Recent protests and petitions from students at Washington University in St. Louis led to the removal of Bristol Palin as a speaker at the university’s upcoming Student Sexual Responsibility Week.
The Student Health Advisory Committee asked Palin to sit on a panel to speak about abstinence in front of 800 students at the university, SHAC President Scott Elman said.
“As a young mother, Bristol Palin has turned her personal experiences into a positive by promoting abstinence on college campuses,” Elman said. “We supported her message and wanted her to share that with students on our campus.”
Elman said the university’s student government was paying Palin $20,000 to speak at the panel.
Growing controversy among undergraduate students over the university’s plan to pay Palin with student-generated funds led to protests and petitions to have her removed from the panel, according to a statement from Washington University.
Many students thought Palin was not qualified to speak on abstinence, and the value of her message was not supported by students, said Elman.
Elman said many students on campus did support Palin’s message but were overshadowed by different groups on campus.
Washington University student Ryan McCombe did not support Palin speaking on campus and created both a Facebook group for student protesters and a petition to have Palin removed from the speaking panel.
“To pay in excess of $15,000 for a speaker whose messages do not resonate with students – and whose experience carries exactly the opposite gravity of the message she intends to share – is frankly absurd,” McCombe said.
McCombe said the issue with Palin’s speaking engagement was primarily her message and secondarily financial in nature. He said student protests against Palin were not political.
Elman added that while the SHAC welcomes protests on speakers and values student’s opinions, the way students protested Palin was disrespectful and uncivil.
University of Wisconsin spokesperson John Lucas said UW has had a strong track record over the past few years of welcoming controversial speakers without incident.
“Madison’s campus has a strong commitment to free speech and welcomes all points of view,” Lucas said.
There has been a tradition of protest and picketing on UW’s campus, especially when controversial speakers such as Michael Moore, David Horowitz and Daniel Pipes have visited campus in recent years, Lucas said.
However, problems were overcome peacefully and without disruption of the event itself, Lucas said.
As a result of the student backlash, Washington University and Palin came to the mutual conclusion the message they were trying to promote through the panel was not going to reach students, Elman said.
Both felt that this was not the time or the place for Bristol to speak on this topic, Elman said.
He said the panel and all other events planned for the student sexual responsibility event will still go on as planned without Palin.
“The committee is of course disappointed that Bristol won’t be speaking, but we have to keep the values in mind that we were trying to promote,” Elman said. “Those ideas will not be lost and that’s what’s most important,”