Should Colleges March in Trump Inaugural?

Marist, Olivet Nazarene and Talladega all face criticism for sending their bands.

January 3, 2017
 
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A past inaugural parade

At past presidential inaugurations, colleges and universities have boasted about being selected to march in the parade down Pennsylvania Avenue. Students and their institutions get a moment in front of the new president and airtime on national television. This has been true for inaugurations of recent Democratic and Republican presidents alike.

The 2017 inauguration may be different. Marist College, in New York State; Olivet Nazarene University, in Illinois; and Talladega College, in Alabama, are all facing a barrage of online criticism from students and alumni for sending their bands to the parade. Several other colleges and universities will also be participating, but are not drawing criticism.

Here are some of the tweets about Marist, the first two typical of the many criticizing the decision and the last one reflecting support for the college's stance.

A Marist spokesman told The Poughkeepsie Journal that the college applied to participate in the parade before Election Day, not knowing the outcome. He also said that Marist has applied to participate in past inaugural parades -- "without regard" to the person being inaugurated -- and has not been selected.

He said that students would not be forced to participate, but that this was "about providing our students an opportunity to participate in an internationally significant ceremony representing the peaceful transfer of power in the world's most powerful nation."

Many of the comments on social media about Talladega reference its status as a historically black college.

Talladega officials have not responded to local reporters or Inside Higher Ed. (Update: The college has since released a statement in which President Billy Hawkins defends the decision. “We respect and appreciate how our students and alumni feel about our participation in this parade,” said Hawkins. “As many of those who chose to participate in the parade have said, we feel the inauguration of a new president is not a political event but a civil ceremony celebrating the transfer of power.”)

More than 900 people have signed a petition urging Olivet Nazarene to withdraw from the parade.

"Sadly, President-elect Trump has consistently articulated and advocated policies that undermine the Christian commitments of communities like Olivet," the petition says. "His well-documented sexism, his political alliances with white supremacists and his hostility towards immigrants and refugees are just a few positions incompatible with Christian teachings in general and the Nazarene message of holiness in particular. Any university presence at the inauguration would suggest toleration or, even worse, endorsement of the president-elect’s objectionable attitudes on these and other issues. Such a presence is simply unacceptable."

Via email, John Bowling, president at Olivet Nazarene, defended the university's decision.

"We do not view this as a political event, but a civic ceremony, that provides the students with the opportunity to visit Washington and observe the process of transition firsthand," Bowling said. "The band would have been pleased to participate in the parade if Hillary Clinton had been elected or for President Obama, but we were not invited. The university does not support any candidate or party -- we are not monolithic or of one mind. Such is the nature of a university. We are not responding directly to the petition. We value diversity of opinion and respect those who are registering their opinions. Clearly there is a high degree of intolerance at both ends of the political spectrum."

The full list of the organizations (many of them military or veterans' groups) marching in the parade may be found here.

Other colleges marching are: the Citadel, Texas State University, the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and Virginia Military Institute. For VMI, this will be the 15th inauguration in which its Corps of Cadets will march.

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