Evan Bille ’20
In the interest of transparency and shameless promotion, I am writing this response to last week’s article, “John Kasich to Visit Campus in November Thanks to CPE, ATC,” to contextualize some of the details mentioned in the article.
So if last week’s article about the former governor and presidential candidate made you hesitate to pick up a ticket, I hope you will consider some of the following reasons why I and so many other students in the Center for Political Engagement (CPE), Activities Tax Council (ATC), and Student Government Association (SGA) have worked so hard to bring John Kasich to campus.
While I recognize it’s easier to characterize this visit as a partisan event, that view ignores the tremendous work of explicitly non-partisan organizations like the ATC and SGA.
The ATC and SGA made many suggestions to improve this event before SGA ultimately voted to approve the money for Kasich’s honorarium. The formation and culmination of this event would not be possible without these organizations, but that was not mentioned in last week’s article.
I think it’s important to understand why the CPE, ATC, or SGA would put this event together in the first place.
First, John Kasich is the biggest political figure to come to campus since then vice-presidential candidate Tim Kaine in 2016.
In contrast to Kaine, this is not a campaign rally. In a non-partisan format, Kasich will respond to questions from both professors and students.
This is not only a chance to listen to a high-profile politician’s speech on better discourse, but it is an opportunity to engage him in it.
I recognize that politics is not the only polarizing aspect about the event—it’s also about price.
There is no doubt we are paying the Governor a lot of money to come to Davidson. However, we are lucky that the ATC has this money reserved specifically for student events, and that there is an abundance of it.
Additionally, the ATC should not be confused with other aspects of Davidson’s finances.
There is no relationship between John Kasich coming to campus and scholarships for students, or any other beneficial college program. To suggest it’s either Kasich or scholarships is a false equivalency.
The presence of ATC funds is not a reason to spend, especially $40,000.
We were often told during this process to use personal or college connections to substantially lower the price.
But I want to be very clear about what “connections” mean: it’s privilege.
Students bringing in high-profile speakers are expected to have a family connection, know the right person to call, or have an “in” in some other way.
I don’t think this expectation is ill-intentioned, because it has simply been the norm of Davidson political life.
John Kasich will be the first high-profile political speaker in my time at Davidson who is not coming to campus because of someone’s personal connection.
As a student without any “connections,” I think this is important progress in shaping student events.
Progress comes, however, with a high price tag.
Kasich is charging us a speaking fee with no “family and friends discount,” but thanks to the ATC, Davidson is still able to host him.
I hope that this event can serve as an example of how students can lead in bringing important speakers to campus, even if they do not have the social connections.
When we see the $40,000 price tag, I think it is only natural to wince.
Admittedly, it was surreal to meet with other students and create budget proposals for more money than my family makes in a year.
But that is also why I think Davidson has a special opportunity, if not an obligation, to use the college’s resources for events in a way that becomes independent from, instead of reliant on, student social capital.
Organizations like the CPE have long prioritized access over impact when it comes to inviting speakers: we normally contact the most relevant people we have connections with, instead of those we think will have the greatest impact.
There’s no doubt that powerful and influential speakers come to campus, but I think having the right process matters.
It is the role of groups like the CPE to reach out beyond personal and college connections, so that we can expand the possibilities for elevating discourse on campus.
This is why I have helped in the multi-organizational effort of bringing Governor Kasich to campus, and I hope this makes you reconsider joining us on November 11th.
Evan Bille ’20 is an economics major from Skaneateles, New York. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.