Last week the Bozeman Daily Chronicle ran an article by Gail Schontzler discussing new ASMSU President and Vice President Gwynn Simeniuk and Levi Birky and their already controversial plans for their year in office. Namely, their expressed desire to bring back a live bobcat as MSU’s mascot.
Schontzler wrote in the midst of her article, “While recent MSU leaders have included ardent feminists and the first African-American president, Simeniuk and Birky represent a return to traditional Montana roots.”
Although a majority of comments made in response to the article have concerned the potential live bobcat, there has been significant backlash to the above quote. This is certainly understandable and even expected. The statement strongly assumes many offensive and downright incorrect conclusions, such as that Montanans don’t advocate diversity or have roots in feminism.
In the online comments for the article, Schontzler responds she “was just trying to note how the new ASMSU leaders are different from their predecessors. I don’t think the sentence suggests anything critical toward either their predecessors or the new student leaders. I’m puzzled that anyone would take this has hateful. Absolutely not my intention.”
Thus, everyone can safely acknowledge that the line in question and the article itself were not meant to be malicious, even if they were poorly worded.
However, to say that feminism, no matter how ardent, doesn’t represent traditional Montana roots is ridiculous. The first woman to hold a seat in United States Congress, the famous pacifist Jeannette Rankin, was elected by Montanans in 1916 and again in 1940. Rankin, known for her lone vote against declaring war on Japan in 1941, was also the only woman to cast a congressional vote in favor of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the unconditional right to vote in the U.S.
Two years earlier Montana had already become the tenth state to recognize women’s suffrage. Rankin was born in Missoula and attended the University of Montana. Montana has a remarkable history of ardent feminism.
Additionally, the idea that Montana leadership couldn’t be anything other than white is especially insulting to any Montanan who doesn’t identify as Caucasian. The sentiment is particularly troubling when applied to student leadership at MSU, since the university is one of the most diverse places in the state.
As the Exponent reported in September of 2014, MSU was one of 83 institutions to receive the 2014 Higher Education Excellence in Diversity award. The award, given by the established publication INSIGHT Into Diversity, honors MSU’s commitment to diversity.
MSU’s Strategic Plan also has an objective to diversify the student body, and to do so, they call for increasing enrollment of underrepresented minority and Native American students.
To avoid any misconception that may have been created, it is critical at this moment to reiterate the common sentiment of Montanans, Bozemanites and Bobcats alike. Montana and MSU embrace diversity and equality, and we are proud to do so.