring to light topics in sexual health in a well-balanced manner. Bristol Palin had the highest profile teen pregnancy of recent times, and it was our belief that having her speak was the most effective way to bring this topic to the forefront.

We chose to bring Bristol to campus because of her experience as a teenage mother and how she turned her situation into an opportunity to spread a positive message. She currently works as an ambassador for The Candie’s Foundation, a non-profit organization whose mission is to prevent teen pregnancy primarily through abstinence, and has also spoken on NBC’s “The Today Show” and ABC’s “Good Morning America.” In addition, we felt that her story would have contributed to a multifaceted discussion regarding sexual health, and we feel that this unique discussion was well worth the funding. We valued Bristol Palin’s ability to fill Graham Chapel to capacity and bring this discussion to the widest possible audience. A rich and multi-dimensional dialogue among students was sure to follow.

This was our goal. However, in the last 48 hours, this message has been vastly misconstrued. Controversy was expected, but we did not anticipate such a swift, rash and political backlash. For a university that prides itself in the diversity, intellectual prowess and open-mindedness of its student body, we were shocked to see the formation of such hasty conclusions. According to the Student Union Constitution, SHAC, at this point, is the sole arbiter behind the decision to bring Bristol to Wash. U. as no contract has been signed. We reached a mutual agreement with Bristol’s agent that both Bristol Palin and SHAC did not want to overshadow the event with the controversy surrounding her visit. Bristol wants our message of sexual responsibility to go forward, and we mutually agreed that this was neither the place nor the time for her to speak at the University.

It is important to note that this panel, along with all of the other Sex Week events, will still be taking place. Dr. Katie Plax, Head of Adolescent Medicine in the Department of Pediatrics at the Washington University School of Medicine and the Medical Director of Supporting Positive Opportunities with Teens (SPOT), will replace Bristol on the panel. If the students of Wash. U. do value substance, we challenge them to still attend the panel in Graham Chapel on Feb. 7, and we hope that they will remain active participants in all events that occur during Sex Week.

SHAC wishes to thank the faculty, student services and those who support student initiatives on campus. We appreciate Student Union for providing an open forum for students to present their opinions. We look forward to working with them in the future.

Thank you for reading. We now welcome your opinions whether they be in support or in protest. We invite you to challenge the beliefs of others, think critically and listen respectfully. As students of Wash. U., we would expect no less.

Scott Elman is a senior in Arts & Sciences and the president of the Student Health Advisory Committee (SHAC). Write to Scott at [email protected]
Jen Guo, Megan Lane, Averill Guo, and Brooke Cheatham are Sex Week Chairs.

  • 2003alum

    The political positions of Bristol Palin’s mother have nothing to do with the fact that Palin is no more qualified to speak about teenage pregnancy than any of the teen moms right here in St. Louis. And certainly not even close to being as qualified as your “backup” speaker, a medical doctor who can tell first hand about sexual responsibility.

    You chose celebrity over substance and it backfired. Congratulations.

  • conscience

    So why are the simplest questions so difficult to answer for those who are suddenly so concerned about speaking fees?

    What are the other speakers being paid?

    What was Gloria Steinem paid?

    What was Van Jones paid?

    Gee, could there be some other reason they flipped out and resorted to censorship?

  • BrokenArrow

    OMG……just reading the comments here, now. Looks like Alum1996 and I are on the same wavelength.

  • BrokenArrow

    Your rationale(paragraph 3) makes no sense at all. She didn’t abstain at 16, and she sure as heck isn’t abstaining now. What a bunch of BS. She “turned her situation” into a money-making opportunity, nothing more. She really ought to focus on getting an education, and a career, instead of being a brunette Paris Hilton.

    • Matt Davies

      At least there is one point of agreement. She should focus on her education and career. That is what will get her far in life. You can’t really compare her to Paris. While you may not agree with Bristol’s beliefs, in no way is she trying to be a socialite like Paris. Yes, she has been given some opportunities because of her mother, but the same can be said of other children of famous parents.

  • During the Great Depression, an alcoholic stockbroker was at the end of his rope; broke, unemployed and facing divorce, he contemplated suicide. Instead, he sobered up.

    Bill Wilson went on to found Alcoholics Anonymous, with 100,000 chapters worldwide. At the core of AA is public confession, repentance, and personal testimony.

