By Lucy Altman-Newell ‘17
Since 2006, Scripps has been bringing conservative speakers to campus through the Elizabeth Hubert Malott Public Affairs Program, which, according to the webpage, “makes manifest [the] belief that a range of opinions about the world — especially opinions with which we may not agree, or think we do not agree — leads to a better educational experience.” Such speakers have included Newt Gingrich in 2010, Charles Krauthammer in 2013 and Peggy Noonan in 2014. Nationally-syndicated- conservative journalist George Will was slated to speak this year, but Scripps made the decision to not go through with the invitation after he wrote a column for Washington Post about sexual assault on college campuses which claimed that “when [colleges and universities] make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate.”
Will’s June 6 article, entitled “Colleges Become the Victims of Progressivism,” has been widely criticized for trivializing sexual assault and trauma, although Will himself stated in a letter to the U.S. Senate on June 13 that, “I think I take sexual assault much more seriously than you. Which is why I worry about definitions of that category of a crime that might, by their breadth, tend to trivialize it.” In his June 6 column, Will blamed academia for “making everyone hypersensitive, even delusional, about victimizations,” and for proliferating the idea of the “supposed campus epidemic of rape, a.k.a. ‘sexual assault.’”
Responses reporting outrage over Will’s article were widespread and immediate. On June 10, Amy Davidson published an article in The New Yorkercriticizing Will’s views, speculating that “perhaps what he calls a privilege is a young woman such as that being listened to by her elders and having her story taken seriously. That counts as a privilege — an extra benefit — only if a girl, in the normal course of things, wouldn’t and needn’t be heard.” On June 12, four members of the U.S. Senate denounced Will’s column, stating that his “notion about a perceived privileged status of survivors of sexual assault on campuses runs completely counter to the experiences described to us.” Advocates for women who have been sexually assaulted expressed anger about the way the column denounced colleges for their efforts to address sexual assault and its suggestion that said efforts are a harmfully-overbearing result of progressivism. Another suggestion for which the article received much outcry is the idea that some who bring forward charges of sexual assault do so not because of legitimate traumatic experiences, but because the campus climate encourages them to come forward, whether or not they have been harmed. In response, multiple groups — including the D.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the feminist group UltaViolet and Change.org have called for the Washington Post to fire Will, although they have refused to do so. Similarly, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch protested Will’s article by dropping his column from their op-ed page.
Scripps College’s uninvitation to Will was also a direct response to his column. This decision has been hotly debated on a national level. An Oct. 6 article in The Claremont Independent and an Oct. 7 article in the National Review argued that terminating plans to bring Will to campus is a freedom of speech issue and will only harm Scripps students because, according to the National Review, it ensures that “The students of Scripps . . . will remain cosseted in their bubble for yet another day.”
However, the Elizabeth Hubert Malott Public Affairs Program was established to bring conservative views to campus, and continues to do so. President Bettison-Varga sent out an email to the Scripps community and to Inside Higher Ed on Oct. 7 stating, “Over the past eight years, the Malott Public Affairs Program has diversified the educational environment for our students by featuring conservative thought leaders in a widely publicized and well-attended event series. We do not shy away from bringing strong conservative viewpoints into our community...The issue of sexual assault is complex, serious, and personal to Scripps students …. 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. For that reason, after Mr. Will authored a column questioning the validity of a specific sexual assault case that reflects similar experiences reported by Scripps students, we decided not to finalize the speaker agreement. [Scripps College] will continue to welcome thoughtful, respected speakers representing diverse political perspectives to campus.”