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Inside the A-School

Public Forum #2: Silent Commencement Speech Walkout

The following statement describes a walkout being planned by some graduating students in response to the selection of Governor Robert McDonnell as speaker at the 2011 Final Exercises.  It is posted here in order to facilitate a community-wide discussion of the issues, but does not represent the opinions of the Architecture School.  We encourage comments to the blog that are a respectful expression of your opinion regarding the SILENT & PEACEFUL COMMENCEMENT SPEECH WALKOUT, freedom of speech and civil rights.

………………………………………………………………………………………

WHAT

SILENT & PEACEFUL COMMENCEMENT SPEECH WALKOUT in protest of the choice of Gov. Bob McDonnell as the 2011 UVA commencement speaker.

WHY

  • Reduction in funding for public schools; in 2010 $646 million dollars was cut from public school funding
  • Against marriage equity; defining marriage as only between a man and a woman   Against adoption for same-sex couples
  • Declined to commute a death sentence for a mental challenged woman. She was executed in 2011
  • Declared Confederate History Month for the state of Virginia and neglected any direct mention of slavery.
  • Sought to pass a bill to allow offshore oil and gas extraction off Virginia’s coast; the effort was canceled through action taken by President Obama
  • Limiting state funding, accessibility and a woman’s right to choose.

Additional information:

PLAN

Join us by participating in a SILENT & PEACEFUL WALKOUT as Gov. Bob McDonnell approaches the podium to speak, after he has been introduced.  We will exit the ceremony the moment the Governor begins to speak and not return for the duration, in order to minimize disruption of the Final Exercises.   Gov. McDonnell is scheduled to take the podium at 10:00 a.m.

In addition we have attached protest images that highlight a few of the controversial issues listed above, but you can create your own.   Print and adorn yourself with a statement(s) orjust participate in the walkout.  Your participation in the walkout is the key part of the plan, because en masse we will make a clear statement.

PARTICIPATE

  • Pick up tickets for the Final Exercise at the University bookstore from May 19th to 22nd.  Remember to bring your photo id.
  • Spread the word by passing this along to friends in other schools in the university.

PRECEDENT

A similar protest happened at the University of Michigan’s Law School when Ohio Senator Rob Portman spoke at its commencement.  For more information, visit:
http://www.pridesource.com/article.html?article=46900

APPENDIX

http://www.clker.com/inc/svgedit/svg-editor.html?paramurl=/inc/clean.html?id=6272

See attachments

Use your “voice” by participating in the SILENT & PEACEFUL WALKOUT.

Aja, Jie and Laura


Discussion

19 thoughts on “Public Forum #2: Silent Commencement Speech Walkout

  1. Some Clarificaiton from Laura S. after the preliminary email:

    Hello community,

    We would like to clarify the spirit of the walkout. We understand that for some the Governor is a welcome choice for a commencement speaker. For some of us walking out is simply our way of celebrating our support of human rights on a day that is important to us all. We hope you will understand that we have friends, faculty and family who’s rights are not supported by the Governor. We hope that Graduation will be a time for us all to Celebrate our achievements and the people who have stood beside us throughout our time at UVA.

    Congratulations to all of the graduates, we hope you will enjoy the day in whatever form you chose.

    Thank You!
    Aja, Jie and Laura

    Posted by sjlarch | May 18, 2011, 12:08 am
  2. Another email from an opposing voice in the community:

    Laura and friends,

    I can respect your feelings toward Governor McDonnell and the values you wish to celebrate on graduation day, but graduation is not a forum for you to voice your political agenda. Graduation is a time to “celebrate our achievements and the people who have stood beside us throughout our time at UVA” as you have stated. Graduates of all creeds, opinions, and political views will be there with parents and faculty to celebrate their day of accomplishment. I have family coming from across the country to see me graduate. It will be my day, and your act of walking out will be disruptive and inconsiderate. If you want to send a message to Governor McDonnell don’t do it at my expense and the expense of many of our fellow graduates. There are other avenues for such things and I encourage you to use them. Governor McDonnell is not the focus of our graduation ceremony; we graduates are. If you do not respect or agree with the governor at least respect your fellow graduates and their families. Congratulations on your graduation–what an accomplishment for us all!

