In protest of funding Bristol: an open letter

Wandalyn Savala

Like many students, I was angry when I heard that Treasury granted the Student Health Advisory Committee $20,000 to fund Bristol Palin as a keynote speaker for Sex Week. Bristol is being paid roughly 2/5 of a year’s tuition while millions of teen mothers across the United States can’t get so much as a welfare check without being vilified.

I am deeply disappointed. Paying Bristol to speak will only reinforce a double standard that says if you’re wealthy and white, then breaking our country’s unstated—but highly enforced—moral codes is not only permissible, but profitable. However, if you’re working class, or about to lose middle class status, or working and poor, or homeless, or a woman of color, or poor and white, or simply teenaged, sexually curious and have no institutional support to educate and protect yourself, then woe betide you! Unmarried women in these groups who get pregnant most certainly don’t expect to be paid well for their views on abstinence.

To be sure, I support the Student Health Advisory Committee’s (SHAC) vision for Sex Week. I think the organization is right in trying to change its image from “too one-dimensional” by highlighting the debates surrounding abstinence. But, surely, there’s a better way than paying Bristol. Has SHAC considered posing the above double-standard argument to Bristol and her advisors and requesting that she come for free, or $292, the value of a month’s worth of welfare in Missouri*? If Bristol refuses, what does that really say about her insight into what it means to be abstinent?

I know SHAC wants to put on a successful Sex Week. But, for the sake of social justice—which is what empowered sexual decisions are about—they should not fund Bristol’s speech. Unfortunately, the issue is practically a moot point now; a combination of legal issues and bad timing means Bristol will most likely be speaking here on Feb. 7. In the future, however, I hope the extra-campus implications of a speaker’s presence gives other student groups pause when they decide on who they want to come and speak.

*figure from stopthedrugwar.org. If someone has a more accurate number, please correct.

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