Student Life Column

Politics aside, performing at Trump’s inauguration was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for college groups

Though he hasn’t even held office for 24 hours, President Donald Trump already has a laundry list of political controversies behind him. And several American colleges and universities faced similar backlash for their decisions to send student groups to perform at Friday’s historic inauguration.

Talladega College, a historically black college in Talladega, Alabama, faced a great deal of criticism for sending its band to perform at the ceremony. Social media did what it does best, and attacked Talladega for its decision to participate. In Poughkeepsie, New York, Marist College also dealt with criticism for sending its marching band to perform.

Neither school required its students to participate in the inauguration. Anyone who had a serious opposition to the decision to perform could have respectfully sat out without any repercussions. Encouraging participation is appropriate. Preventing it is not.

When these schools decided to perform at the inauguration, they were taking advantage of the chance for their students to experience a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Many organizations apply to be selected to perform at such a momentous event before the results of the election are even known. This inauguration was the only one the vast majority of college students will experience during their time at university, and it’s special for them to have had the chance to perform at it.

But critics argued that performing at Trump’s inauguration would be inherently political and shouldn’t have been permitted for colleges and universities, which are designed to be inclusive for all ideologies.

“…Performing in honor of a transition to this administration in particular, and claiming that such a performance is apolitical, suggests to us that you are ambivalent about the experiences of those who have been targeted, both on the Marist Campus and nationally, by the hatred and fear inspired by the President-elect’s rhetoric,” read a letter to the Marist administration available for anti-Trump Marist signees on Google Forms.

The letter suggests that performing would make a statement that brands the school politically and sends a message about how the school handles Trump’s criticism of marginalized groups such as women and people of color. Trump led a campaign filled with bigotry and misogyny, and for some, performing meant surrendering to his ludicrous beliefs.

“To have student groups performing for (Trump) is engaging in a celebration of his ideology,” said Nicolas Maglieri, a member of Marist Democrats, in an email. “(Trump’s) victory has sparked acts of racism on Marist’s campus, and the school’s decision to participate in the inauguration regardless shows an apathy to the feelings of the student body.”

But the inauguration was going to happen whether students liked it or not. Trump is the nation’s new president. Each school selected to participate would’ve been chosen for its students’ talents — not their political interests. As an institution of higher education in a democratic nation, it’s important to recognize the value of this historic event.

Maglieri added that he hopes Marist’s marching band is afforded opportunities to participate in future inaugurations. But the thing is, this opportunity will most likely not come again. From an educational standpoint, a performance at the inauguration would be one that allows students to witness how the transfer of power in the United States political system works. To perform on a national stage is a huge deal.

While the community outcry is absolutely understood, college students shouldn’t be stripped of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity just because people oppose Trump’s views. Granted, “opposing views” was really an understatement for this particular election, because with Trump it’s not simply about political parties and mild policy disagreements. For many of us, anything involving Trump is something to be avoided or protested.

But as difficult as it might have been to face, the inauguration happened. Trump is our president. So among the chaos and political tension, schools rightfully took advantage and showcased their talent.

Aishwarya Sukesh is a freshman magazine journalism and psychology dual major. Her column appears weekly. She can be reached at aksukesh@syr.edu and followed on Twitter @AishuSukesh.

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