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Samantha Lucy

Invite-only Ban Ki-moon event perpetuates campus elitism

On August 12, United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon gave a talk at the University of Calgary for International Youth Day.

A few weeks prior, I received an e-mail invite to the event. The e-mail detailed how U of C provost and vice-president academic Dru Marshall was “pleased to invite [me] to a reception and talk on youth leadership” with the world leader. I filed it alongside other event invites like town halls and stampede barbeques — events that are open to the U of C community as a whole.

But the Ban Ki-moon event wasn’t open to everyone. In fact, only select students got an invite. Most didn’t even know he was here until the talk was over.

That’s a shame. This opportunity should have been available to more than just a few hand-picked students.

The 700 students invited and 300 that attended were part of groups like the Scholar’s Academy, Students’ Union and Model UN. Members of these groups were identified specifically as “student leaders” that organizers felt would appreciate the event.

What constitutes a student leader? Few graduate students were invited. Certain student groups were highlighted but there is no way organizers could reach every student in a leadership position.

There are a lot of people in political science, economics or international relations who have strong opinions on Ban’s term and would welcome an opportunity to grill him. But instead, I, an English student studying feminist comic books, was invited to see the leader of the UN speak because I was identified as a “student leader” by some unknown metric.

The UN secretary general coming to the U of C is a once in a lifetime opportunity. This was his first official visit to Alberta since being elected in 2006. He specifically chose to speak at the U of C on International Youth Day.

Ban is, of course, under high security. It’s fair if the university or the secretary general himself didn’t want to host a large-scale keynote that just anyone could show up to. And it’s fair that the organizers would want to vet and secure individuals coming through.

But there are ways to host events when notable individuals visit the university that are still accessible to everyone.

Certain students aren’t given special privilege when distinguished writers come to speak at the U of C. When author Zadie Smith came to the university, students in English registered online and had the same opportunity as everyone else to score free tickets.

When the Faculty of Education hosted feminist theorist Gloria Steinem, students outside that faculty still had the opportunity to attend and ask Steinem questions.

Smith and Steinem may not be on the same international security level as Ban, but surely there are ways to provide more access -— or at least the opportunity — to students. The event could’ve been live-streamed. An open call could’ve been made. If the organizers were so keen on making sure students who wanted to be there were there, they could have even instead made students apply. But put that onus on students, not someone else that gets to decide who is a student leader and who is not.

By restricting access to the visiting secretary general to a hand-picked group of students, the U of C perpetuates a student elite. Only people who have the opportunity to do certain things are then connected to other opportunities, which could grant them even more opportunity to do more things. That’s how elitism works.

Ban’s talk was billed as a “call to action” for youth. But, for the most part, he was speaking to the youth already in action.

We’re constantly told to realize our potential. But when institutions actively decide who deserves opportunities and who doesn’t, it’s often hard to open those new doors.

Sure, limit the number of people who can attend — room capacities, security and fire codes are very real things. But at least give equal opportunity to all students, and not just a hand-picked elite.

Melanie WoodsGauntlet Editorial Board

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