Miami University’s Farmer School of Business will welcome Washington Post columnist George Will to speak at its annual Anderson Lecture Series at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 22 ,despite controversy concerning his June 6 column on campus rape.
Will’s piece, “Colleges become the victims of progressivism,” sparked debate after he disputed a 2012 report issued by the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control that found that 1 in 5 women on U.S. college campuses experience sexual assault.
“Colleges and universities … are learning that when they say campus victimizations are ubiquitous (‘micro-aggressions,’ often not discernible to the untutored eye, are everywhere), and that when they make victimhood a coveted statues that confers privileges, victims proliferate,” Will wrote.
Many Miami students are in uproar over Will’s invitation to speak in the Anderson Lecture Series despite his controversial column.
“It is only midway through the first semester at Miami University and there have already been a handful of sexual assaults reported. This is, of course, not even a fraction of the number of unreported cases our campus has seen,” co-president of Feminists Working on Real Democracy (F-Word) Rebecca Clark said. “And let us not forget the ‘The Top Ten Ways to Get Away with Rape’ flier that was passed around two years ago that was barely acknowledged by the administration.”
In September 2013, Miami administration updated its policy regarding sexual assault in response to the crimes’ prevalence, as well as the 2012 flier found in the men’s restroom of McBride Hall, offering tips on how to rape women. Miami University President David Hodge released a statement asserting how the university has an “obligation to foster and maintain an environment that is free of harassment, discrimination and sexual violence.”
“Where are these words now that Mr. Will is still scheduled to speak on campus, and being paid $48,000 — more than many people make in a year — to do so?” Clark said. “We feel that bringing Mr. Will in to speak is just another way the university continues to ignore how rape culture is present on not only this campus, but other college campuses nationwide.”
Earlier this month, Scripps College of Claremont, CA disinvited Will to speak at its annual Elizabeth Hubert Malott Public Affairs Program on Oct. 7, an action that students believe Miami’s administration should also take.
Miami students, staff and faculty have signed an open letter to Hodge regarding Will’s visit to Miami, stating that hosting Will sends the wrong message to both current and future students about the tolerance or rape culture at Miami. At press time, the petition had garnered over 25 pages of signiatures.
“Paying George Will to speak at Miami after the column he wrote sends a negative message to survivors of rape and sexual assault on campus,” Miami Women’s Center assistant Rhonda Jackson said. “He doubts the legitimate struggle of rape and sexual assault — this is extremely harmful to survivors.”
The Miami Women’s Center is helping students prepare for a peaceful protest against Will’s visit to Miami by offering poster-making materials in an effort to give students a means of expressing themselves. Associate professor of English and Women’s Gender Studies Madelyn
Detloff will be organizing a teach-in for sexual violence, which will be held during Will’s lecture.
“So many times these things are so painful that voice is not given, and I think in the way our system works, unlike the way Mr. Will purports, victims do not get the support they need and are many times marginalized and re-victimized by the process,” Jackson said.
The Miami University Police Department is working with protestors to find a close, but safe place that does not block attendees from getting to the lecture.
According to Miami University policy on public speaking and demonstrations, “Demonstrators must stay at least 25 feet from the entrance to any University building, property, parking lot, facility or event, including entrances to construction sites. Demonstrations may not obstruct or disrupt, by auditory or other means, any university activities. Sound amplification devices may only be used at a volume that does not disrupt or distract from the normal use of classrooms, offices or laboratories or any scheduled university event.”
To make up for the loss of voice that sound amplification devices may have added, the Women’s Center will also be hanging T-shirts made during the 2014 Clothesline Project near the protest of Will’s lecture.
“Ironically this year, we had more T-shirts made than we have ever had made in my experience with the clothesline project,” Jackson said. “More people gave voice to sexual assault and domestic violence so that tells me that much goes unreported and much goes on that students aren’t willing to report, but are looking for other alternatives to give voice.”
The Farmer School of Business (FSB) agrees that Will’s visit to Miami is contentious, but views the controversy surrounding his statement as beneficial, serving to further much needed discourse on Miami’s campus.
“We value the open conversation in a respectful way and want to ensure that all voices are heard,” FSB Dean Matthew Myers said. “The most important thing that a University can offer is open discourse. We want to take advantage of this wonderful opportunity to address an incredibly prevalent issue on Miami’s campus.”
To both supporters and opponents of Will’s visit to Miami, the grassroots action it is causing students to take, specifically in light of Freedom Summer’s 50th anniversary, can only be seen as beneficial.
“To actually be a part of and to engage in civil protest is a really amazing student development and learning opportunity and I am hopeful that this will instill a passion to give voice to more injustices,” Jackson said. “I think there are so many things that happen on our campus, sexual assault being one of them, but there are so many others: privilege and oppression; we still have racism and sexism and ageism on our campus. Being able to give voice to and stand up against those things is very powerful for students.”