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.

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