The Marist College band has been selected to perform at the presidential inauguration January 20. And there is a petition asking the college to decline the invitation.
A New York City woman has started a petition on change.org, saying she is concerned that participating in the inauguration will send the message that Marist supports President-elect Donald Trump's values, even if that is not the college's intention. Jennifer Hoffman, whose connection to Poughkeepsie-based Marist College is unclear*, writes on change.org that the petition is not politically motivated. Hoffman adds that she would not have started the petition if any other Republican had won the election. The petition will be delivered to Marist Band Director Arthur Himmelberger, Marist President David Yellen and Marist spokesman Greg Cannon. Here’s Cannon.
“We respectfully disagree because we don’t see the band’s participation in the inauguration as a political statement, quite the contrary,” says Cannon. “The college’s position is that if we were to withdraw simply because a lot of people are unhappy with the candidate who was victorious than that that would be making a political statement. And we’ve said all along that the college is not a political actor.”
Cannon says Marist applied in the spring to perform during the inauguration.
“Given the outcome of the election obviously it’s a little different and the emotions around the president-elect are different so we recognize that. And the band director and the music department staff were very sensitive to the interests and positions of the members of the band,” Cannon says. “And so everybody who has a political opinion that would keep them feeling comfortable in participating in this event, they are free to bow out without any judgment. We want everybody to be able to do what feels right to them.”
He says it’s the first time Marist applied to perform during a presidential inauguration. Meanwhile, comments on the petition page urge Marist not to perform. Hoffman alleges that Trump’s history of racism, bigotry and sexism does not reflect Marist College values. A Connecticut woman says when she sent her daughter and money to Marist, she thought the college had higher values. Cannon emphasizes that the band’s performance has nothing to do with politics.
“We respect the people who disagree with what we’re doing but I would want them to know that we’re not doing it as a political statement,” Cannon says. “We do not equate the band’s participation in this event with support for any one political position or political party.”
A Massachusetts alumna writes that it’s not a question of politics, it’s a question of values. Again, Cannon.
“We’ll end up being, I think, about 160 students, band members, cheer members, spirit team members, ROTC color guard who are very enthusiastic about participating,” says Cannon. “And, as many of them have said on social media and elsewhere, it’s an opportunity to perform in a civic ceremony on a national stage and it’s not about endorsing one political party over another. Frankly, it’s above the the partisanship.”
He says, so far, about eight students have decided not to participate for political reasons. The band as a whole, though, will play.
“We do not believe that as a college, where we represent a very diverse group of people with diverse opinions that we should be taking an action that represents one opinion,” Cannon says.
As of Tuesday morning, the change.org petition was nearing 3,000 signatures with a goal of 5,000. In April, Marist hosted Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders for a rally when he was a Democratic presidential candidate. And the Trump campaign was looking at Marist as a possible venue for a rally, but wanted a bigger space and ended up at the Mid-Hudson Civic Center in Poughkeepsie, also in April.
(*Update: Jennifer Hoffman is a 2003 Marist College graduate and was a member of band.)