Sen. Rob Portman makes remarks as Senate and House Republicans announce their new tax plan in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 27, 2017. Credit: Courtesy of TNS

To the editor:

On Sunday, Sen. Rob Portman will come to Ohio State’s campus and deliver the Autumn Commencement address to graduates. This is happening, regardless of his vote for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and his consistent alignment with policies — including the attempted repeal of ObamaCare, and his approval of the proposed tax plan — that would detrimentally impact many of our undergraduate and graduate students.

Many members of the Ohio State community — myself included — called for University President Michael Drake to rescind Portman’s invitation; and to instead acknowledge someone committed to education. I am disappointed in Drake’s decision that the event go as planned.

We are at a turning point. Every day, we are met with stories of violence and fear; Republican initiatives that might hurt us and those we love. But we are not powerless. In 1969, my parents — now 70 years old — were seniors at Stony Brook University, a highly regarded and progressive school where they were both studying to be teachers. Those years were a time of constant protest. When not studying for exams, they were calling for the return of their friends — young men who were fighting a war in Vietnam. Though many of the protests took place at government buildings and in the streets, they also found spaces to recognize their institution’s complicity in government-sanctioned violence. At that time, Stony Brook, with its prestigious science program, was contributing to research for the war effort.  In protest, both of my parents, and hundreds of their peers, opted not to attend their graduation.

With this choice, their absence spoke volumes, their empty chairs a symbol. I understand this might not be an appropriate move for many of you who are so deserving of standing up on that stage. I respect that decision. But I am appealing to Ohio State students and faculty who will be present to voice their disappointment in other ways, whether that be to walk out, or turn their back as he stands to speak. No matter what you choose, I stand in solidarity with you.


Jessie Male

Graduate Teaching Associate, English Department