Students and alumni at Santa Clara University are protesting an upcoming speech by syndicated columnist George Will. After Will “trivialized” campus sexual assault victims in a 2014 column, he has faced widespread opposition at schools that have hosted him. Last year, Will was uninvited from a speech at Scripps College and protested by hundreds of students at two other schools.
Will first came under fire after his June 2014 column dismissed “the supposed campus epidemic of rape, aka 'sexual assault,'” and argued that efforts to combat campus sexual assault have made “victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges.”
A petition at Change.org states that the signatories are “extremely disappointed” with Will's inclusion in Santa Clara's President's Speaker Series on October 8. “We find Will's flatly dismissive statements about sexual assault, climate change, and the Pope not only disrespectful,” the petition states, “but contrary to the very spirit of a speaker series dedicated to 'engaging people and ideas that shape our world'” (emphasis added):
While we believe that hosting speakers with a wide range of political viewpoints is vital to the intellectual life of the university, publications by Will demonstrate that he is not interested in the kinds of presentation and discussion that make this series a successful contribution to the mission of the university.
Will has repeatedly issued statements that both trivialize the problem of campus sexual assaults and invalidate the experiences and feelings of sexual assault survivors. Moreover, his recent claim that national and local efforts to combat campus rape have made “victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges” is not merely misguided, but deeply misogynistic and ignorant.
The invitation of Will, at considerable financial cost to the university, sends a profoundly contradictory message to our campus community and particularly our students. At this year's university convocation, President Engh talked about the need for students, faculty, staff -- and the institution as a whole -- to respond with more courage and concern to the problem of violence against women, particularly on college campuses across the country.
Featuring George Will in the President's Speaker Series also undercuts the dedication of many universities (including SCU) to promoting sustainability, an effort Will derides as a silly “progressive gesture.” Moreover, leading climatologist Michael Mann notes, “George Will is known for grossly misstating the science of climate change.” Ironically, in a recent opinion piece titled “Pope Francis's fact free flamboyance,” Will described Pope Francis as embracing ideas “impeccably fashionable, demonstrably false and deeply reactionary,” with the “intellectual tone of fortune cookies.”
Last October, Will was uninvited from a speaking engagement at Scripps College, after the school's president said Will had “trivialized” sexual assault cases, including one “that reflects similar experiences reported by Scripps students.” Later in the year, hundreds showed up to protest a speech Will gave at Miami University in Ohio, while over a thousand students signed a letter criticizing the speech. Some students at Michigan State University also turned their backs on Will during his recent commencement speech. Other students and faculty at MSU even held a separate commencement ceremony, and Michigan Senator (and MSU alumna) Debbie Stabenow condemned the decision to host Will.
Image of Miami University protest courtesy of the Facebook page of the school's Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program.