Not all alums are ‘raging mad’

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Let me start by saying I do not speak for everyone.

This is a concept Mr. Butch Giessman apparently does not understand.

I do not speak for all alumni. I do not speak for my entire class, for my major or for anyone else.  In an issue as divided as this one, I understand that when I speak, I speak only for myself.

Let me also say that I am side-stepping the bigger issue here, and I am side-stepping intentionally.

In the grand scheme of things, we have larger issues to discuss: racial inequality in our culture, a lack of understanding for law enforcement and a general lack of civility and empathy from all sides.

But something else needs to be addressed head-on. Something much smaller – or rather, someone much smaller.

Butch Giessman and Ken Atkins embarrassed us last week in the “St. Louis Business Journal.”  Giessman and Atkins attempted to bully the University into reversing course on its recent plans to develop a Center for Community and Economic Development, increase financial aid resources for African American students, sponsor a national conference on racial equality and build a sculpture to commemorate those who brought up these issues on our campus.

They were unsuccessful in their bullying.  They were successful, however, in coming across as immature, wealthy and incredibly out-of-touch.

Giessman’s words start off on the wrong foot. “They picked the side with the protestors,” the wealthy CEO said. He mentioned that the incident was “pissing off the alumni,” then said, “everybody is raging mad.”

Who is “everybody,” Butch? Do you not remember a lick of your Jesuit education? That there really shouldn’t be “sides” in this human struggle between safety and freedom?  That you can’t speak for “everybody” just because you and your friends think a certain way? That you can’t speak for all alumni just because you have money?

Giessman told the “Business Journal” that “he would no longer give money to SLU” if the University, you know, does more things for its already underrepresented African-American community.  He was sure the mention the tens of thousands of dollars he has given, and how he will never give again.

Then his friend Atkins did something truly remarkable.  After also threatening to never donate to SLU again if they did not do what he wanted, he said the University has succumbed to “blackmail” and “strong arm tactics” from the protestors.

Cambridge Dictionary defines “strong arm”: “a method or type of behavior that involves using threats to make people do what you demand.”

So, basically exactly what you are doing, Ken.

“Blackmail”, by the way, is not really anywhere close to what happened. That usually involves keeping information quiet, but it always involves money.  If there is anything close to “blackmail” happening here, it is coming from Geissman and Atkins, who are threatening to withhold money unless the school does what they want.

But see, the fundamental problem here is not that they do not want to give.  It is not even where they stand on the issue.  I am fine with all that.

If you do not want to give money because you do not like your university’s recent initiative, fine.  People did that for years under Fr. Lawrence Biondi.

The real problem is this line: “Geissman … wondered why the university did not consult its donors about the plan.”

I am rich; I give you money; I should have a say. Those poor people should not have a say. This attitude disgusts me.

Stand where you want on Ferguson, on law enforcement and on racial equality. Say what you want about the university, about their plans, about the protests.  That is all fine.

But do not ever claim to speak for “everybody”, or for “all alumni.”  Do not ever say that a Jesuit university has to follow your crooked rules before it follows its established mission.  And do not ever assume that your opinions should carry more weight just because your wallet does.

Saint Louis University should be a place of dialogue. That is why President Pestello sat down with the protesters in October, and that is why the school has invited St. Louis Country Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch to speak on campus this week.  We should be open to dialogue and open to listening. That is exactly what makes me proud to be an alum of Saint Louis University.

These two bigoted alums think their words should carry more weight. They think those protestors should not be protected by the First Amendment.

Sorry to burst your bubble, fellas, but “I’m rich, so you have to listen to me,” does not work anymore. This is a Jesuit institution. We stand by our mission, and it is only through listening, through dialogue, that we can achieve that higher purpose, that greater good.