For Scripps College, selecting former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright as commencement speaker was a major achievement.
“A lot of people are happy that we got someone so powerful,” Becca Wainess SC ‘19 said. “That is pretty cool, that Scripps—this tiny little liberal arts college—is able to get really powerful women to come speak to us.”
But for some Scripps students and faculty, Albright’s political record and the controversy surrounding her brand of feminism has inspired protest.
Albright has most recently been featured in the news for comments she made while endorsing Hillary Clinton at an event in New Hampshire in early February. One particular line of hers, that “there is a special place in hell for women who do not help each other,” has been heavily criticized, particularly by women who feel it implicitly calls for voting solely based on a candidate’s gender. Albright clarified her comment after it was widely publicized.
“I’ve said it forever, that we are overly judgmental of each other, and that we put women through tests that we do not put men through,” she told Time in an interview soon after.
Some students found the announcement Scripps' announcement about Albright, just weeks after her comments, to be unfortunate.
“I just remember seeing that, and I was like, that is such a weird choice for Scripps to do that,” Wainess said. “That doesn’t make sense to me.”
The process of searching for and selecting potential commencement speakers is carried out by a search committee of Scripps juniors, according to Scripps Junior Class Co-President Meagan McIntyre SC ’17, who is on the committee for the 2017 commencement. Ideas are solicited from the entire class and are narrowed down by the search committee, which ultimately extends invitations to the speakers.
The committee is open to all Scripps juniors though McIntyre noted that “a lot of times people aren’t as dialed into the process as we would like.” Faculty have expressed interest in being involved as well, and the committee is looking into including them in the future.
Jenna Perelman SC ’16 said that she thought Albright’s selection was “definitely controversial” among both the student body and faculty. Perelman cited Albright’s record as Secretary of State, along with her status as a white feminist, which she described as “just fighting sexism, as opposed to an intersectional feminist lens, where race and class are more considered,” as the main sources of controversy.
In a 1996 interview, Albright let slip another controversial quote about the economic sanctions she imposed on Iraq that had devastating effects on Iraqi lives. When she was asked whether they were worth the deaths of half a million Iraqi children, she responded, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price—we think the price is worth it.” Albright later apologized for her choice of words. In her memoir, Madam Secretary, she wrote, “I had fallen into the trap and said something I simply did not mean.”
For Perelman, Albright’s explanations are not enough.
“It doesn’t feel good to be sitting in an audience and listening to someone that you don’t agree with,” Perelman said. “Someone that is represented by your school as a heroic feminist and as someone who brought down gender boundaries and did incredible things, when I disagree with the things that she has done.”