Display debacle

Yesterday, a display case on the ground floor of Smith Memorial became a point of contention amongst opposing student political factions at PSU.

The spat involved a display juxtaposing Devaney/Woon slate members against the iconic communist leaders Joseph Stalin and V.I. Lenin that was posted, temporarily covered, later revised and then allowed for public consumption, all in the span of six hours.

The display case, which had been reserved in October, showed photographs of the Soviet leaders next to candidates to satirize the progressive slate’s support for causes unpopular with the group, College Republican President Brian Danielson said.

According to SALP adviser Natalee Webb, the display window was covered because it was not in compliance with SALP’s policy of disclosing the sponsoring group’s name.

The Department of Justice and the Affirmative Action Committee became interested in the covered display.

"They found [that the display contained] no hate speech and no libel. After talking to Tonantzin [Oceguera, director of SALP], the only thing that didn’t meet SALP guidelines was that there was no student club or event advertised," Danielson said.

The College Republicans removed Stalin and Lenin from the display.

Both slates denounced the display.

"My initial feelings were that the connections Brian [Danielson] and the College Republicans were making were absolutely absurd," presidential candidate Erin Devaney said. "I think that there are a lot of conservative students, College Republicans particularly, that are greatly concerned that liberal people will be controlling student fees next year."

"We think it’s disgusting, we think it’s unethical," presidential candidate Amanda Barron said. She added that she had taken the display as a joke until after yesterday’s candidate debates, when she spoke with Devaney/Woon slate members. "I’ve talked to people from the other slate and realized it’s personally offensive to them," she said. "When people are personally attacked, that’s when it’s gone too far."

"I think it’s free speech, but I’m very concerned," Devaney said. "I feel there’s a reason that some people on our slate were put there and not others."

Early in the day, members and agents of the Devaney/Woon slate connected the display to the Barron/Craven campaign.

"I believe that they did denounce it," Devaney said Tuesday night. "They have been in contact with us since this morning. It’s been harmful to them as to us."

The Barron/Craven campaign and members of the College Republicans mutually deny connections. Danielson was not listed as an agent on a list obtained from the Barron/Craven campaign Tuesday night. Under elections bylaws, a slate can be penalized by an official agent’s campaign activities.

"When [College Republicans] approached us, I said, ‘No, you guys are notorious for dirty campaigning," Barron said.

"There are a few College Republicans on our slate, though I don’t know how active they all are," Joe Johnson said. "Once I saw the board I asked them two things: the first of course was ‘Do you have anything to do with this?’ and second, ‘Can you ask them to stop?’"

As a group, the College Republicans have not endorsed a candidate or slate.

"The Barron/Craven slate is taking heat for this, but they have absolutely nothing to do with it," College Republicans Vice President Cameron Turner said.

Several Devaney/Woon slate members frame their concerns not as a question of legality but ethics, saying the display was not a satire of politics but a very public personal attack.

In particular, SFC candidates Adas Lis, Mary Fletcher and Kayla Goldfarb felt personally maligned by the connection with the Russian leaders – Lis because of his Polish ancestry, Fletcher because she is queer and Goldfarb because she is Jewish.

"It’s harassment," Lis said. "It’s degrading to the Russian community with the appearance of Stalin and Lenin."

"At first I thought, ‘Oh, they’re comparing us to commies, that’s pretty hackneyed,’" agent Angela Leonardo said, "but it’s just so malicious."

College Republicans said the intent was to highlight the financial politics of the progressive slate.

"I don’t understand how it endangers [anyone] in any way. The intent had nothing to do with people being of Jewish descent, or anything that happened to them in World War II, or anything like that," Danielson said.

"I think that response is a little incoherent. I don’t think the issue is anyone’s orientation, it’s the politics," Turner said. "They want to push a stereotype that we are intolerant of other groups."

"It’s extremely hurtful. If you’re making a joke, or a satire, it should be researched, Devaney said. "The fact is that these people’s families have been oppressed by these systems of governments. You should know what you’re doing, what you’re making fun of."

Stephanie Ryan and Matt Petrie contributed to this article.