Macalester President Offers to Pay Bail, Fines for Student Protesters

The college president’s announcement has been met with praise, criticism and a violent threat.

November 9, 2020
Courtesy of Macalester College
Macalester president Suzanne Rivera

Macalester College students facing fines or bail after participating in peaceful protests can call their college president for help.

Suzanne Rivera, president of the private liberal arts college in St. Paul, first said in June that the college would help pay bail or reimburse students who incurred fines after they were arrested at peaceful protests.

“Back in June, some Mac students involved in Black Lives Matter protests following the killing of George Floyd told me they were worried they might not be able to afford their fines if they were cited for peacefully protesting in violation of the curfew,” Rivera said in a statement. “I told them that, if the fines were a hardship, they should let me know and I would find a way to cover the costs for any needy student.”

Rivera reupped her offer on Thursday after students rallied in support of the ongoing national vote count.

“I care deeply about both the wellbeing of our students and their right to practice civil disobedience,” Rivera tweeted on Thursday. “Any currently enrolled student who participates in civil disobedience and needs help with bail or a fine they cannot afford can seek reimbursement by emailing me.”

She also noted that students who need help after business hours should call the college’s public safety line. So far, no students have requested reimbursement, said Joe Linstroth, a college spokesperson.

Rivera is a relatively new president. She took up the role in June after former president Brian Rosenberg retired from the college in May.

Rivera has received numerous angry calls, emails and at least one threat of violence in response to her Thursday tweets, she said in a statement.

On Twitter, several people posted critical comments in response to the Star Tribune’s article about Rivera’s offer. Some users were concerned the president was effectively paying students to break the law. Several others called to pull Macalester’s federal funding. Macalester is a private institution, but its students are eligible to receive federal student aid.

For the most part, Macalester students support Rivera’s move, according to Lindsay Weber and Margaret Moran. Both are seniors at Macalester and editors in chief of the college newspaper.

“Students love that this is happening and love that she is supporting them and supporting civil disobedience,” Weber said.

Moran agreed.

“I haven’t really heard anything negative from a Macalester student,” she said.

Alumni and faculty members have also praised Rivera’s decision on Twitter.

“Thank you, Sue, for standing on principles of free speech and equity. Your actions make me proud (again) to be associated with Macalester College,” Adrienne Christiansen, an associate professor of political science at Macalester, tweeted in response to Rivera on Thursday.

Several students received citations for public nuisance at a peaceful protest on Wednesday, Weber and Moran said. At least three Macalester students were arrested several weeks ago at protests following the release of Derek Chauvin, one of the former Minneapolis police officers facing charges for killing George Floyd in May.

“Peaceful protest in the form of civil disobedience is a time-honored tradition in the U.S., and the rights to assembly and free speech are protected in the Constitution. This is not particular to any specific subject. It is about encouraging civic engagement and social action. Whether students are advocating for ensuring all votes are counted in our elections, which they were last night, or some other cause, I don't think it's my place to pass judgement on their views,” Rivera said in a statement. “The free exchange of ideas -- even when done inconveniently -- is one of the cornerstones of a liberal arts education. I would defend free speech for our conservative students as vigorously as for our liberal students.”


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