    Respectfully,

    David Biesinger

    P.S. I know that I am not alone in my sentiments. I call on those who agree with me to add your voice to mine.

    Posted by sjlarch | May 18, 2011, 12:09 am
    • If you say it’s your day and a time to celebrate, then it should not matter what other students do or how they act. This should not affect the celebration of “our achievement and the people who have stood beside us throughout our time at UVA.” Hopefully you will have other, better reasons to make your graduation memorable. Why focus on this one?

      Posted by Kate | May 18, 2011, 1:00 pm
      • I think we should turn this into a win win for everyone. since people who have families bigger than 3 members are having trouble getting tickets for their entire families, and we have others wanting to leave the ceremony for personal reasons, i think we should have one glorious trade off- people leaving the cereomny giving their seats up to those waiting outside to see their loved ones graduate. it could be fantastic.
        david

        Posted by david | May 18, 2011, 2:05 pm
  3. i did not spell check and i apologize. :)

    Posted by david | May 18, 2011, 2:06 pm
  4. Greetings Laura (and David) – If you would not mind my commenting.

    As an act of individual conscience, walking out seems perfectly
    appropriate. As a tool of political protest, it will be massively
    counter-productive, and, perhaps worse, it will miss an opportunity to
    do much more.

    Protest is an act of communication and walking out will not be
    understood as you would like it to be.

    David is likely in the vast majority who will view the protest as he
    does. The Governor will have the microphone and will be prepared to
    respond (probably with a Jefferson quote about tolerating dissent as
    long as reason exists) in ways that will generate overwhelming
    applause and sympathy for him.

    I know how creative you are; surely there are many ways of
    demonstrating concern that will show that in fact there is majority
    support for LGBTQ issues, e.g., passing out the ribbon/armbands,
    having letters/petitions to sign.

    Finally, your letter states some issues that are political decisions
    rather than human rights issues, and the way this is framed it just
    looks like a partisan effort rather than a stand for human rights.
    Also, if you are not aware already, you should know that many people
    denounced the proclamation upon its issue. Their efforts prompted the
    Governor to reconsider, issue an apology, and change that
    proclamation, actions that were an appropriate remedy. Ignoring that
    fact disrespects those whose efforts led to that change.

    regards,

    Frank

    Posted by Frank Dukes | May 18, 2011, 2:37 pm
  5. Dear Laura, Aja, and Jie,

    Thanks to all of you for doing this– I think I’m currently the only faculty member in our School who is struggling with what it means to be in Virginia as a person whose marriage is not recognized by the State (and therefore I can’t provide insurance benefits to my spouse, or take a leave when we have a child, etc etc). A family law attorney in Seattle basically advised me not to move to this state; it was presented to me as a very serious problem to live here, which I ignored to be able to join this faculty.

    Virginia has indeed turned out to be a scary place to live for me and my family, with the Governor and the Attorney General both opposed to recognizing gay families, and both of them actively involved in making it harder for us to exist (i.e., by preventing second-parent adoption and gay adoption in general). I wonder about how we will cope with our lack of civil rights everyday, while watching my baby turn into a little girl. It’s not a theoretical or abstract issue, as you know. And it’s important enough to be acknowledged at a public ceremony.

    Your protest means a lot to me, and I’m sure to many other people who are – on some level – afraid to live in Virginia. But I’m proud to be associated with courageous people at UVa who believe that civil rights are human rights. Gay rights ARE the civil rights movement, just as African-American rights and women’s rights have been. All of these movements have helped America become a more just democracy, and of course that’s worth doing – one public event at a time.

    Kristina Hill, Associate Professor, School of Architecture, UVA

    Posted by Kristina Hill | May 18, 2011, 2:43 pm
  6. I share David’s viewpoint. Your walkout costs your fellow graduates much more than it costs Governor McDonnell. Thus, it is a blunt instrument for making your point.

    I don’t know the sequence of the Lawn Ceremony, but if Governor McDonnell really does take the podium at 10, then you will have showed up primarily to leave–and to do so in a noticeable way. To call this celebration–of human rights or anything else–seems a little disingenuous. It is protest. And to protest in a setting like this is inconsiderate.

