Colleges and universities across the United States have received criticism in recent years due to their refusal to sponsor or allow conservative speakers to speak on campus. Concordia College became part of this conversation last fall after funding, once allocated to the campus branch of Young Americans for Freedom to invite Ben Shapiro to campus, was rescinded.
Following this decision, YAF agreed to work toward bringing a less controversial conservative speaker to campus, and they succeeded. Rick Santorum, former Republican senator and Republican primary candidate, will speak at Concordia on April 10.
Patrick Sorrells, president of Concordia’s YAF chapter, said Santorum was chosen to be brought here for various reasons including the expertise he can bring from his former occupations.
“He’s had extensive legislative experience, from passing welfare legislation and authoring anti-abortion legislation,” said Sorrells.
While no one is quite sure what Santorum will speak about, Sorrells is hopeful that these topics will serve as the basis for his speech.
“What he’s exactly talking about has yet to be confirmed but we have made that suggestion to him,” Sorrells said. “What it’s like trying to pass controversial legislation, and trying to get people on board and connecting that with us Cobbers, and how we can then get engaged and get involved in public policy.”
This lack of definitity on the subject of Santorum’s speech has left Lacy Tooker-Kirkevold, an SGA representative and co-president of Campus Democrats, uncomfortable. Tooker-Kirkevold stated that she voted against SGA’s support of the Santorum speaking event.
“The fact that we don’t know what he’s going to be talking about is pretty concerning,’” said Tooker-Kirkevold. Part of this concern is due to Santorum’s history of speaking out against the LGBTQ+ community and their rights.
“I would be really interested to see a conservative speaker, here at Concordia, talking about some issues that I have a certain stance on as a liberal. And I would like to see the other side. But I don’t want to see a speaker that’s going to be attacking my friends and students that I’m supposed to be representing through SGA,” said Tooker-Kirkevold.
YAF brought SGA into the process of bringing Santorum to campus by requesting funds from the Special Projects and Initiatives Fund. According to SGA’s website, SPIF is a “source of funding for high-impact, college-wide programs or projects that enhance the overall student experience at Concordia College.” YAF applied for $11,874 in funding, but SPIF recommended only $6,149 in SGA’s senate vote. According to Ahna Van Valkenburg, president of SGA, five out of the 26 voting members voted against providing funds to YAF to bring Santorum to campus.
The difference between the requested and approved totals will be made up for by the national foundation YAF is connected to, Young America’s Foundation. According to Sorrells, the foundation has funded other YAF projects, including sending Concordia students to national conferences, and has provided Concordia’s YAF chapter with connections that allow them to bring speakers like Rick Santorum to campus.
Despite the contentious roots to the upcoming speaking event, students and faculty seem intrigued to see what comes of Santorum’s visit to Concordia.
“I hope that Rick Santorum can come and open up dialogue to issues that conservatives and liberals both have strong views on,” Tooker-Kirkevold said.
Dr. Ken Foster, associate professor of political science and director of the global studies program at Concordia, argues that Concordia needs diverse speakers to continue to be responsibly engaged in the world.
“Addressing a variety of problems we face today requires we hear and examine a wide variety of views and approaches,” Foster said.
Foster hopes that Santorum speaks of “the ways in which we as a society can move forward in addressing problems in a way that brings people together rather than dividing them.”
YAF senior advisor and business major Taylor Vonderharr agrees.
“Students need voices like that on campus, even if it goes against your beliefs. As critical listeners it is important to know both sides of an argument, to further your understanding of your own,” Vonderharr said.
Santorum will be speaking at 8 p.m. on April 10, in a location that is yet to be determined depending on expected size of attendance. Priority ticketing will be given to Concordia students via email starting on Wednesday, March 21 at 8 a.m. Registration will be open to Concordia faculty and staff, as well as the community, beginning Saturday, March 24 at 8 a.m.