Washington University in St. Louis canceled abstinence advocate Bristol Palin’s speaking engagement amid much outcry over her qualifications and payment.
The university withdrew her invitation after students began to protest her scheduled February appearance as part of Student Sexual Responsibility Week. Scott Elman, president of Student Health Advisory Committee, told WU’s school paper that the decision to cancel Palin’s appearance was “100 percent mutual.”
Elman said the SHAC initially invited Palin because they felt a big name would draw more people to hear a message about abstinence. But both parties agreed that the controversy would overshadow the event’s intended message of sexual responsibility.
“SHAC stands by our decision to extend an invitation to Bristol, but we understand that a lot of our original intentions for discussing abstinence on campus, as well as sexual responsibility, were going to be lost” in the uproar surrounding her appearance, stated Elman.
The controversy began after the university unveiled that a $20,000 budget was approved to sponsor the panel discussion featuring the “Dancing with the Stars” alumna. Student Union President Morgan DeBaun issued a statement announcing that students had not been consulted in the decision to bring Palin to campus. The university has nearly 14,000 students. The announcement and SU statement were followed by student petitions and verbal protests against the decision.
According to the campus publication Student Life, the protests are over mainly over the money. However, there appears to be some other issues involved in the protest.
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On a Facebook page entitled “No Thanks Bristol,” it states, “It's not that we don't support abstinence as a legitimate approach to sex on campus, but that we're paying an inordinate amount of money on a panel and a speaker that really don't deserve such resources when things like EST and a bunch of competitive debate groups don't get the money they need to fully operate!”
The Facebook page appears to have been created by the Washington University College Democrats. Four paragraphs down, the page goes on to question Palin’s qualification to speak on abstinence.
“She is a polarizing figure, both politically and socially, and does not provide the well-rounded and thoughtful approach a matter as hot as sex on campus deserves. She is unqualified, undeserving and her fame comes only as a result of her association to a most ridiculous political family,” the page states.
The above message is reportedly the general sentiment on campus. Democrats, Republicans and abstinent individuals alike reportedly agree. However, many messages posted on the page conflict with allegations that Palin is unqualified.
A poster named Brian Kline wrote, “I understand not thinking she's the most qualified or not liking her political views, but she does have firsthand experience of the matter at hand – teen sex – so it would be unwise to deride her just because you don't like her and/or her family.”
Commenter Christopher Kittredge George responded to claims that Palin is a hypocrite saying, “Last time I checked, most anti-drug advocates are reformed addicts. They're all hypocrites too, right?”
Palin, the daughter of the former Alaska Governor, became pregnant at age 17. Since giving birth to her now two-year-old son, Tripp, Palin, 20, has become a spokesperson for Candies’ campaign against teen pregnancy. She also advocates for abstinence.
Palin was scheduled to talk about her experiences as a teenage mom and also abstinence as an option for teens wishing to prevent teen pregnancy. It is unclear how much of the $20,000 would have been paid to her for speaking on the panel. She never signed a contract with the university committing to an appearance.
Kathryn Plax, a pediatrician and the director of the Adolescent Center at the medical school, will replace Palin in the panel discussion on sexual abstinence. The panel discussion will be held in WU’s Graham Chapel on Feb. 7.