A student at Barnard College, Ayelet Pearl, has written a stirring protest to President Barack Obama’s commencement speech yesterday. Noting that the president’s words were “beautiful,” Pearl nonetheless objected to the use of the historic women’s college as a political prop, and said that the event left her feeling “stereotyped, simplified, and used.”
Pearl, a junior, pointed out in her article in the Columbia Political Review that while many Barnard students shared President Obama’s enthusiasm for “change,” they did not necessarily agree with his policies:
..what if our way is not his way? More importantly, what if my way differs from the woman sitting next to me in my art history class or my English class or my computer science class? What if the change I think we need is a different brand of education reform and a more conservative economic plan?
She also objected to the assumption by Barnard administrators that “all” the women at Barnard shared Obama’s political agenda, and the same conformist liberal orthodoxy:
Barnard President Debora Spar, in an interview on MSNBC, boldly told the show’s hostess that “they’re [Barnard students] all huge fans [of Obama].” Is that true? Can the president of Barnard College say, in good faith, that every single one of her students is a fan of President Barack Obama? Are we that unindividual? Or are we just a liberal student body, and, as women, a key component of the Democratic vote? Too often, the assumed answer is yes.
Whereas feminism had meant a struggle for women to be able to make their own choices, the president’s speech implied a new kind of conformity. Pearl noted that the so-called “war on women,” which has been a staple of Democrat attacks on the GOP, denies the world that women live in today, and the choices women are making:
But what can this possibly mean, in a world where women make their own decisions and form their own opinions outside the confines of their gender? Some women are pro-life; some women are pro-choice. Some women are advocates for universal health care; some women are not. Some women support gun rights, others do not. Some women will vote for Barack Obama in 2012, and other women will not.
The speech at Barnard, she said, was “the perfect political platform” for the president–yet ironically, the speech was held on the campus of Columbia University, Obama’s alma mater, and he left not “setting foot on our campus.”
That, in itself, was evidence of disregard for women’s equality: “It is telling that he did not have the time to cross Broadway, the street itself increasingly symbolic of the gap between Columbia and Barnard that we as students have been trying for so long to close.”
Update: Pearl writes to clarify that she was not protesting the president’s visit:
I just want it to be clear that I am not criticizing the president’s speech, but rather commenting on the idea that has become prevalent throughout politics today that women generally hold one opinion. Obama delivered a very inspiring apolitical speech, but the entire process of him coming to speak here as a campaign stop is what bothers me, because of this implication.
She also notes that there have been different reactions to the president’s address among the students.