Students protest commencement honorand

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s decisions, views offend student organizations

Many RPI students, including the Rensselaer Pride Alliance and the Greek Spectrum, have expressed discontent with the fact that Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia will be an honorand at Commencement 2012. Actions are currently being taken to protest this.

Geoffrey Jones ’12 created a petition on April 13 to combat the honoring of Scalia. The goal of the petition was listed as: “Do not give Associate Justice Antonin G. Scalia an honorary degree.” It has, as of Tuesday, received 322 signatures. Comments from signers have shown a general consensus that students and alumni feel having Scalia receive a degree on the same day as graduating students will lessen the value of these students’ degrees.

RPA and the Greek Spectrum have also been active in attempting to prevent RPI from honoring Scalia. They state that “numerous gender and sexual minority students feel unsupported by the administration and pressured to remain closeted on campus.” They argue that this feeling is the result of how these students perceive the campus as a whole: “For many women, people of color, low-income students, or LGBTQ students, Rensselaer is not seen to be a welcoming place.”

The two groups also emphasized Scalia’s apparent homophobia and sexism, citing dissenting decisions of the Supreme Court—many of which were written by Scalia—to strengthen their argument, including the case of Lawrence v. Texas, a case which overturned a law that criminalized sodomy in 2003. They also mention the case of Romer v. Evans, the decision of which was keeping sexual orientation out of anti-discrimination laws was unconstitutional. They describe how they feel about the decision to honor Scalia in the following excerpt:

“We feel that the decision to honor a man who has repeatedly expressed his belief that gender and sexual minorities should not be legally protected from discrimination, and who has no strong ties to science, technology or engineering, is incredibly damaging and harmful to the reputation of the Institute, as well as to individual members of the Rensselaer community.”

Both groups ask all members of the RPI community to join them in publicly opposing the potential honoring of Scalia during Commencement. They also ask President Shirley Ann Jackson and her cabinet to recognize “the ways in which this decision tarnishes the reputation of the Institute,” and decide not to honor Scalia.

Editor’s Note: RPA and the Greek Spectrum’s official statement, of which this article took excerpts from, will be printed in full in the editorial section of The Poly next week.