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ISSUE 118 VOL 18 PUBLISHED 4/29/2005

Coulter affects 'talk back'

By Emelie Heltsley
News Editor

Friday, April 29, 2005

In light of intense student response to Ann Coulter's April 17 speech, the Political Awareness Committee (PAC) featured the event in a "Talk Back to PAC" night Thursday. Almost 50 students and faculty attended to share their opinions, listen to their peers and ask questions.

Katie Henley '07 asked how PAC researches speakers before inviting them to come to campus. "We could see it coming," she said referring to the reaction to Coulter's views.

Brandon Crase '05, PAC coordinator, said that his role as PAC coordinator has required him to bring many different viewpoints to campus. "If I hadn't done that, it would have been a failure on my part."

While PAC knew the general message of Coulter's speech, they did not receive details before she spoke.

"We didn't think she would go gently into Boe," Crase said. "Regardless of what she says, she is an influential person, and we were privileged to have her."

Chase Donaldson '07, a member of PAC, echoed this sentiment, mentioning the publicity St. Olaf received as a result of hosting Coulter, who is one of the most popular college campus speakers in the nation. He said that student conversations after Coulter's visit were positive outcomes of the speech, but that some of the student responses "showed some of the dark sides of campus and uncovered a problem at the college."

Jessica McGlauflin '05 praised PAC for bringing Coulter, saying that "PAC did a wonderful job." She criticized the administration's response to the student reaction, however, calling it "lacking." She also expressed disappointment at the negative student response to Coulter, saying "There are respectful and disrespectful ways to deal with provocation."

Dean of Students Greg Kneser also responded, reminding those at the talk back of the e-mail he sent to the student body April 17 and its call for students to be respectful.

"There are civil and uncivil things," Kneser said, mentioning the "Rape Ann Coulter" signs and harassment of conservative students as "uncivil" actions.

After bringing up the St. Olaf code of conduct and his own action taken with the harassed students, Kneser told those gathered, "I'm not sure, beyond that, what else we [the Administration] should do."

Kneser also mentioned the hundreds of e-mails he received regarding Coulter, a number that has increased since Coulter posted his e-mail and her reactions to it on her Website April 20. It is unclear how Coulter obtained Kneser’s e-mail.

"I have personally responded to 100 different e-mails from Monday morning at nine a.m. to this evening [Thursday at 7 p.m]," Kneser said.

After Coulter posted his e-mail, Kneser received a slew of e-mails from people he does not know, to which he has not responded.

Conversation shifted from the administration's response to the nature of the student response itself. "We brought a conservative speaker, and this happened," Donaldson said. He noted a double standard he perceived, remembering the favorable responses to liberal speakers Howard Zinn and Jesse Ventura. "I didn't hear one boo or hiss during Jesse Ventura," Director of Student Activities Leslie Sandberg said.

Several students agreed, expressing disappointment with the inability of students to listen to Coulter without sensationalized reactions and with open minds. Michael Cassano '05 wished for a campus-wide ability to "listen to people we don't agree with." He stressed the need for true diversity, defining it as a celebration of both "extreme liberals and extreme conservatives."

Janine Wetzel, Student Government Association (SGA) vice president, expressed support of PAC's "gutsy" decision to bring Coulter and criticized those students who chose to yell obscenities during the speech. "You knew what you were going to get," she said. "You can sit and listen quietly."

Many students attending the “Talk Back to PAC” event expressed concern that Coulter's speech encouraged hatred and insults, not civilized discussion.

Sandberg summed up the theme of the PAC meeting with one word: "Tolerance." She went on to say that tolerance should be the main concept taken from the evening.

Kneser said he does not remember getting this level of response from a political speaker on campus, but other world-wide events, such as September 11 and the U.S. invasion of Iraq over two years ago, elicited a large student reaction.

Kneser sees his e-mail to the student body and answers to personal e-mails as enough of an administrative response to Coulter's visit.

"I've said everything I'm going to say publically," Kneser said. "Any attempt [to do more] would stir it up again."

Kneser views the various responses to Coulter as both positive and negative. While the controversial nature of her speech got people talking, Kneser hears student complaints about being "wounded" in one way or another, rather than feeling compelled to constructively discuss the issues.

The nature of campus discussion shows a "glaring issue regarding the state of public discourse in the country," according to Kneser. "Can we do better?" he asked.

While student response has been controversial in and of itself, Kneser, Wetzel and heads of PAC all expressed hope that everyone could move forward.

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