Opinions

An Open Letter From Scripps Faculty on Commencement Speaker Madeleine Albright

As concerned Scripps faculty members, we are outraged at the selection of Madeleine Albright as the 2016 Commencement speaker and will not participate in this year’s graduation ceremony. 

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We are all familiar with Albright’s recent problematic statement that “there is a special place in hell for women who do not support other women.” Our opposition to her speaking at commencement, however, has to do with her record during her service as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and U.S. Secretary of State. In those roles, she supported several policies that led to the deaths of millions of people. Most notoriously, when Albright was asked, in a 1996 interview on 60 Minutes, whether the deaths of half a million Iraqi children were a price worth paying for the sanctions–which she worked to maintain during her tenure as Secretary of State–she replied, “I think that is a very hard choice, but the price, we think, the price is worth it.” While seven years later she expressed regret for this comment, the fact remains that Albright staunchly supported the sanctions, which included bans on medicines, vaccines, pencils, chlorine (needed for water purification), and materials required to clean up after the U.S. military used depleted uranium in the 1990-1991 war. Her support did not wane even after several United Nations officials resigned from decades-long UN careers in protest of the sanctions; one of them, Denis Halliday, called the sanctions a form of “genocide.” More Iraqis died as a result of 13 years of U.S.-led and controlled sanctions than as a result of the 2003 US invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq. 

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Albright also played a role in hindering UN action that could have saved hundreds of thousands of lives in Rwanda. A report commissioned by the Organization of African Unity states that the United States and Albright knew that a genocide was taking place and still opposed taking action: “The Americans, led by U.S. Ambassador Madeleine Albright, played the key role in blocking more expeditious action by the UN” (Rwanda, The Preventable Genocide, Section 10.16). 

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Albright was also a key proponent of the US bombing of Yugoslavia, which is widely viewed as a “humanitarian mission.” However, the bombing was linked to U.S. efforts to thwart Russia in Europe, and Yugoslavia was given a choice between accepting a peace treaty that allowed a NATO occupation of the country or U.S. bombing. Thousands were killed and much of the country’s infrastructure destroyed in what amounted to a U.S.-led NATO aggression.

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As a member of the Clinton administration, Albright was crucial in the crafting of “Plan Colombia,” which funneled billions of dollars in aid to the country, 80 percent of which took the form of military aid to security forces, during a time when those forces were linked to right-wing paramilitary organizations. Another controversial element of this plan was an aerial fumigation to help eradicate coca crops, which was detrimental to legal crops as well as the health of people exposed. 

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The selection of Albright as the 2016 Commencement speaker runs counter to the spirit of student activism during fall 2015, which resulted in the demand to address institutional racism, among other forms of barred access. As a women’s liberal arts college, we should promote the advancement of women and transgender peoples broadly and not simply emulate and celebrate those individuals who participate in U.S. state power and wield its violence. Representing the category of “woman” in this way evacuates feminism of its anti-racist, anti-paternalistic, and anti-imperialist potential to address those lives that are systematically made vulnerable to sickness and death.

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With respect to the process for commencement speaker selection, it is our understanding that the selection is currently left in the hands of the senior class leadership with no input from faculty or other community members. Because the commencement speaker is representative not only of the current senior class but also of the broader Scripps community, the process of selection should be reconsidered to better reflect Scripps values and commitments. In consideration of Scripps values and of our commitment to students and the institution, we will not be walking in graduation this year in protest of Albright’s presence.

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Signed:

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Rita Cano Alcalá, Chican@ Latin@ Studies

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Claudia Arteaga, Spanish

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Nancy Neiman Auerbach, Politics

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Piya Chatterjee, Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

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Jih-Fei Cheng, Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

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David Cubek, Music

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Adam Davis, Art

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Michelle Decker, English

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Lara Deeb, Anthropology

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Kimberly Drake, Writing

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Ellen Finkelpearl, Classics

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Cindy Forster, History

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Mark Golub, Politics

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Martha Gonzalez, Chican@ Latin@ Studies

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Anne Harley, Music

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Hao Huang, Music

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Cándida F. Jáquez, Music

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Thomas Kim, Politics

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Kasper Kovitz, Art

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Sabrina Ovan, Italian 

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Seo Young Park, Anthropology

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Marina Pérez de Mendiola, Spanish

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David Kawalko Roselli, Classics/Ancient Studies

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Carmen Sanjuán-Pastor, Spanish

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Michael Spezio, Psychology

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T. Kim-Trang Tran, Art

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Sheila Walker, Africana Studies & Psychology

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Kevin Williamson, Dance

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