    The sanctity of wisdom learned through life’s lessons communicated by personal testimony is a powerful tool. We can all learn from another’s mistake.

    Was Bristol Palin the correct choice to preach about perils of unwed motherhood? We’ll never know. She’s persona non grata at W.U. — deemed a “polarizing, political figure.”

    In other words, instead of giving Ms. Palin a platform to consider the weight of her argument, it’s the bigotry and intolerance of the faculty and students toward Ms. Palin that’s the deciding factor.

    Yet, when pressed for clarification on this matter, the dissenters cite the $20,000 speaking fee. Agreed. It’s a ridiculous amount.

    But, I’m not sure what’s more disturbing, the fact that “SEX WEEK” is an officially sanctioned observation at a publicly subsidized institution of learning, or that students have $20,000 in discretionary funds for “SEX WEEK,” or the obvious intolerance and bigotry running rampant at supposed open forums of knowledge.

    That, too, is ridiculous.

    I wish the dissenters would drop the academic pretense against Ms. Palin, and simply say it’s all about the $20,000.

    • Wumom

      It’s about the $20,000

      • Matt Davies

        What if she came for free?

        • Anony

          that’s the thing. she wouldn’t.

        • Wumom

          Then I’d favor having her come. Would she agree to having the speaking fee donated to a local St Louis charity benefiting young women struggling financially because they chose to eschew abortion? If she would, I’d pick her up myself.

  • Alumni 1996

    Bristal Palin is like Paris Hilton, famous for nothing but being young & sexually active & child of famous person. Clearly she would never have been on TV or been able to start that foundation if it had not been for her rich and connected mother. I would not agree to spending $20,000 for either Bristal, Paris, or any other famous for nothing person. If Wash U has that much money to spend frivulously, I as an alumni feel that I no longer need to donate. I thought money students and alumni provide is for worthy causes like scholarships for people who aren’t lucky enough to be the children of the rich or advancement of serious intellectual thought and real acheivement. What can Bristal speak to that will help the conversation – what its like to be on dancing with the stars? What its like to be priviledged and be superconnected to rich and powerful people? As someone else said below, if you want to hear about young single parents, there is probably one or two at Wash U and definately many in St. Louis who don’t have a speech writer and have dealt with more financial obsticals then Bristal.

    To respond to person who said Wash U is blocking free speach, I agree with the comment that nothing about $20K is freespeach. No one is stopping her from speaking, but there is no constitutional right to a microphone.

  • Matt

    Treasury. Has. The. Money. Period end of story. Why not spend our “hard earned” (as some people call it) Student Activities Fee? Treasury has more money at this point in the year than they did last. Sex Week is important, and now that there is no major name associated with the week, students will be less likely to participate (unfortunately).

  • JD – ’05

    As an alum, I think Bristol would have been a welcomed addition to a very interesting panel. The liberal body at Wash U needs to practice what they preach and be much more open to ideas different from their own. However, a $20K price tag is ridiculous and completely changes the situation. It would be reasonable to pay for travel and accommodations, along with perhaps a small, modest speaking fee, but at $20K you are paying for celebrity, not substance.

    • Matt Davies

      Also as an alum, I agree with your statement. The $20K fee argument may be a valid argument for some, but for most it was a convenient, non political excuse. I assert that if the fee were $5K (like Van Jones received) the opposition would have been just as intense from most of the student body.

      • BrokenArrow

        How is a person with a resume like Van Johnson, and a girl who still lives with her parents, has just completed her GED w/no college credits as of yet, an accurate compairison?

        • BrokenArrow

          Excuse me…..should read Van Jones.

        • EE92

          Van Jones — self proclaimed communist and 9/11 truther. The fact he suckered $5K out of the University is quite an embarrassment.

  • conscience

    It’s clear now that Washington University is very bad place to be if you believe in free speech, human rights, or medical science. This all has the air of McCarthyism reborn on an American campus. The WU has let itself become involved with Planned Parenthood directly with regard to its medical school also. It seems no amount of failure over any amount of decades will dissuade some loony left colleges from pursuing policies and embracing organizations that don’t work.

    Hook up culture, cancer causing steroids, and abortion have become a religion on these campuses. So much so, that anyone even questioning it will be shouted down or simply silenced. There is no rational discussion of anything amidst such vitriol, and narrow mindedness.

