Letter to the Editor: Responding to the selection of Sen. Mark Warner as 2018 Commencement speaker

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Dear Editor,

I write in response to your recent article, “U.S. Senator Mark Warner to speak at 2018 Commencement address,” published on March 23. I must express my disappointment with the College’s choice of speaker in the context of the milestones we are celebrating this academic year.

One of my first memories at this school was the news during freshman orientation that our graduation year would mark 100 years of women and 50 years of Black students at the College. With Senator Warner speaking, I will remember that we will have been “guid[ed] out of the College and into the world” by a white male on the anniversary of not one, but two landmarks for historically disenfranchised groups in the College’s complex, flawed history. I shouldn’t even have to point out the obvious disconnect here.

I acknowledge and celebrate the inclusion of Katherine Johnson and the first Black residents in the ceremony, but short remarks and the conferral of honorary degrees are not enough. President Reveley claims to be honoring the journeys of these women of color (dubious enough considering the President’s record handling other matters of race politics) but why not honor one of them, or another person of color, with the central speaking platform at this event? The College had the opportunity to further lift the voices of groups historically and presently barred from spaces of higher education, to prove to non-male, non-white students that the claims to prioritize diversity are not just that, and they have utterly missed it. This critique would stand in any year in which the school chose a white male commencement speaker, but the choice is especially disappointing in the context of what we are supposed to be celebrating this year.

I do not intend to criticize Senator Warner himself. I’m proud to be represented by him in a Senate half-composed of unprincipled politicians who refuse to criticize President Trump and I do not doubt that he truly cares about higher education and this school. Nor do I want this criticism to translate into any sort of protest against him at Commencement. My criticism is against the school, and against the committee who chooses the Commencement speaker. I write only to let the College know that this disconnect has not gone unnoticed. If we claim to be celebrating 100 years of women and 50 years of Black students in residence at the College in 2017-2018, the Commencement speaker at the end of that year should reflect that celebration.

Sincerely, Emily Abbey
Email Emily Abbey at [email protected]