If there’s one evident truth that’s been established at the University since last semester, it’s that we are an institution that has no tolerance for attacking or discriminatory language. Such intolerance was made even clearer on Sept. 5, when hundreds of students walked out on “Drink Think: A Personal Approach to Alcohol,” a discussion conducted by speaker Rick Barnes.
The event, held in the Weis Center and hosted by the Interfraternity and Panhellenic Councils, required the attendance of all members of Greek life, many of whom are fresh faces in the fraternity or sorority communities. On his website, Barnes is said to “deliver powerful messages in a practical, approachable style” in leading “a fun, interactive, yet serious discussion about alcohol use on campus.” Yet many in attendance disagreed with such statements, exhibited by their choice to exit the discussion before it had come to a close.
Tom Ficcadenti ’18 stated his belief that Barnes’s presentation was both racist and sexist. He went on to express that he was proud of the Greek community for not finding his comments “funny or relatable,” and said he was somewhat disturbed that Barnes “had the impression that … he’d earn our approval by spewing out hateful speech.”
“He’d talk about ‘that guy’ or ‘that girl’ in a Greek organization who acts a certain way. And he openly made fun of them … like they had a disease. So if you had past experiences similar to the people he was describing, you’d probably feel really horrible about yourself and think there was no way out. When in reality, ‘that guy’ or ‘that girl’ made mistakes and needs to be supported so they don’t make those mistakes in the future,” Ficcadenti said.
Barnes had originally been scheduled to speak again at the annual Fraternity and Sorority Welcome Dinner held in Sojka Pavilion later that evening. Instead, Panhellenic Council President Issey Blatt ’16 and Interfraternity Council President Richie Pisano ’16 apologized for Barnes’s presentation, stating that they were both “deeply sorry.”
“During the event, we could not have been more proud of members of this community when they chose to walk out. At the conclusion of his presentation, others confronted Mr. Barnes in person to let him know their thoughts. [W]e are proud that members of the Greek community stood [up] for their values and took these actions,” Blatt and Pisano said.
Though Barnes has toured over 2,000 college campuses across the country throughout his career as a speaker, the University community was the first to challenge his content.
“He completely alienated all the women in the room with his ignorance, his condescendence, and his inappropriate and disconnected view of what being a member of the female gender is actually like. Once he has experienced menstruation, childbirth, and the gender wage gap, then maybe he can comment on what my ‘kookoo’ time is really like,” Sidlowski said.
President John Bravman, who stands by the decision to exclude Barnes from participating in further events on campus, said “students have a right and an obligation to express their views.”
“Normally, and in the best academic and intellectual traditions, [expression of one’s views] is best served through engagement with individuals and ideals, regardless of how much [they] may differ. However, when something is as offensive as this presentation apparently was, people may also choose to simply leave, and I support that,” Bravman said.