Student petition gains traction

A petition regarding commencement speaker selection process has received almost 700 signatures 

A student-led petition regarding the choice of commencement speaker, Suzanne Scheuble, has been receiving attention on social media from alumni, family and students. At time of writing, the petition, written by Miller Bowe, has received over 680 signatures, 48 posts in support of the petition and has been shared on Facebook a number of times.

The petition specifically underlines three issues with the choice of speaker with the effort of trying to achieve long-term change in the selection process of commencement speakers. The petition takes issue with Scheuble’s age and her education background, her missionary work and the opaque selection process. The petition hopes to bring greater clarity and communication between students and faculty on choice of speaker. 

According to a press release from the University, Scheuble is the founder of a Lantu’s Home of Hidden Treasures, a home for abandoned and orphaned children in Ethiopia. At just 20 years old, after earning a Bachelors in Child Psychology, she consulted with pediatricians and child psychologists and raised funds to develop the first specialized care home for children in Ethiopia.

 She currently operates the home with her husband who provides medical attention for the children. She supervises a staff of 43, including 18 caregivers and two nurses.

According to the website, this is all being done in addition to furthering the message of Jesus Christ, which it lists as a need alongside nutrition and medical care. The website also states that Scheuble was inspired by God to do this work and she sees her work as service to Christ.

Scheuble has previously talked with the University as a PLP speaker in 2015.

After seeing the reactions of community members, Bowe was inspired to make a change. “I noticed no one I talked to about it was happy,” Bowe said. After consulting with other members of the community, including Bridget VanSteelant, the petition was written. Bridget VanSteelant has now taken lead promoting the petition and reaching out to students. Rachel Wagner, after seeing the petition got involved to work as a liaison between administration and students, as she has previously worked closely with them on other projects. 

They all expressed sentiments similar to the ones outlined in the petition when asked about the importance of the petition.

“A commencement speaker should be someone who can speak to the values of a liberal arts education, who can tell me my degree was worth it,” Wagner said.

“It seemed condescending that someone our age is telling us what a great life they’ve led,” VanSteelant said.

Bowe questioned further, “What does it tell us to have our own age or younger in many cases to stand up and say what they’ve been able to accomplish not going to college for four years?”

Above all, however, the group was inspired by the statement on diversity and inclusion penned by the University earlier this year. 

“We’re trying to help them live up to these statements We want that to be represented and in this speaker, we don’t feel it is and we’re trying to give people constructive criticism in how people feel included,” VanSteelant said. 

“It can be really isolating and for the most part I’ve quietly sat back and taken it my entire college career but this is the one day where I’m selfish enough to say I worked for this because of me, my professors, the academic community and not this,” Wagner said.

Some have accused the petition as standing against free speech. 

The group wanted to be clear that this petition is not being made with the goal of asking Scheuble to not speak.

“I’m a huge advocate for freedom of speech and I’m very critical of the mentality of college students shutting down speech of which they disagree I don’t see what we’re doing as analogous to what happened Ben Shapiro tried to visit Berkeley because this is not an optional event,” Wagner said.

Wagner even went further to say that asking her to speak goes against her freedom of speech. Wagner stated that she wanted her to more fully speak to her authentic message and would be unable to do so appropriately as the graduation speaker. “We’re putting her in an uncomfortable position by forcing her to strip down the core of her real message based on everything seen on her website,” Wagner said.  

There are some critics that ask why the petition has chosen to focus on commencement when there may be other issues in regard to diversity and inclusion on campus.

“This is one thing on a list of many that lead to an alienation of students, that might not be intentional at all on the part of the University but the perception still nonetheless exists and should be addressed and this was a major blunder in worsening it tenfold,” Wagner said.

Bowe also highlighted the visibility of the event and the importance it holds to him and many other students, making it a clear and easy time to bring this discussion to light. 

“If we didn’t care we wouldn’t be doing this. I do love this place I love the people and faculty it’s introduced me to. The reason I’m doing what I’m doing now is because of my love for the school. I’m trying to help make it a better place for the next class,” Bowe said.

After reaching out the University reiterated the breadth of accomplishments Scheuble was able to accomplish in a short time. SS has also previously stated in her speech in 2015, “It doesn’t matter if we all have different religions or the same, for we’re all united in one common mission: to love the poorest of the poor, be a voice for the unheard, a shelter for the week, and a friend for the forgotten.”

“We look forward to a meaningful and memorable graduation ceremony. Our speaker embodies what it means to live a life of significance. We always welcome suggestions from our students about speakers on campus,” Chief Communications Officer Jim Hanchett said. 

Bowe, Wagner and VanSteelant also wanted to be clear that they have not, thus far, planned any public demonstration and they look forward to working with the administration to achieve their long-term goals.

~Morgan Barclay, Editor-in-Chief~

This story has been updated as of 12:42 23 April 2019. An old draft was previously uploaded.

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