    I actually don’t think it was Bristol Palin’s thoughts on abstinence that got so many hateful, brainwashed people to deny her her first amendment rights. I think what they really feared is that she would deliver a pro life message within her speech that might have included some facts, some science, and news of some events that so many at WU would very much like to stay in the dark about. Worse still, they insist on everybody else staying ignorant to the facts also. Has the WU really become a partisan political organization, and abandoned being an independent, honest, and open university of higher learning? It certainly seems so now.

    • jharp

      “if you believe in free speech”

      The speech wasn’t free. It was $20,000 bucks.

      And you know nothing of the first amendment you fool. Our government had nothing to do with stopping her speech.

      God you right wingers are stupid.

      • conscience

        1) Your point is only valid IF she was the only panelist getting paid that amount, and everyone else was getting nothing.

        2) Colleges refusing to hear voices from different sides of an issue and denying first amendment rights in doing so is a very dangerous precedent. Indoctrinating propaganda, be it left or right, into very impressionable young minds becomes difficult unless you can silence and censor all who dare question you.

        I am a socialist, for what it’s worth..

        • Jussayin’

          Nobody at WashU is *afraid* of hearing viewpoints contrary to our own. The University is not silencing voices from different sides. There’s no “secret fear” that was the undercurrent to students protesting her appearance.

          She was charging too much and promised to deliver little. That was all. Please calm down now with all this paranoia about why WashU “REALLY” was objecting this.

        • jharp


          In addition to being a fake socialist you are also stupid.

          Read it. The first amendment. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

          Washington U can allow or disallow whomever they choose to speak. They are not the Congress. It has nothing to do with getting paid or not getting paid.

          And you really made me laugh with the claim of being a socialist. Is it you are ashamed to admit you are a right winger or is because you posted something so stupid that you were trying to distance yourself from your cause and blame it on another group you loathe?

          Methinks the latter.

          God you people are stupid.

          • Matt Davies

            Wow, you are really something. You will win more arguments by not calling people stupid all the time.

          • conscience


            You seem to be a very angry and bitter young person who thinks he or she is more intelligent than everyone else. I understand that is part of growing up. But I need not respond with grade school insults to TRY and make my points. Would you be so inclined to say the first amendment has no relevance of a university somewhere decided that, say, no more minority or female speakers will be allowed to speak on their campus? If that decision, and the reaction to it, has nothing whatsoever to the first amendment – then what would you base your opposition it it on?

            And if this was only about the money, then why is it that you can’t tell us what the other speakers are making? Or what Gloria Steinem or Van Jones was paid to speak at WU? Shouldn’t you as someone who is so concerned (all of a sudden) about what speakers are paid have to know this information in order to be presenting a fair, unbiased view about this topic?

            Your extreme partisanship as expressed in other posts, as well as your reluctance to discuss the fees that ANYONE else got to speak at WU, sure seems to give off the smell of someone who is just trying to cover up a fervent wish to silence diversity of thought on your campus with a concern about a speaking fee. WU has rewarded such people so fearful of diversity with who they replaced Palin with.

            So lets hear it. What are the fees being paid/already paid to all these other speakers? List by name with individual amounts, please.

      • Carol

        I hate to tell you but it sounds like you need to go back to high school. Maybe you were just kidding. If you have been paying people to speak it doesn’t make sense why you were worried about the payment after Palin was asked. Palin didn’t call you guys. You called her. What you should really worry about is when someone like Van Jones spoke there. He would love nothing more than to destroy the USA. It is not that he is just a Marxist but he was also believe in violence was involved in the riots after Rodney King beating. At least she is not a criminal. The left can not stand on their values because they have none. They are so afraid the right might make you realize what is happening. Only the left doesn’t believe free speech. The right believe everyone has the right to speak. All you have is the left trying to stop someone that make a difference in someones life. The left want you to have an abortion any way. It would be nice if some of you would think for yourselves. I’m sure Palin could not care less if she speaks at your college. BE careful make sure you are getting an education and not just being indoctrinated.

        • jharp


          You are an idiot and your ignorance serves no one.

          God you right wingers are stupid.

          • conscience

            jharp, so far all the “stupid idiots” have been doing here is showing you how easy it is counter an arrogant person with ideas that you cannot see or consider because of the straws you have been taught to look through for perspective. Probably taught at WU, sadly.

