The graduating class of 2002 may have two commencement attractions this year: one in the Rose Garden with Katie Harman, Miss America, and one outside with picketers, protesters and an alternate speaker.
Lew Church, a student in the graduate school of education and head of the Progressive Student Union, says he hears complaints from many students about the choice of speaker. He is working with the Rearguard, Students for Unity and others to create alternatives for this year’s commencement speaker.
Controversy has surrounded the university’s choice of commencement speaker since it was announced in April. Harman, a 21-year-old PSU junior majoring in communication and concentrating on voice studies, is considered by some to be unfit for commencement speaker.
While some students are opposed to Harman for her affiliation with the Miss America Pageant, others are concerned that she does not have enough life experience to be the keynote speaker.
“The main objection that I’m hearing,” Church said, “is that she’s not a graduate.” Church personally feels that the university should not endorse the Miss America Pageant and that Harman is not the person to comment on the post-9/11 world as she has indicated she would.
The PSU administration has defended its choice of Harmon. President Daniel Bernstine was quoted by The Oregonian saying, “She was not selected because she was a beauty queen … She was selected because she was an articulate spokesperson and a contemporary of many of our students.”
However, Jeannie-Marie Price, director of marketing and communication, told the Vanguard on April 11, “Katie was selected because of her position, title and role.”
“There’s no evidence,” Church said, “that she was selected a year ago, before she won, or that the administration knew about her before she won.”
Church and other students involved would either like the university to replace Harman as the keynote speaker, or provide an alternate speaker.
“It may be unlikely that Bernstine will change his mind,” Church said. If that is the case, however, the Progressive Student Union hopes to organize a demonstration and alternative commencement ceremony outside the Rose Garden on June 16.
Other options that Church would like to see considered are: Danny Glover, actor and anti-death penalty activist; Ursula LeGuin, feminist and author; Erin Brokovich; Crystal Lee Sutton, southern union organizer upon which the film “Norma Rae” was based; Jonathan Zook, a former PSU student and Central American activist; or Zaher Wahab, a professor at Reed College in the school of education and activist against the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan.
The Progressive Student Union holds meetings Monday at 4 p.m. in Smith Center 333, and students are welcome to come participate, according to Church.
Although Church includes the Women’s Resource Center (WRC) in his “unofficial alliance” of student groups, Aimee Shattuck, co-coordinator for the WRC, would not agree. In a press release, Shattuck stated, “The Women’s Resource Center … does not agree with having Miss America 2002 speak at the graduation ceremony; however, we are not involved with protesting nor boycotting the commencement.”
Shattuck sees the Miss America issue as one of less importance than other issues the WRC is working on, such as domestic violence and sexual assault. Although Shattuck stated that the Miss America Pageant “is one of the sexist strongholds of American pop culture,” the Women’s Resource Center is not involved with organizing the protest.
“We’re not against the university,” Shattuck told the Vanguard. “We’re part of the university.”