On Saturday, Oct. 9, members of the Macalester community gathered in the Leonard Center Fieldhouse and on a Zoom livestream, for President Suzanne Rivera’s inauguration. The ceremony was one of a variety of events over the weekend that served as the long-awaited official celebration of Macalester’s first female and Latinx president.
In the days leading up to inauguration, some members of the Macalester community expressed concern online over the cost of the events and activities. Students pointed to the figure of $400,000 mentioned in a virtual finance presentation from May 11, 2021.
During that presentation, accessible online through Macalester College’s Youtube channel, Interim Vice President of Administration and Finance Patricia Langer described that number as the funds allocated towards inauguration as well as “incremental travel over regular budgets.” There was no further specification in the presentation as to how that $400,000 would be allocated.
Macalester Chaplain Kelly Stone gave the opening invocation. She spoke of a tapestry consisting of many threads from the Macalester community; one that is being ritually handed to Rivera during her inauguration.
“Transformation will come when we bind ourselves together, making the ordinary somehow extraordinary and exceptional,” Stone said.
The inauguration ceremony’s keynote speaker was Dr. Fayneese Miller, president of Hamline University. Miller, a mentor of Rivera during her undergraduate years at Brown University, both spoke to Rivera’s capacity to lead as president and urged Macalester students to stand up and have their voices be heard.
“Macalester, you have in President Rivera someone who understands firsthand the various experiences that students bring with them to campus and their idealistic desire to change the world, even when others might not understand nor appreciate the ways in which they choose to do so,” Miller said.
Miller also emphasized the importance of standing up for democracy.
“We must help [students] find their voice as we fight to uphold our democracy, to protect our liberty,” she said.
Chair of the Board of Trustees Carrie Norbin Killoran ’94 presented Rivera with a medallion and citation, officially marking her as President of Macalester. In addition, Killoran announced that Gov. Tim Walz declared Oct. 9, 2021 Suzanne Rivera Day in Minnesota.
In Rivera’s inaugural address, titled “Onward Together,” she thanked her family, members of the Macalester community, previous Macalester presidents and Miller for her mentorship. She also acknowledged the support she received from Vartan Gregorian, president of Brown University during her time there.
Rivera described the importance of an ethics of care at Macalester, drawing from her background as a bioethicist. She also emphasized the continued importance of a liberal arts education, mentioning her strategic planning initiatives that strive towards a more intentional and inclusive community.
“I want every person in our community to know, in their bones, that they deserve to be here and they belong here,” Rivera said.
Rivera described the importance of working together and being open to hearing the ideas of others, including ones that may oppose our own, in order to determine Macalester’s future.
“When we engage in this work as a full community … it makes a difference in small ways and large,” she said.
The ceremony concluded with readings of the peace prayer in Spanish, Shona, Chinese and English.
A campus picnic with catered food and music and dance performances followed the ceremony. Later that evening, Macalester hosted Sophia Eris, DJ for the artist Lizzo, to play at the students-only Inaugural Kickback.
According to Chair of the Inauguration Committee Andrew Brown, “a little over half” of the $400,000 budget went towards covering the inauguration events spanning from Thursday, Oct. 7, to Sunday, Oct. 10.
Kaela Bloemendaal ’22 was one of the students who raised questions about the budget online, sharing via Twitter that they contacted the administration to ask where the $400,000 was going. They sent an email to the Inauguration Committee, President Rivera and the Administration and Finance department.
“This was the first that many students had heard of this budget … many students including myself expressed confusion and unease about its size and purpose,” Bloemendaal wrote. “Given ongoing and contentious issues of budget constraints, many Mac students would appreciate knowing where this money is coming from and where it would be going.”
Brown responded to Bloemendaal’s email with a clarification that the $400,000 covers inauguration events as well as other planned events both on campus and around the world over the next nine months involving President Rivera.
In an email to The Mac Weekly, Brown elaborated that the budget amount had been allocated by the Inauguration Committee and covers “the Big Questions series of events that we’re doing throughout the academic year, around the world,” Brown wrote. “The college utilizes these events to engage our alumni, recruit volunteers, encourage donations … [and] even help recruit future students.”
Brown said that these events are important enough to merit this budget, given the rarity of a presidential transition and the significance of in-person programming engaging the full Macalester community on campus and around the world.
For Bloemendaal, Brown’s response clarified the question of where the money was going, but raised further questions about the college’s funding priorities.
In particular, they felt that in light of the ongoing need for funding towards initiatives to improve access for students with disabilities, inauguration and Big Questions events were not of utmost importance to the Macalester community.
“It still feels a little bit like, ‘Okay, do we have the funding for things on campus too?’ This doesn’t really affect the student body,” Bloemendaal said. “It did feel like there are certain things that are not about the students, which I understand that there would be, but I want to make sure the students are still being centered.”
In an email to The Mac Weekly, Langer said that “in hindsight the [financial] presentation should have been more explicit about the broader presidential transition context and process.”
She also reiterated that the presidential transition budget not only covered inauguration and travel, but also funded the Big Questions events themselves.
Both Langer and Brown emphasized the importance of funding Rivera’s transition through both on-campus and off-campus events.
“The inauguration ceremony and accompanying events are intended as a way for the community to get to know a new president in both formal and informal settings to support and energize their fundraising efforts,” Langer wrote.
“Additionally, this historically infrequent occasion is an opportunity to both honor and celebrate our institution,” she continued. “This particular occasion was also specifically designed to celebrate the resilience and rejoining of our community with an opportunity for joy.”