    Posted by Lance Brimhall | May 18, 2011, 2:53 pm
  7. No matter who the commencement speaker is, he or she will be liked by some and not by others. With the prestige of having a politician as the commencement speaker comes the guarantee that for every person that likes the speaker, there will be someone who dislikes him or her, which remains for any political party. As Governor McDonnell speaks to us as the head of Virginia, and as we listen as students of the University of Virginia, together we represent this state, and furthermore this country. Governor McDonnell not only holds a political office, but is also the father of two sons who both attend UVA. Walking out on his speech is a sign of disrespect to him, his family, our state, our country, and even our school. Graduation is a time to celebrate ourselves, our friends, and our families who have spent years of extremely hard work to expand our education, earn a degree, and enter the world. However, a political event is something graduation is not. By walking out, you will not only be disrespectful and rude, you will take away from the meaning of this day to every graduate and to those who have traveled to see this accomplishment officially confirmed. Governor McDonnell is an intelligent man who understands that, as a politician, he is disliked by many. Leaving at his arrival at the podium only shows him what he already knows; it does not prove a point or make a change. Reasons for this silent walkout are inadequate and not necessarily his personal opinions. Virginia state laws regarding the death penalty and gay rights represent what Virginians, as a whole, believe. When the Governor of Virginia, whoever he or she may be at the time, takes action, it is done as if every single Virginia resident were to be taking it themselves. Public school funding makes up around 53%, as I believe, of our state’s budget. In order to fund the many great projects McDonnell is promoting to better our state, such as transportation, job creations, and government reform, money has to be moved around to support them, meaning taking from the largest chunk of money is the most logical step. As architects, we all reflect on our final reviews and proceed to kick ourselves for completely forgetting to mention crucial information. Governor McDonnell left out slavery when declaring Confederate History Month, just like we all have done during reviews, and he has since apologized. However, my intent here is not to preach politics, and as much as I would like to address the fallacies of the rest of the reasons for protesting, I will return to matters of the actual protest. If you are trying to send Governor McDonnell a message by walking out on him, then do it literally. Write him a letter, vote in elections, and be active politically by getting involved-make a positive change. If you really care about politics and making a difference, then do something about it. If the only way you can think to do that is by silently leaving during a speech completely unrelated to the reasons of the walkout, then you will be committing an ignorant act and make no difference whatsoever; the changes you potentially want to be seen, assuming that is why you plan to walkout, will not be made. This walkout will not add to political reform, but subtract from the achievements of your fellow students.

    Posted by Hannah Huston | May 18, 2011, 4:50 pm
  8. I do not think that I will walk out (though I wholeheartedly support the reasoning) yet I would still like to show my disapproval of the governor’s initiatives in some other way. Does anyone know whom I or anyone else may contact to buy pins or . . . obtain some sort of visual motif supporting LGBT rights? I’m quite conflicted because I would like to visually express my rejection of McDonnell’s principles and policies but I do not know what would best represent that. I think that the motif should be subtle, yet powerful in its message. . . Any ideas are greatly welcome.

    Posted by SMB | May 18, 2011, 7:39 pm
    • If you want to send a powerful message, do so in a manner that actually relates to politics, where the issue would be resolved-not a college graduation ceremony. Making changes to better the lives of LGBTs will only be done so through actions, not through the usage of ribbons and pins. The best idea would be to not put down Governor McDonnell, but to become active yourself, whether you campaign for a candidate who shares your beliefs, write letters to office holders, join clubs/committees who support your ideas, etc. If you see McDonnell in a negative way for his actions as Governor, then take the higher road and be the better person by remaining in your seat. Otherwise, you are lowering yourself down to the level on which you perceive McDonnell to be. (Sorry for the vague use of “you”…i began using it to directly address SMB but shifted it to the general public part way through)

      Posted by Hannah Huston | May 18, 2011, 11:35 pm
      • Hannah, while I respect your opinions and welcome your constructive criticism, I must admit that politics is not the vehicle which I utilize to effect change. My strengths lie in other fields, like influencing the design of our built environment to bridge communities. Thus, I agree that ribbons and pins will not bring about political change or undermine Governor McDonnell in the long-term, but it will at least enable some students to express their opinions in the short-term.

