The Collegian
Thursday, July 09, 2020

Commencement speaker dampens alumna's spirit

As an alumna of the University of Richmond, I am disappointed with the Commencement Committee's choice of Gov. Bob McDonnell as the commencement speaker for the class of 2012.

The University Promise, Principle II, states that "[t]he University of Richmond will be a diverse and inclusive community, strengthened intellectually and socially by the range of knowledge, opinion, belief, and political perspective and background of its members, whether of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, ability status, age, religious, economic, or geographic origin." McDonnell stands against everything UR claims it stands for in Principle II.

I'll head detractors off at the pass: some of you are going to argue that, by disagreeing with the choice of McDonnell as commencement speaker, a politically liberal person (like me) is looking to shut out others' political perspectives. This is not the case. One can be conservative and still respect others; I know many conservatives who do just that. That is not who McDonnell is. He has actively stripped minorities such as LGBT people, women and African-Americans of their rights. This is not respectful conservatism. This is disregard for others as human beings.

Just this February, UR was given a four-star LGBT-friendly rating by the Campus Climate Index, run by Campus Pride, an organization that works to create more LGBT-friendly campus environments. We provide benefits to same-sex partners and are actively creating a safer and more welcoming campus for queer people.

In contrast, McDonnell has made clear his stance on queer issues. He was an author of the constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman that passed in 2006. When he first took office, he rescinded Gov. Tim Kaine's executive order that protected people against discrimination based on sexual orientation. (He only reissued that protection after Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli made the mistake of telling public colleges and universities that they had no legal basis on which to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. Basically, Cuccinelli made the homophobic move too public, so McDonnell had to back pedal.) McDonnell just recently stated that he believed that a child needed to have a mother and father.

The University of Richmond has actively supported women's growth with its continuation of the coordinate college system within the structure of a co-educational university. Westhampton College offers UR women something that Virginia Woolf might deem "a room of their own," a place for support tailored to women and increased leadership opportunities, among other things. McDonnell, on the other hand, has actively worked to turn back the clock on women. One need only look at the recent scandal that has led Rachel Maddow to dub him "Governor Vaginal Probe" to see what McDonnell believes when it comes to trusting women to make a choice for themselves. He has believed these things for a long time; in his grad school thesis, written in 1989, he talked about how "detrimental" working women are to the "traditional" family (aka what HE believes a family should look like).

For years now, UR has run pre-orientation for people of color; we have historically black Greek societies and the Black Student Association. McDonnell does not value the contributions of people of color to our country. In 2010, he declared April "Confederate History Month" and omitted any mention of slavery in the original Proclamation. He amended the Proclamation after the omission was noticed by the media. McDonnell also supports voter identification laws. These laws, originating in the time of Jim Crow, have been proven to create barriers for poor African-Americans when they go to vote.

I have bragged about UR to many in the past; I even recently applied to be a member of the Alumni Recruitment Committee. While I still plan to participate as an alumna in the University of Richmond culture, I can't help but have my enthusiasm dampened by the choice of McDonnell as speaker for the class of 2012. The committee should have considered UR's values more deeply before inviting the governor to speak.

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