New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte has been frequenting the news lately in her role as the only Senator from the Northeast to have voted against gun control, despite the fact that nearly nine out of 10 NH residents support gun control measures. Additionally she has been highly vocal in her opposition to gay marriage, abortion, birth control, fair labor laws, and climate change science. She is known for misleading her constituents about her policies on gun control, for calling gay marriage, “unfortunate,” and for accusing the president of “doing everything in his power to radically expand abortions in this country.”
Kelly Ayotte will be the commencement speaker at my graduation this Saturday, at New England College (NEC). While many students were unsettled by this, one student in particular took a stance. Erin “Faith” Page organized students and faculty alike, with petitions, letters to the president of the college, meetings with administrative staff, and a video response published on YouTube, which has since gone on to be featured on several state media outlets. Faith’s concern is that Ayotte is more likely to represent the values of the NRA than the values of NEC, and that she does not stand for all members of the student body nor does she support the lessons that have been instilled with us while on campus.
The New England College mission statement calls for, “respect for the varied qualities of individuals, communities and the world; inquiry into and the pursuit of social justice,” and the “pursuit of ecological sustainability.” One of the first courses that students are required to take is entitled, “On Being Human,” which seeks to instill a sense of the importance of humanization, tolerance, and diversity, calling for students to consider their, “shared obligations and responsibilities as human beings, despite differences in race, class, gender, ethnicity, or other factors.” Students are also required to take a Global Perspectives course and a Communities in America course, both of which emphasize tolerance of gender and sexual identity among other factors.
There are multiple student organizations on campus that seek to promote diversity and tolerance. In the past year NEC has celebrated International Women’s Rights Day, held a festival that fundraised for a gay rights organization, and held vigils and grief counseling sessions in reactions to the shootings that have taken place across the nation. This is a school that promotes critical thinking about discrimination, violence, and intolerance. This is a school that has received recognition in the Princeton Review for being a “green college” in its support of sustainability.
Not only does Ayotte not represent these values, she stands in direct conflict with them. I share in Faith’s opposition to Ayotte. It is not that I am concerned that Ayotte will come to our school, armed with assault rifles and hate speech about the LGBT community, ready to take on any of the students here who have had abortions or supported efforts to go green. I do not expect that she will kick over our recycling bins and burn down the pride flag on display in the front lobby. I doubt that she will do more than to give a generic speech about celebrating our educational achievements and being hopeful about our future. My concern is that my graduation will include the celebration of an individual who strongly opposes many of the lessons that I have learned while on campus.
Ayotte will be receiving an honorary degree from NEC. This means that the institution that inspired within me a passion for activism and social justice will be granting a degree to someone who actively works to fight this; that the graduating class that has been taught the importance of environmental action will be honored by a person who opposes climate science.
Just as NEC ought to be opposed to inviting an openly racist person to speak at graduation, so too should it hesitate to invite a homophobe. Many criticisms of Faith’s resistance to Ayotte have laid the claim that as NEC is not a “gay college,” Faith has no right to oppose Ayotte. This would presume that only “black” or “Latino” colleges should oppose racism, and that only “women’s” colleges should oppose sexism — that social justice work should be delegated solely to those who feel the full weight of injustice. I believe that New England College is an institution that values humans, and that if it will be represented by an individual who seeks to strip humanity and dignity away from some, it cannot do so without a fight. After all, that’s what I learned at college.