Students prep to protest Giuliani

By Middlebury Campus

Author: Katie Flagg

As Commencement draws near, students, faculty and staff unhappy with the choice of Rudolph Giuliani as Commencement speaker are mobilizing to protest Giuliani’s politics and policies. College administrators predict that the protests, should they occur, will not interfere with the Commencement ceremony – and protest organizers have confirmed that the protests will be respectful to the College community. The protests mark the latest milestone in the ongoing debate regarding Giuliani’s invitation to speak at the College.

“This mobilization is both a response to and a catalyst of unrest about the decision [to invite Giuliani to speak],” said Cynthia Hernandez ’05, the leading student organizer for the Giuliani protests. Hernandez says that she was initially interested in organizing a protest after discovering that “the desire for protest and action” is strong among various members of the College community.

“There is no student organization behind this,” Hernandez explained, “just interested, passionate individuals.”

The “desire for protest” among members of the community has not gone undetected by College administrators.

“I understand that a few members of the senior class will likely walk out during Rudolph Giuliani’s Commencement speech, and that some of them will be joined by their parents,” said Secretary of the College and Professor of Political Science Eric Davis. Davis – who served as the administrative liaison to the committee that selected the Commencement speaker – continued, “I would also not be surprised if some parents wear anti-Giuliani buttons or t-shirts, and if there are some students who are not seniors, but will be on campus for Commencement, with anti-Giuliani signs or posters.”

Davis, however, believes that protests, should they arise, will not interfere with the Commencement ceremony. “I am confident that members of the Middlebury community who wish to exercise their First Amendment rights to protest against Mayor Giuliani will do so in a civil manner that will not disrupt the ceremony,” he said. Davis doubts that such protests will “interfere with the rights of other seniors, parents and Commencement guests to listen uninterruptedly to what Giuliani has to say.”

Davis pointed to a recent article in The Daily Camera, a newspaper in Boulder, Colo., in discussing the Giuliani debate at Middlebury. In his visit to Boulder last month, Giuliani told a crowd of University of Colorado students that opposition is what makes the United States a democracy.

“I don’t think we should be upset by the fact that we disagree,” Giuliani said. “What we need to remove is how angry we get about it.”

Davis regarded Giuliani’s remarks as “worth noting in the Middlebury context.”

“I trust that members of the Middlebury community will approach Giuliani’s appearance at Commencement in that spirit,” said Davis, referring to Giuliani’s speech, “respectfully demonstrating their profound disagreements with his political opinions.”

Hernandez confirmed Davis’s hopes for a peaceful, respectful protest. She is leading and organizing the protest in a way, she says, “that is still respectful to the College that has given me and so many other seniors so much over the past four years.”

Students, faculty and staff met Wednesday for information and organization sessions to debate what form the protests will take. At the time of press, details regarding the protest had not yet been finalized.

Meanwhile, the Giuliani debate at Middlebury continues to make national headlines. The debate first gained national attention following the publication of a doctored photograph in the March 17 issue of The Middlebury Campus portraying Giuliani as Adolf Hitler that accompanied an opinions submission to the paper. In a May 3 article in the New York Times, former Campus Editor-in-Chief Andrea Gissing ’05 – who resigned following the publication of the retouched Giuliani graphic, taking “full responsibility” for the photograph – said she might publish the piece again, were she to repeat the experience.

“It served the purpose of a political cartoon,” said Gissing, “which is to, you know, make people think about the issue and react to it in a positive or negative way.”

Reactions to the graphic have been varied and numerous – including countless letters and submissions to The Campus, Web log postings on the Internet and articles in the Times and The Burlington Free Press.

Giuliani will give the keynote address at the College’s Commencement ceremony on May 22.