Student government leaders at Loyola University Maryland faced a barrage of pressure from the university administration to change the theme of a senior class party described as “very alienating, divisive and harmful” and against the university’s “core values,” according to emails provided to The Daily Caller. The theme? America.
The theme for Loyola’s annual “Senior 200s” party — one of four celebrations exclusive to seniors held throughout the year — was based upon a survey of Loyola seniors taken last summer. The party was held on Nov. 18 and went off without a hitch, according to students who attended, despite warnings that the administration might have to get involved if students were offended.
Emails sent to student government representatives were provided to TheDC on condition of anonymity. Multiple student government representatives confirmed the emails’ authenticity on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation from the administration.
Right before the presidential election, some student government members wondered if they should nix the America theme if Donald Trump won, according to internal SGA group chats shared with TheDC on condition of anonymity for the same reason.
One representative claimed that “if Trump wins it will be bad,” while another argued it would be wrong to change the party theme simply because of disagreement with the president-elect’s policies. The party was still on.
The day after Trump’s victory, a handful of students messaged SGA representatives to argue that — because of Trump’s victory — an America-themed party was now inappropriate. One female student claimed she was “a victim of horrible hate words” and worried that similar mean things might be said at the party if the theme wasn’t changed.
When the possibility of unpleasant feelings wasn’t enough to cancel a class-wide event, the administration got involved.
The university’s executive vice president, Susan Donovan sent an email to two SGA members claiming she “talked with a number of students and heard from faculty members” about the party. “None of it is positive and it sounds very alienating, divisive and harmful.”
“I encourage you to reconsider this plan in light of the legitimate concerns raised by so many,” Donovan went on to say. “We have made progress in providing a welcoming climate on campus and do we want to reverse that progress with a theme that divides us?” Donovan did not return TheDC’s request for comment by press time.
Sheilah Horton, the university’s dean of students also tried to pressure students to change the party theme, in a lengthy email that portrayed the students as insensitive for not canceling the America theme.
Horton worried that the theme “provides an opportunity for students to dress or behave in a way that offends or oppresses others.”
Horton also said the administration would have to “deal with” any fallout from the party, which she worried would make students feel “unsafe.” She also worried that the America-themed party might keep potential students from attending Loyola and implied the event could be the “defining” incident of the senior class.
“Even one negative event, especially with social media can cause the campus community to feel unsafe; it can be shared with potential students which can have an effect on admissions and indeed can be the defining incident for the class of 2017,” she said.
“So, you have made a decision that in effect, has the potential to cause negative consequences for the university and even to the students whose behavior crosses the line,” she continued. Horton did not respond to TheDC’s request for comment by press time.
“I was amazed and shocked at not only the reaction and lack of confidence of the administration in our class and SGA itself, but how they handled everything including some of the rude things said about our organization. It is quite disgusting how people feel and see the word ‘America’ as something that is discriminatory,” said one student government representative, who wished to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation from the administration.
“We should see the theme ‘America’ as a way to forget political divide and come together as a country and class and celebrate all that we have accomplished. That is what ended up happening, yet we didn’t have the support of people in our class and the administration itself.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story referred to the executive vice president as Sarah Donovan, rather than Susan Donovan.