George Will's planned appearance at Miami University this week is sparking fierce opposition and planned protests on campus, with both students and faculty speaking out against the event as “highly inappropriate” due to Will's repeated comments that trivialize campus rape.
Will, who is distributed by the The Washington Post News Service and Syndicate, has been under fire from U.S. senators, media, and women's equality groups since the publication of his June 6 column, which argued that efforts to fight sexual assault have made “victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges.”
Will has been making similar comments for more than two decades, and has refused to apologize for his most recent remarks.
Critics at the Oxford, Ohio campus warn that rewarding Will with a paid platform “sends a negative message” to sexual assault survivors. Miami University's troubled recent history regarding campus rape prompted President David Hodge to state last year that the school had an “obligation to foster and maintain an environment that is free of harassment, discrimination and sexual violence.”
An open letter to the university's administration is currently circulating, with more than 200 students and faculty members signing on to the statement opposing Will's appearance.
The letter reads, in part: “the hosting of George F. Will ... sends the wrong message to current students, prospective students, and their families about the tolerance of rape culture and predatory sexual behavior at Miami University.” It adds that his column “belittled the 'progressivism' of new measures to help prevent sexual assault on campus. Sexual assault is not a political issue.”
“Furthermore, Will states baldly that colleges 'make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges,' a message that is contrary to the experience of many assault survivors who find the process of reporting assault shaming and silencing,” the letter adds. “We as a campus should be working to make that process less stigmatizing, not more.”
Protests are currently planned for the night of the speech, as well as a sexual assault “teach-in” by at least one women's, gender and sexual studies instructor to be held right outside of the event, according to the Miami University Women's Center, an on-campus student resource center.
In early October, Scripps College of Claremont, CA, canceled a planned appearance by Will in light of the column, with the school's president stating, “Sexual assault is not a conservative or liberal issue. And it is too important to be trivialized in a political debate or wrapped into a celebrity controversy.”
The columnist will receive $48,000 for his scheduled speech at Miami University's Farmer School of Business for its annual Anderson Lecture Series on October 22. Last week, a school spokesperson told Media Matters that the administration is aware of the controversy surrounding Will and that “Members of our campus community may rightfully have questions about Mr. Will's writings on a number of issues and we support their right to pose those questions.”
Reaction has been swift, with multiple statements condemning the decision coming from student and faculty groups.
“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,” the Miami University Women's Center declared in an email to the campus community that also urged attendance at the protests. “He doubts the legitimate struggle of rape and sexual assault -- this is extremely harmful to survivors. Although he's not talking about this issue, his presence here sends the message that rape and sexual assault is not a big enough issue to turn him away from campus like other colleges have done.”
Feminists Working on Real Democracy, another campus group, issued a statement that said the group “finds it highly inappropriate and offensive” Will would be invited to speak.
The group also announced plans for a “a peaceful protest the day of Mr. Will's speech in an attempt to make Miami University understand that we have a problem here on campus, and that the only way to fix it is through education.”
On October 17, members of the Miami University women's, gender and sexuality studies program also spoke out against the appearance, with a statement that declared, “Will's June 6 opinion piece featured an attack on some imagined 'campus victimization' advocacy campaign centered on 'rape, aka 'sexual assault'.' 'She asked for it' or 'misrepresented it' certainly isn't an original position. The invitation for him to hold forth for the endowed Anderson Speaker Series, overseen by the Farmer School of Business, inflicts on Miami University a misogyny that 'diminishes the autonomy, resources, prestige and comity' of this university, to borrow some words from Will's opinion piece.”
The national feminist rights group UltraViolet has posted a petition on its website urging the campus not to pay Will to speak, saying he is “the last person Miami University should have speak on campus.”
“Don't pay rape apologist George Will to address your students,” the petition states. “Instead, support survivors of sexual assault and work on real prevention measures to address the rape epidemic on campus.”