        Of course, we can also complement such actions with long-term initiatives. For now, I simply hope that our student body can coordinate an agenda of peaceful dissent. Strategically, I do not know whether walking out will be easily feasible, so I hope that those students wishing to do so will conceive a route of exit. Perhaps a map will make this information legible? Best of luck to all students brainstorming.

        Posted by SMB | May 19, 2011, 10:01 am
    • SMB- Use that last bit of money left in your print account and print out something to pin onto your gown – the rainbow flag or the equal rights symbol are easily recognizable. I’m sure you’ve seen it on bumper stickers:
      http://www.glbtq.com/images/entries/slideshows/symbols_hrc_equality.gif

      If everyone who supports equal rights would pin one of those onto their gown on Sunday, it would be a very powerful statement.

      Posted by Delia | May 20, 2011, 6:05 pm
  9. Forecasting the potential outcome of the walkout could be argued either way. Instead of understanding it as merely a moment in time perhaps it is better to think of this as a process. I know that through the decision to organize a walkout, a discussion has started amongst friends, classmates, colleagues and love ones on fundamental issues that face the graduating class of 2011. Whether you agree or disagree with the choice to take action, it has already been successful because a respectful discussion is in progress.

    If taking this action is not a tribute to democracy and freedom of speech, I cannot imagine what is. To question and publicly challenge ethical choices that are different from our own is at the essence of what it is to be American, to participate in democracy and to be human in our time. Change and progress on civil rights issues in the United States has happened through peaceful and respectful disagreement. The progress that has occurred as a result of the past actions has strengthened our nation by expanding human dignity.

    I am proud to be graduating from the University of Virginia. The opportunity to peruse my graduate education at UVA has been an opportunity to engage in a stimulating academic environment. It has inspired me and reinvigorated my hope for the future. Regardless of partisan affiliation, the graduating class of 2011 from UVA is well prepared to participate in the future of this country because of the academic rigor of this institution. Respectful dialogue, the ability to listen to multiple view points and the strength to stand up for what you believe are all part of the education that I have receive at UVA. I could not be more proud.

    Ironically the professors and students that have supported and inspired me to the greatest extent do not have a full set of civil rights in the state of Virginia. This contradiction is worthy of a public discussion. It is motivated by respect and not disrespect.

    My hope is that the graduating class of 2011 will actively work to strengthen a respectful dialogue in this country. In the words of Thomas Jefferson,

    Liberty is to the collective body what health is to every individual body. Without health, no pleasure can be tasted by man; without liberty, no happiness can be enjoyed by society.

    We in America do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate.

    A little rebellion now and then is a good thing.

    One man with courage is a majority.

    If you choose to participate in the walkout, uphold the wishes of a peaceful and silent act of disagreement.

    Wishing each of you a beautiful graduation, however you chose to participate.
    Respectfully,
    Laura

    Posted by uvaweb | May 19, 2011, 9:47 am
  10. I would like to respond to a number of comments that have been made in the past few days:

    1. David Biesinger:

    “Graduates of all creeds, opinions, and political views will be there with parents and faculty to celebrate their day of accomplishment. I have family coming from across the country to see me graduate. It will be my day, and your act of walking out will be disruptive and inconsiderate. If you want to send a message to Governor McDonnell don’t do it at my expense and the expense of many of our fellow graduates.”

    Graduation celebrates the achievements of UVa’s student body. Among those achievements, I think amongst the greatest are those that affect positive change upon the environment. However, the World at Large is almost always resistant to change, and some of the most profound changes occur through the persistence of few against the masses. The Catholic Church put Galileo under house arrest for defending his view of heliocentrism, for example.

    As you said David, graduation is a time for celebrating “Graduates of all creeds, opinions, and political views.” What you may not understand, is that the choice of Governor McDonnell as our speaker shows UVa’s support of someone whose policies argue to silence this diversity, and that potentially a large part of the audience will feel greatly uncomfortable throughout the ceremony. There are much more disruptive measures that Laura, Jie, and Aja could have suggested to express their political views. When you feel offended, annoyed, or slightly irritated by their Silent Protest, consider our very own Professor Kristina Hill who finds Virginia “to be a scary place to live for me and my family.”

