Back in November, a few days before he was elected president, Donald Trump boasted to a hockey stadium in Hershey, Pa. packed with supporters that he “didn’t have to bring J-Lo or Jay-Z — the only way [Hillary Clinton] gets anybody [to attend her rallies.] … I am all here all by myself. Just me. No guitar. No piano. No nothing.”
Now, three weeks before Inauguration Day, countless celebrities (including Celine Dion, Elton John and Andrea Bocelli) have declined invitations to perform. The marching band from Marist College, however, will be in the parade down Pennsylvania Avenue. Not everyone in the college community is happy about it.
A change.org petition started by Marist band alum Jennifer Hoffman asking the college to cancel the band’s appearance has sparked controversy. In less than three days, the petition has accrued almost 3,000 signatures. But according to Marist’s Chief of Public Affairs Greg Cannon, “there are no plans to reconsider the decision to send the band to the Jan. 20 inauguration.” However, Cannon said, if a student’s conscience prevents him or her from being part of the entertainment at Donald Trump’s swearing-in, the student will be allowed to stay home.
Cannon said the college had put in its bid to perform long before Election Day. “The college initiated the application process well before the outcome of the election was decided, and would have accepted the invitation to play no matter the outcome,” said Cannon. “We understand that some students will not feel comfortable participating in the event for political reasons, and we respect and will honor their decision to skip it.”
“I’m happy that I’ve been given the option to abstain from performing because of my personal beliefs and experiences,” said Lili Yurch, a Marist junior on the cheerleading team. (Cheerleaders will be part of the Marist contingent in the parade.)
Yurch said she will not be taking part. “As a Jewish woman and for other personal reasons, I feel like marching in the parade may be triggering for me even though I know I’ll be surrounded by members of my community, pretty much my family, who are full of nothing but love and acceptance,” Yurch said. “[However,] I’m so happy that we’ve gotten this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
But for Hoffman and backers of her petition, allowing students to abstain or engage in a peaceful protest during their performance is not enough — the whole college needs to make a statement by pulling the band from the parade.
“Even though this is an amazing opportunity, there will be other opportunities,” said Hoffman. “Sometimes, it’s best to step down and say, ‘No, I won’t participate.’”
A clarinet player and computer science major during her four years at Marist, Hoffman said the decision to protest against the band’s participation in the ceremony was not political. “I have Republican voters who have signed this petition who don’t agree with the hateful rhetoric that Trump used in his campaign.”
It’s a tough situation for the college administration — marching in the inauguration parade would give the college’s band, cheerleaders, dance team, and ROTC color guard an opportunity to be seen on a national stage. Some 3,000 groups applied to participate in the parade, and Marist was one of the 2.5 percent accepted.
In light of a series of hate crimes and bias incidents that have taken place on campus since the outcome of the election, many feel that to participate would be in poor taste. Moreover, according to the petition written by Hoffman, “Trump’s history of racism, bigotry and sexism does not reflect Marist College values. [Backers] are concerned that participating in this inauguration will send the message that Marist supports Trump’s values, even if that is not the college’s intention.”
“Things like this become very personal,” said Darriel McBride, a Marist senior involved with the Marist Unity Project, a Marist group started to promote empathy and unity on campus after the tumultuous election season. “Right now, the decision to play is showing the minority student population and students who feel affected that they are prioritizing the international publicity over the narrative of the students who have been affected by these hate crimes. Marist has yet to reconcile [these incidents] with their students.”
In the weeks following Trump’s electoral win, a swastika was scratched into the wall of a dorm bathroom and an African-American student was told to “go back to Africa” by rowdy students passing in a car. The perpetrators were not identified. The issues were addressed by President David Yellen in an email to students: “These actions clearly violate Marist’s shared values,” wrote Yellen. “As our Values Statement says, ‘We are a diverse community united by a shared commitment to the free exchange of ideas, consideration of the opinions of others, and civility in all our interaction.’ The conduct … is reprehensible and may subject individuals to disciplinary action. More importantly, it demeans our efforts at civil discourse, causes harm to members of our community, and embarrasses the perpetrators. Last week marked the end of a difficult and highly contentious presidential campaign. As we prepare for the peaceful transfer of power that is a hallmark of our democracy, conversations about the outcome of the election and its impact on all Americans are taking place across our campus, as they are across the country. I applaud the vast majority of our students for modeling exactly the type of open dialogue that will foster greater communication and understanding between people across all ideological perspectives. However, harassment or hate-oriented speech and actions are not acceptable.”
Some students and alumni feel that even if they don’t support the president-elect, that the band should accept their invitation and attend the parade as planned later this month.
“As a non-Trump supporter and someone who does not agree with his views at all, I will be participating in this parade,” said Carla Hodel, captain of the Marist Cheer Team. “[Participating] does not mean that we’re going to show support for Trump at all. In fact, the application was submitted to the inauguration committee [in September] before we knew Trump would be president. We were informed that regardless of who would be our next president, this would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we were given the chance to back out at any given point.”
According to Hodel, after Donald Trump won the election, the marching band hosted meetings where participants in the march could voice any concerns, brainstorm ways to peacefully protest during the march (in a similar vein to the rainbow socks worn at the basketball game against Duke earlier this year), and assure members that the college is not marching in this parade to support the president-elect, but rather to “come together as a community to do something that we will only be a part of once in our lifetime.”
“Pulling out and sitting on the sidelines will accomplish nothing,” said Matthew Pelletier, a 2002 graduate who started the Marist chapter of Kappa Kappa Psi, a band fraternity. “Going down there and showing what Marist values actually are with some pin or emblem signifying love and inclusiveness … I support that.”
Editor’s note: Christina Coulter, an Ulster Publishing editorial assistant, is a senior at Marist majoring in English.