Minnesota college president offers to cover bail costs for student protesters

Macalester College President Suzanne Rivera is offering to reimburse the bail costs of any student arrested during a protest over the 2020 presidential election. The Minnesota college president wants “to affirm” that students “have the support of Macalester in various ways.”

She “cares deeply” about the students, both for their well-being and protecting their right to participate in civil disobedience. She tweeted out her support and included a phone number for students to call for help in paying bail or fines.

President Rivera calls it an equity issue. Besides the tweets, she posted a letter to the college community on its website. She did so in response to angry responses and she claims, a threat of violence, too, after she tweeted out the offer of help to the students. Her offer of reimbursement is a gesture to help disadvantaged students who are not wealthy or something. She includes an offer to pay for transportation costs, too. International students are offered legal advice to protect their visa status.

I want to tell the Macalester community in no uncertain terms where I stand: peaceful protest is patriotic. It is our duty in this democracy to make our views known. This is true at the ballot box, in our classrooms, and beyond the walls of the campus.

As I wrote in a letter to the Mac community dated June 15: “Macalester supports and affirms the rights of its students, staff, faculty, and alumni to engage in civil disobedience. The conscientious and peaceful refusal to obey certain laws, demands, orders or commands of a government with the aim of bringing about a change in laws or policies is a time-honored tradition in this country.” In that same letter, I said: “The senior leadership team has been working on new ways that Macalester can contribute to the creation of a more just and peaceful world. We have offered to reimburse transportation expenses incurred if students become stranded after curfew due to their participation in civil disobedience. We also have offered to work with students on setting up a way to reimburse any fines they may receive due to civil disobedience citations. And we are taking steps to make legal advice available to international students who want to participate in protests but worry about their visa status if they do so.”

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. The free exchange of ideas– even when done inconveniently– is one of the cornerstones of a liberal arts education.

From my perspective, offering to reimburse fines for civil disobedience is an equity issue. What I am emphasizing here is that if any students cannot afford the fines for peaceful protest then I would be willing to reimburse them because freedom of speech is not a privilege only our wealthy students should enjoy.

On Tuesday students gathered to support the counting of all ballots cast in the election. Rivera said the school’s offer wasn’t tied to any specific cause. She began offering assistance to students during the BLM protests/riots that took place in June. She told the Pioneer Press that the assistance is available to both conservative and liberal students. “I would defend free speech for our conservative students as vigorously as for our liberal students.” On Wednesday more than 600 anti-Trump protesters on Interstate 94 were arrested in Minneapolis.

That’s the absurdity of President Rivera’s magnanimous offer, right? She isn’t bailing out conservative students, this is to coddle and nurture progressive students. Conservatives are not the protesters (rioters) being arrested. Arrests are being made when the protests turn violent and become riots. “Peaceful protesters” are not being stopped from marching or gathering but when the event takes a turn, as they often do, then the police respond. Not everyone who commented on Rivera’s tweets was as woke as others, though. Some questioned exactly where the money is coming from.

One person pointed out that eventually, these same students will come for her with more demands.

Freedom of expression goes both ways. On college campuses, we know that usually only one way is accepted. The college president would provide more support for students if she encouraged them to concentrate on their studies more and less on social justice protests, especially the ones off-campus.