For the winter commencement at Michigan State University, where I completed my Bachelor of Arts in Journalism, they have selected Michael Moore–which makes sense since he’s from Michigan and has focused on issues affecting Michigan during his career–and George Will, the Washington Post columnist, to speak.
Normally, I might ignore the selection of the second commencement speaker. I avoid Will’s columns because life is too short to regularly read rage-inducing columns, but the school he is speaking at is what is causing me to comment.
MSU is currently under federal investigation for Title IX violations because they have allegedly mishandled sexual assaults on campus.
Will notably said this in a column on sexual assault on campuses:
[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 status that confers privileges, victims proliferate.
Translation: People want to be sexual assault victims because it gives them privilege. Because that privilege is totally why a lot of sexual assault victims don’t report incidents out of fear of retaliation, stigmatization and people flat out not believing them.
A school under federal investigation for mishandling sexual assault cases has a commencement speaker who said that victimhood “confers privileges” and the Obama administration’s efforts to combat sexual assault on college campuses “vows to excavate equities from the ambiguities of the hookup culture, this cocktail of hormones, alcohol and the faux sophistication of today’s prolonged adolescence of especially privileged young adults.”
(Side-Bar: Can we create a bingo card for columns? I feel like something needs to be marked off every time Millennials are called “privileged.”)
Either this is the perfect choice of a speaker because it shows just how MSU truly feels about sexual assault cases or it is the most tone-deaf selection of a commencement speaker in…a really long time.
MSU’s selection of Will as a speaker is for his contributions to journalism and opinion writing, according to a statement given to Media Matters. Which makes sense since, as I said earlier, the other commencement speaker has made notable contributions to film, among those contributions, highlighting problems in Michigan. Since Michigan State has the image of wanting its students to go out and solve the problems affecting Michigan and the rest of the world, Moore makes perfect sense as a speaker.
Similarly, Will is a columnist who is well known and works at a prominent newspaper. But he wrote that column. He made those remarks. It feels like no one looked at George Will’s Wikipedia article before selecting him to be the commencement speaker to find out what could potentially cause a controversy with selecting him.
I understand that MSU is not trying to make a political statement, they are just picking someone notable and giving him an honorary degree. But this is a slap to sexual assault victims who attend and have attended the school. By selecting someone who has trivialized rape to speak at commencement and receive an honorary degree it in turn trivializes the very real and painful experiences of students who have walked those halls in East Lansing.
I commend the Council of Graduate Students for condemning the selection of Will as the speaker and wanting the resources used to giving Will an honorary doctorate to be used for hiring more sexual assault counselors at the MSU Counseling Center. I can speak from experience that in general the MSU Counseling Center was in a state that could not even adequately meet the needs of a school of the size of MSU. I have seen on Facebook that representatives with the Associated Students of Michigan State University are working quickly so they can have a meeting to denounce Will being a commencement speaker, which is also commendable and I hope the efforts succeed.
Unfortunately MSU has no intentions of dropping Will as a commencement speaker. I hope they change their minds. If they do not, I will never donate a penny to the university and will leave its alumni association because going forward with Will tells me how they feel about sexual assault and how they treat a pretty vocal amount of people criticizing their decision for a good reason. It tells me the voice of students, faculty, staff and alumni united around an issue does not matter.
I encourage you to raise your voice and sign a petition Ultraviolet has calling for Will to be dropped as the speaker. Tweet, write on Facebook, spread the word. If you’re an undergraduate student at MSU, email your ASMSU representative(s) and tell them how you feel. If MSU keeps him as the speaker, go to the protest that will be held.
Regardless of what happens, it is shameful MSU selected him in the first place.
Update: ASMSU passed a resolution on Dec. 9 condemning Will as a commencement speaker.