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Gitmo poetry event at MCC postponed

CRYSTAL LAKE – A Mc­Henry County College official said a student group postponed an event featuring poetry by Guantanamo detainees so that the college could arrange for more staffing.

The Student Peace Action Network had planned to have a law professor who worked on unlawful detainment actions for 17 Guantanamo detainees speak at 7 p.m. Thursday. That is the same evening as a wake that has been set for Sgt. Jason McLeod, the Crystal Lake soldier who was killed last week in Afghanistan.

Both the timing and the topic of the student organization’s event inflamed at least one local man, who said he called the college to let officials know of his disgust.

Crystal Lake resident Joe Alger said he called college Interim President Kathleen Plinske demanding that she cancel the poetry event, partly because he thought the timing was disrespectful. Alger said he objected to a law professor reading poems written by accused terrorists on the same evening as the wake of a soldier who died fighting terrorists.

“Although Jason McLeod died for the right of our freedom of speech, I think there’s such a thing as decency, and the least they can do is postpone,” Alger said.

College officials issued a short news release late Tuesday indicating that the student group was trying to reschedule the event. A college spokeswoman said the college needed more time to arrange for staff in light of several recent calls indicating that attendance was likely to be larger than the students originally anticipated.

“We need to make sure there are appropriate resources and staffing in place,” college spokeswoman Christina Haggerty said.

Molly McQueen, an MCC student and the action coordinator for Student Peace Action Network, said the group had been publicizing the event for about a month and had been planning it since the beginning of the semester.

McQueen said she was not allowed to participate in a meeting Tuesday with faculty advisers and college administrators. But McQueen later was told that the event was postponed because the students failed to arrange for a faculty adviser to attend Thursday.

Thursday’s event was set for the college’s conference center, which can hold up to 350 people, said Haggerty, the college spokeswoman. Marc D. Falkoff, a criminal law professor at Northern Illinois University, was scheduled to speak about a book of detainee poetry he edited called “Poems from Guantanamo: Where is the World to Save Us from Torture?”

Student group leaders had discussed event crowd control since holding a controversial event in March and planned to discuss tactics with MCC security and the speaker before Thursday’s event, McQueen said. She said the group’s events generally attract more than 100 people.

Haggerty said she did not know whether the event coinciding with McLeod’s wake influenced leaders’ decision to postpone it.

But Alger said he suspected his and other opponents’ plans to attend the event did influence the decision. And he added that if the event was rescheduled, he would be there.

“They got a lot of people who were voicing complete disdain for them having this event,” Alger said. “Instead of saying that, they are making up this lame reason [for postponing].”

Haggerty said the college has more than 40 student organizations and is obligated to allow those groups to share their viewpoints and foster community discussion.

“Our role is to provide the facility for these open forums,” Haggerty said.

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