            You can rant on and on with your very narrow minded view of everything, including this controversy. But you are not adept at all in defending your assertions, proving this was all about money, or answering the simplest of questions that have been posed to you. The last election really embittered you, didn’t it? I’m afraid 2012 isn’t looking much better either.

      • Matt Davies

        Your comment was reasonable until your last line. If you want to talk stupid, then which group of people elected a community organizer for President?

        • jharp

          “which group of people elected a community organizer for President?”

          The same group of people that elected an ex cokehead, recovering alcoholic, ex pilot who failed to complete his military obligations. We Americans did.

          And so far the community organizer has performed famously in cleaning up the formers catastrophic 2 terms.

          God you people are stupid.

          • EE92

            Performed famously? That is really quite a laugh. Have you watched the rate our deficit is growing? Have you seen how much time he golfs or plays basketball? Don’t forget also that Mr. Obama was a heavy drug user.

            I am assuming you are in the 6th year of your 4 year degree.

        • Wumom

          Let’s see – a community organizer, graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law, editor of the Harvard Law Review – can’t imagine this guy could have the brains to be president. You may not agree with him, but it’s hard to argue that he’s not smart enough.

          • Matt Davies

            He was completely unqualified. He may have some smarts, but he is out of his league. Hillary would have even been better. For you folks to not see his major flaws even at this point further proves my point.

  • Alex

    There is nothing wrong with bringing controversial figures to campus. Alberto Gonzales and Karl Rove, for example. Though they were very polarizing figures, no one discounts their credentials as top figures in the US government.

    Bristol Palin, on the other hand, has no such qualifications. If you take away the name, she’s just another teenage mother. What could she have added to a discussion about abstinence in college when she has neither practiced abstinence nor attended college? If the experiences of a teenage mother were what you hoped to bring to the table, you could probably find one a few blocks northeast of campus and save about twenty grand.

    I applaud your decision to instead invite an actual doctor to take part in the panel.

    You’ve invited me to challenge the beliefs of others, while listening respectfully and thinking critically. I have done so. I ask you now to challenge your own beliefs, to entertain the possibility that you made a mistake. As a fellow fallible human being, I would expect no less.

    • An SU/SL alum

      Alex is completely correct on all counts. Although I would argue that the Teen Moms on MTV are almost as high profile as Bristol, the fact remains that the panel discussion is targeted to WU students, who are already older than Bristol Palin. Her experience of being pregnant at 17 is already not relevant to a discussion about sexual issues among college students. A mom who is currently in college would at least be more germane to WU students.

      The issue was paying $20K for Bristol’s alleged expertise.

    • Classof2010

      Alex: exactly right.

      The patronizing tone of this letter from SHAC is disappointing. We did not “misconstrue” your intent. The WashU community knows the difference between a speaker with substance and qualifications and one who does not.

      -A WashU Alum

  • Bill Parcell

    I’m very glad that Bristol will not speak at Wash. U. Although it may be true that her qualifications include speaking on “Good Morning America” and “The Today Show,” she is not qualified to speak at our Graham Chapel. What’s good enough for American television viewers should never be a sufficient criteria for her appeal to the Washington University community. Thank you, Wash U students, for reversing this decision.

  • student

    too bad nobody won’t go to the panel anymore….SHAC shouldn’t have backed down. i was looking forward to hearing bristol speak

    • Professor

      Perhaps you might consider completing your English homework prior to announcing your desire to utilize $20,000 student fees to listen to a pseudo-celebrity tell college students to do what she chose not to do when she was 17 years old.

      • Matt Davies

        What kind of professor are you? Is this the way you speak to your students?

      • student

        Please get off your elitist high horse and realize that it was a typo. My sincerest apologies to anyone who’s had to take a class with “Professor.”

  • c445

    That’s great and all, but is there any way to recall both you guys and the Treasury members who voted to spend my money on something this ridiculous?

  • alaskakitty

    Why wouldn’t Bristol do it for nothing if she truly wants to spread the message that her life has been changed drastically by her actions. After all, she just plunked down around 200 thousand dollars cash for a house. And it took us, an R.N. and a salesman husband, 25 years to pay for our 125 thousand dollar house.
    The rich get richer I guess.

    • Matt Davies

      Since no contract was signed, we don’t know for certain what the fee would have been. In the future, is the person’s wealth going to be a factor on what fee they are given?