    2. Hannah Huston:

    “Walking out on his speech is a sign of disrespect to him, his family, our state, our country, and even our school… By walking out, you will not only be disrespectful and rude, you will take away from the meaning of this day to every graduate and to those who have traveled to see this accomplishment officially confirmed.”

    I would like to reiterate that the very choice of having Gov. McDonnell has already rendered this Graduation Ceremony empty of meaning to many of us who are graduating. Again, there are much more disruptive measures that could have been taken, such as loud speakers and soap boxes. The protest is silent: a small visual reminder of the discomfort felt by many in the audience.

    “Reasons for this silent walkout are inadequate and not necessarily his personal opinions. Virginia state laws regarding the death penalty and gay rights represent what Virginians, as a whole, believe.”

    Here, I would like to quote Professor Kristina Hill’s comment once again: “Virginia has indeed turned out to be a scary place to live for me and my family, with the Governor and the Attorney General both opposed to recognizing gay families, and both of them actively involved in making it harder for us to exist (i.e., by preventing second-parent adoption and gay adoption in general). I wonder about how we will cope with our lack of civil rights everyday, while watching my baby turn into a little girl. It’s not a theoretical or abstract issue, as you know. And it’s important enough to be acknowledged at a public ceremony.”

    CONCLUSION: I am proud of what I have learned during my Masters degree at UVa. I will be proud to name the institution from which I come from to my future colleagues and friends. However, I will not submit to the conservative voices who wish to silence those who are merely upholding the very essence of democracy by challenging views and opinions that may be misguided or wrong. I would like to thank Laura, Jie, and Aja for opening up this topic to discussion.

    I would also like to add that I will probably not be participating in the Silent Walk out, mostly because I do not feel I know the surrounding circumstances well enough to take a stance. I still support those who will be doing so, and consider it troubling that so many people desire to silence their viewpoints in favor of the status quo.

    – Sophia.

    Posted by sjlarch | May 19, 2011, 10:42 am
  11. Is it possible to walk out when McDonnell starts speaking and then to return to our seats when he finishes, as occurred in the University of Michigan Law School protest?

    Posted by John | May 20, 2011, 12:08 am
  12. I am incredibly grateful to Laura, Aja, and Jie for their courage to put their beliefs into action, and thank Kristina and Sophia for their comments. I echo their sentiments wholeheartedly.

    For those who consider graduation to be “their day,” please remember for many of us these issues are our lives and our families’ lives (who will also have traveled far to be in attendance). As a queer person, I am denied rights, threatened by violence, am the target of slurs and hate speech, get boxed into stereotypes, and am marginalized in countless other ways. When weighed against these realities, it can feel hard to muster sympathy for the argument that enduring a silent walkout as McDonnell approaches the podium is a great expense, burden or grievance.

    Posted by David Holzman | May 20, 2011, 1:25 am
  13. I have been following this discussion with interest and wanted to make a few observations. The best outcome of any education ought to be a citizen engaged in making the world a better place. All of us hope that our teaching will make you the best professional in whatever area you are pursuing, but it is also important to realize that your role as a critical citizen might have even greater influence. A very impressive aspect of the culture within the Architecture School is the ethical stance that so many have been willing to take on matters of importance. The list is quite long and includes faculty actively engaged in the political process through appointed or elected office, as well as those who have put their selves and their careers at risk. These individuals have found that actions guaranteed under the founding documents of our country-but not in favor of a particular group or regime-have been necessary and often effective.

    Within this context, the actions of students who find the values of the current state administration at odds with everything they have learned in the university and who wish to voice, with respect, a dissent, are to be commended.

    Public dissent is uncomfortable for all. But that is the point. For those who wish to celebrate the conclusion of a wonderful education, you too should be proud of those few colleagues willing to call attention to injustices, personal as well as environmental, I hope that their courage will make it far easier for you to eventually stand up for things that matter to you.

    Posted by robin dripps | May 20, 2011, 1:43 pm
  14. Graduation ceremonies became politicized when UVa selected a politician as graduation speaker. At the very least, we should be proud to have a school with a variety of identities and beliefs in its student and faculty population and glad for the opportunity to share this vibrancy and diversity with our families and friends. This isn’t an interruption to your “special day”; it’s an opportunity to celebrate the special place where you gained an education.

    Posted by Melissa Elliott | May 22, 2011, 1:49 am

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