Speaker Series lineup announced

| News Editor

After seven hours of presentations, debates and voting, Student Union Treasury funded seven of the 13 speaker appeals for the largest Speaker Series in recent memory.

5-time figure skating world champion & public diplomacy ambassadorJim Alden

5-time figure skating world champion & public diplomacy ambassador

With an increased budget of $170,000, Student Union groups plan to bring bigger names in higher quantities, including LeVar Burton of “Reading Rainbow” and “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and Michelle Kwan, Olympic figure skater and public diplomacy ambassador.

Burton and Kwan were only two of the speakers funded at the Sunday afternoon Treasury meeting. Nine total speakers were approved, including one panel presentation of three members. In contrast to the five speakers funded last year, this year’s speakers are more diverse in terms of race, gender and sexual orientation.

Host of ‘Reading Rainbow,’ actor & education activistBernard Oh

Host of ‘Reading Rainbow,’ actor & education activist

Junior Brian Benton, vice president of public relations for Student Union, explained that the budget for speakers was larger this year because of leftover, or “carry-forward,” funds allocated last year that were not spent by student groups.

“The reason money was moved from the carry-forward fund into the Speaker Series fund was to further our goal, which is making Student Union’s impact more present on campus and bringing more speakers is a direct and tangible way that students can see that Student Union and the activities fee affect them. In the past, a lot of people haven’t seen Student Union’s impact, so this is definitely a way that people will see that,” Benton said.

Writer & transgender rights activistJeff Few

Writer & transgender rights activist

Speakers funded this year include LeVar Burton, Michelle Kwan, Mae Jemison, Janet Mock and Ta-Nehisi Coates, all people of color. Mock is also a transgender woman and activist, and the panel of three Republican speakers includes Fred Karger, who in 2012 became the first openly gay presidential candidate from a major political party.

Student Union president Emma Tyler was excited about this year’s diverse selections.

“I think it’s awesome that it’s one of the largest Speaker Series ever with nine different speakers. I think the group as a whole appeals to a lot of different groups on campus and it speaks to a wide variety of issues,” Tyler said. “This is definitely one of the best dockets I’ve ever seen in my time here in number and scale and diversity of the people funded.”

Senior Sam Gorsche, speaker of the Treasury, noted that while diversity was not the only aspect involved in decision-making, it was definitely a factor.

“We want diverse programming, in terms of the students who might be interested in it, in terms of the topics, in terms of the style of the speakers, so that can be difficult to quantify and difficult to get just right, but I think that’s something that we did,” Gorsche said.

One of the biggest debates during the hours-long meeting, however, was over the diversity of the Wash. U. College Republican’s pro-lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender marriage Republican panel. While it was ultimately funded, some Treasury representatives felt that the panel needed more representatives of different races and sexualities.

Junior Kevin Deutsch, internal vice president of the College Republicans, came up with the idea for the panel initially and defended its makeup.

Columnist & pro-gay marriage advocate within the Republican PartyBirkent Studio

Columnist & pro-gay marriage advocate within the Republican Party

“We don’t really have a big pool of pro-LGBT and Republican speakers, and we don’t have a big pool of Republicans speakers who identify as LGBT, because it’s a party that—on a national level and state level—opposes same-sex marriage and other LGBT rights,” Deutsch said. “A few years ago, [Speaker Series] brought in three porn stars who were all white and nobody complained, nobody batted an eye. [The diversity of the panel] wasn’t really something we could help, and I don’t think it’ll be an issue down the road.”

Although funds were not allocated for her appearance last year, Kwan was funded on behalf of the Chinese Students Association, which plans to invite Kwan to discuss her leadership roles rather than her figure skating career.

Gorsche attributed the appeal’s approval the second time around to a turnover in Treasury, a better presentation by the CSA and a lack of another similar speaker for comparison.

“Last year, there was a comparison between [Kwan] and some other speakers, which made it seem like only one of them should be funded. This year, there wasn’t that clear of a comparison between her and another speaker,” he said.

Iranian-American writer & scholar of religionsAslan Media

Iranian-American writer & scholar of religions

Tyler noted that it was a particularly sentimental moment for her to see Kwan funded after initial rejection last year.

“It was really cool to see [CSA] not get funded last year and listen to the feedback Treasury gave them and work really hard to tailor their event to something that would appeal to more students,” she said.

Black Anthology’s petition to bring film director Spike Lee was denied, though the initial vote was notably close enough that the appeal was reconsidered and a second vote was held. Most of the decision not to fund him was attributed to the $37,500 cost of bringing him to the University.

“[Spike Lee] was the most expensive speaker that we saw and I think that contributed to [not funding him], given our restraints on funding. I think that some Treasury reps were hesitant to vote yes, which was apparent in the abstentions. We had a lot of great speakers and this was a difficult decision, but I think the price tag was really a part of it,” Gorsche said.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article mistakenly referred to the group that appealed for Kwan’s funding as the Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA). Student Life regrets the error.

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