More than 1,000 people have signed a letter opposing the appearance today of George Will, the nationally syndicated columnist, at Miami University in Ohio. The university is standing by the appearance, citing free speech grounds, but critics cite a controversial column Will wrote casting doubt on the movement to prevent sexual assaults on campus. The column was widely condemned by advocates for women who have been sexually assaulted for the way it criticized campus efforts to prevent and punish assaults, and for how it characterized those who have reported assaults. A line that caused particular anger said that such efforts "make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges."
In another phrase that outraged many, he referred to the "supposed campus epidemic of rape, a.k.a. 'sexual assault.'" A statement on the Miami women's and gender studies program page on Facebook says: "The Miami I believe in is committed to creating a welcoming and safe environment for all of our students. I am disappointed that a speaker who clearly does not respect women, or take the issue of sexual assault seriously is being given a platform to speak, particularly because such inflammatory rhetoric has the potential to revictimize and retraumatize our students. This is not acceptable."
Hundreds of people marched to Saint Louis University Sunday night -- as part of a series of protests in St. Louis over the way the police treat black people -- and started a sit-in, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. The protest was not directed at the university, although there is a connection to the institution because the father of a teen fatally shot Wednesday works at the university. He spoke at the rally. Sit-in participants took to social media to post photographs (see below) and to appeal for blankets, food and other support. The university said on Facebook that the protest was peaceful and without incident. Some students took to social media to ask that classes be called off today because of difficulty navigating the campus.
The media company Univision and an online service provider plan to help Hispanic-serving institutions develop their distance education offerings. The announcement was made by Integrated Education Solutions, an arm of DeVry Education, which will work with Univision to help Hispanic-serving institutions develop and market their online academic programs. (Note: This item has been updated from an earlier version to correct errors.)
Emory University officials are condemning and investigating swastikas that were found painted on the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity house early Sunday, Business Insider reported. The fraternity is historically Jewish.
Bullying and intimidation on anonymous social media platforms have been a pervasive problem on college campuses for some time. Each academic school year seems to bring a new app or website to prominence as the mechanism of choice for posting hostile messages.
Discussion of Online Bullying
Kenyon's Sean Decatur and Inside Higher Ed blogger Eric Stoller will discuss how colleges should respond to Yik Yak on "This Week," Inside Higher Ed's free weekly news podcast, on Friday. To be notified of new editions of "This Week," sign up here.
This year, Yik Yak is the app du jour; racist, sexist, and homophobic comments posted on Yik Yak have led to student protests on some campuses, and attempts by administrators to block access to the site on others. But Yik Yak is not the problem; in fact, I am confident that the hype over this particular app will soon die down, and it will be replaced by some new, more exciting tool. The problem lies in a culture that accepts – indeed embraces – the act of broadcasting, behind a protective mask of anonymity, statements that most would find offensive.
Kenyon College, where I serve as president, has not been immune to this. Anonymous postings to social media have spurred vigorous debate on campus in prior years. This year, however, the posting of statements that attempted to find humor in sexual assault as the campus prepared for Take Back the Night Week provoked a particularly strong response. Part of the conversation on campus has focused on the specific content: the fact that rape and sexual violence are never laughing matters and the reality that these types of anonymous postings have a threatening and chilling impact on the campus community.
More broadly, this discussion has stirred renewed dialogue on the very nature of anonymous postings and disrespectful, uncivil dialogue on campus. Academic institutions must create spaces for dialogue and conflicting views – this is the very heart of the concept of academic freedom. At Kenyon we value (and indeed celebrate) both the right to express dissenting views and the responsibility to respectfully listen to those opinions. We may disagree and challenge with rigor, but always with respect.
But our embrace of academic freedom as a principle means that we must reject bullying and intimidation that squelch debate and dissent and inhibit learning. Personal attacks and provocative statements made behind the shield of anonymity are not protected by academic freedom; rather, these actions restrict and stifle it. Difference, dissent, and debate must occur in an open, respectful environment, and the type of targeting and bullying of individuals or groups that occurs in anonymous social media harms this environment.
In an effort to promote an open, respectful environment that enables difference, dissent, and debate, a group of students have started a project on Facebook (#Respectful Difference). The project uses social media to positively assert the values of civility and respect and the importance of dialogue to bridge different views. The concept is simple: Members of the Kenyon community (as individuals or groups) are photographed with simple statements about why they value respectful difference, post them to social media, and challenge peers and friends to do the same. By reclaiming social media as a space for civil discussion, and by rejecting anonymity, this project has been a way for Kenyon students, faculty, staff, and alumni to assert the central values of academic freedom.
Will this simple project change the culture that fuels anonymous online bullying? We’d be naïve to believe that this is sufficient to solve the problem. Hateful speech arises from systemic inequality, which must be addressed in order to achieve cultural change. The campaign has drawn some fair criticism on campus that a call for open dialogue is not enough, that root causes must be challenged as well. But this student-inspired campaign starts the process for an open dialogue that is a prerequisite for change and it sends a powerful message about the values of our community.