Kudos to Smith College Petitioners

13 May

Hello and welcome to commencement season here at SK.

IMF head Christine Legarde

IMF head Christine Legarde

Lots of controversy going on in these parts. But it’s nothing we have not heard before.

Back in 1990, my pub reported on the heated debate over then-First Lady Barbara Pierce Bush being asked to speak at Wellesley College. A group of students at the time had petitioned the selection, citing Barbara rode the fame wave by grabbing onto her husband’s coat tails.

Barbara Bush and Raisa Gorbachev at the 1990 Wellesley College commencement.

Barbara Bush and Raisa Gorbachev at the 1990 Wellesley College commencement.

Mrs. Bush was further criticized for leaving Smith College in the middle of her sophomore year, so she could marry the young navy flyer, George Bush.The petition asked the college to invite a woman who had earned her own fame.

The debate was so volatile, you’d think there was nothing else going on in the world.

All was resolved when Mikhail Gorbachev, then president of the Soviet Union, and his wife Raisa came to visit the U.S. Some quick-minded diplomat suggested the Soviet First Lady, who had earned a doctorate in philosophy, join the U.S. First Lady at the Wellesley College commencement podium.

What a show that was. Both women were gracious and spoke about women in modern society. Of course, that was 24 years ago, and modern society had changed even more.

Wellesley’s sister college, Smith is back in the news regarding its choice of commencement speaker, Christine Lagarde, a highly accomplished French lawyer and head of the International Monetary Fund.

The IMF is a global consort designed to foster economic growth and stability worldwide. That all sounds wonderful but it comes at a heavy price. Criticism includes the IMF demanding recipient governments privatize their natural resources, such as water, and to farm food for export and not local sustainability.

The IMF gets further black marks. Apparently some of these balanced budgets come at serious cost to women and other minorities.

We only have space for a few examples here. In Tanzania, fees on basic health services have discouraged women from seeking pre- and post-natal care and from delivering their babies at hospitals. This, sadly, translates into higher infant and maternal deaths.

IMF-imposed taxes to balance budgets in Zambia have led to a fewer girls enrolling in school but an increase in girls participating in “survival or subsistence sex.”

These are real issues and should not be swept under a thick stack of neatly balanced budgets. They need to be brought to the world’s attention, which is why we are so pleased with the petitioners at Smith College.

Here is their well-written petition, which eventually convinced Legarde to withdraw her invitation. Let’s hope it convinces her to look at the underbelly of the IMF operation.

Congratulations to all those graduating college or who have a loved one graduating college this spring, xo LMA

Reconsider the Smith College 2014 Commencement Speaker


The following members of the Smith community request that you reconsider your decision to select Christine Lagarde as the commencement speaker for the class of 2014. By selecting Ms. Lagarde as the commencement speaker we are supporting the International Monetary Fund and thus going directly against Smith’s values to stand in unity with equality for all women, regardless of race, ethnicity or class. Although we do not wish to disregard all of Ms. Lagarde’s accomplishments as a strong female leader in the world, we also do not want to be represented by someone whose work directly contributes to many of the systems that we are taught to fight against. By having her speak at our commencement, we would be publicly supporting and acknowledging her, and thus the IMF. Even if we give Ms. Lagarde the benefit of the doubt, and recognize that she is just a good person working in a corrupt system, we should not by any means promote or encourage the values and ideals that the IMF fosters. The IMF has been a primary culprit in the failed developmental policies implanted in some of the world’s poorest countries. This has led directly to the strengthening of imperialist and patriarchal systems that oppress and abuse women worldwide. At Smith College, a school with a campaign called “Women for the World”, we are taught how to stand up and fight against inequality and corruption. We are taught to speak up when something is unjust, and we do not wish to be represented by a system that doesn’t support us

(A totally unrelated-but-related aside, while in the press booth, My Pub sat next to journalist Marjorie Egan. who was reading – and we are NOT making this up – “Little Women.” She said she was reliving her childhood.)

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5 Responses to “Kudos to Smith College Petitioners”

  1. Bruce Thiesen May 13, 2014 at 9:00 am #

    Commencement season? I never put those two words together, but now that you mention it, that’s what we have. While I never thought about it much, I understand why some of the kids and others affiliated with a school care about who delivers the speech. I learned just now that it’s not unusual to pay a fee to these people. No surprise there, but c’mon already! Anyway, bravo to the kids who made their views known on the IMF and the reasons that they didn’t want the school to turn over the podium to Ms Lagarde.

  2. roughwighting May 13, 2014 at 9:19 am #

    Such an interesting post. My views go both way. I like the intelligence and foresight of the Smith students (and all students who think seriously about their commencement speaker). On the other hand, having someone of Ms. Legarde’s status and expertise speak to graduating seniors on how she got ‘there’ will be a speech not heard. Can the students not ask her to direct her speech, also, on the worries/questions they have about her role with the IMF, and its decisions? To me, listening to different points of view is the way to grow and learn, not discounting an entire system/person before understanding all the ins and outs. (I love the end of your post with the journalist reading Little Women!)

    • soonie2 May 13, 2014 at 11:25 am #

      I agree with roughwighting. We had to sit and listen to Deval Patrick give a long CAMPAIGN speech at my son’s graduation. But hey, it’s freedom of speech.

      • Louisa May Alcatt May 14, 2014 at 7:21 am #

        Pam, Sue and Soonie, you all bring up valid points, yes, we could benefit from hearing both sides, but we do not think the commencement exercise is the forum for that.

        These students have fulfilled the requirements for graduation and we are positive that much time, research and late-night study were devoted to looking at both sides of equations.

        We agree with the petition that their commencement speaker embody the school’s campaign: “Women for the World.” The graduates earn that right.

        Therefore, we are pleased that Ruth J. Simmons, the ninth president of Smith College, the 18th president of Brown University and the first African American woman to head an Ivy League institution, will be the speaker at Smith’s 136th commencement.

        Now that she has stepped down, we believe this is an excellent opportunity for Christine Legarde to speak or write an op-ed about how she got where she is. Again, the podium of the Smith College commencement ceremony is not the place for that,

        thank you again for your thoughts, LMA

  3. sued51 May 14, 2014 at 5:54 am #

    I have to say I also agree with roughwighting. I applaud the students for taking action in support of their beliefs, but I believe there are always reasons behind the decisions that powerful people make and I want to know them. How can we change their decisions without knowing and understanding what prompts them to make them?

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