Treasury funds Bristol Palin to speak on campus
CORRECTION APPENDED BELOW
Bristol Palin has been selected as keynote speaker for this year’s Sexual Responsibility Week at Washington University.
Student Union Treasury on Tuesday approved a $20,000 appeal by the Student Health Advisory Committee (SHAC) to sponsor a four-person panel featuring Palin. The appeal was initially set at $25,000 and renegotiated.
The $20,000 comes from the Student Activity Fee collected from each undergraduate student at the beginning of the year. The Student Activity Fee is fixed at one percent of tuition.
While Palin has not formally agreed to the appearance yet, she is expected to do so shortly.
Students have already organized against the potential speech by Palin, organizing protests via Facebook and voicing complaints at the weekly SU Senate meeting on Jan. 26.
SHAC would not release the exact amount charged for Palin’s appearance. According to ABC News, Palin charges $15,000 to $30,000 for each appearance on the speakers’ circuit.
The originally scheduled panel included representatives from the Catholic Student Center, Missouri Right to Life, and Planned Parenthood. In order to address student concern that the panel leaned too far to the right of the political spectrum, SHAC selected Dr. Lisa Ross of Student Health Services as a replacement for the Missouri Right to Life representative.
The daughter of former Republican vice-presidential hopeful Sarah Palin, Bristol, now 20-years-old, has been a champion for abstinence since giving birth to her son Tripp shortly after the 2008 presidential election.
The younger Palin has appeared in a variety of pregnancy-prevention campaigns for The Candie’s Foundation.
Palin was also a finalist on “Dancing with the Stars” in 2010.
The event will be held in Graham Chapel at 7 p.m. on Feb. 7. to end the first day of Sex Week. The week, which seeks to start an open sexual dialogue, encourage students to experiment with sexual viewpoints that differ from their own and to provide wide-reaching sexual education, will continue through Feb. 12.
The event will begin with a 25-minute speech by Palin on her life story to be followed by an hour-long panel discussion and a half hour question-and-answer session. A reception will be held after the question and answer to allow students to interact with Palin one-on-one.
The final vote the approved funding went seven votes for bringing in Palin, four votes against and one abstention.
By hosting Palin as the keynote speaker, SHAC hoped to appease concerns with previous Sex Weeks while also highlighting this year’s series.
“We thought a big name like Bristol’s would help to start a dialogue,” SHAC President Scott Elman said. “We also wanted to target abstinence because SHAC and Sex Week have been criticized for being too liberal and too one-dimensional, and that the abstinence conversation hasn’t been brought up.”
Elman added SHAC’s decision has effectively ostracized a sizable portion of the University community.
“3,000, maybe 4,000 people haven’t engaged in sex. There’s a population on our campus that does practice abstinence and gets forgotten about,” Elman said. “It’s not that SHAC is bringing Bristol Palin and saying ‘this is it.’”
Some Treasury members felt that Palin’s speech would spark student interest.
“I know it will fill Graham Chapel, so to me, that’s value in itself,” said Treasury representative Daniel Bernard, a junior. “It brings the student body together in a way that we usually don’t have on this campus.”
Not all Treasury members, however, supported the decision to fund Palin to speak on campus.
“One concern I do have when we fund someone like Bristol Palin is, what really are we supporting? And to me it’s someone who is famous because they got pregnant at 18,” said freshman Jacob Trunsky, chair of the Budget Committee.
Students have mixed views on the keynote address.
“I just don’t see what she could possibly contribute to an intelligent, reasonable discussion about sex,” senior Toby Shepard said.
Sophomore Sherveen Mashayekhi, president of the College Democrats, had similar sentiments.
“While she is obviously an experienced person on the matter of teen pregnancy, she is an extremely polarizing presence in social and political terms and does not provide the right type of balancing, sensitive, well-rounded force to an issue as hot as sex on campus,” Mashayekhi said.
While SHAC recognizes that the choice may be controversial, its members believe that having the high-profile speaker will ultimately benefit the series.
“I understand that people are not going to be happy—this will probably be protested. We really just want to start dialogue and the fact that we’re bringing in a balanced panel should be taken into account,” Elman said. “We’re not just bringing in Bristol Palin, we’re bringing her in with three or four other educated people.”
With additional reporting by Kate Gaertner and Shayna Makaron.
Editor’s note: This is an updated version of a breaking news post, originally published at 10:50 p.m. on January 25.