Navigating TCU has been difficult since Monday. Survivors of sexual violence were greeted on University Drive that afternoon by a person known to the campus community, conservative internet personality Steven Crowder, a political commentator who hosts argument booths around North Texas to spark disputes with passersby. Crowder has visited campus before, specifically this spring when he set up a booth with a sign reading, “White privilege doesn’t exist. Change my mind.” The image received widespread notoriety and quickly became the subject for memes and joking online.
But this time Crowder’s subject was far more difficult for students to deal with. This time his sign said, “Rape culture doesn’t exist. Change my mind.”
Anyone who lives in the modern world likely knows that when he or she sees such verbiage, its author is not interested in a new way of thought. This is especially true of Crowder, whose approach to debates with students is famously one of antagonism rather than philosophical insight.
Whatever his motivations, Crowder had a negative impact on campus life for many. Multiple students alerted administrative staff in several departments, expressing distress at Crowder’s presence and aggressive tactics. Staff and students say many female students were in tears during Crowder’s confrontations.
The visit sparked a response from faculty in TCU’s Women and Gender Studies program, who sent an email urging people on campus to stand with survivors and to show support by sporting purple ribbons, female empowerment slogans, or teal colors, which designate sexual assault awareness month (which is in April). Some faculty were seen wearing purple ribbons the next day.
On Tuesday, students received emails from the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, Kathy Cavins-Tull, in which she explained that TCU did not host Crowder but that his speech was protected under the U.S. Constitution. She also confirmed that Crowder’s booth was set up on a public walkway, meaning the school could not escort him off the premises.
“Many watched and some participated as Steven Crowder, a self-proclaimed conservative political commentator, actor, and comedian, engaged passersby in the filming of his podcast,” Cavins-Tull said in the prepared email. “Mr. Crowder makes his living by posing a divisive statement to a group, often college students, and asking them to change his mind. His method of operation is to garner a reaction from individuals, which he, in turn, makes fun of while filming for his show.”
The email also referred students to campus resources and counseling services.
Not all responses were supportive of students, however. Associate music professor Richard Estes expressed frustration with the public outrage by responding to one Facebook post with, “Toughen up a little, snowflakes.”
The timing was perfect for Crowder to gain attention. This issue has sparked heated discussions both online and in the “real world” in the wake of Dr. Christine Ford’s sexual assault allegations against U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
But while the timing might be right for Crowder’s purpose, the timing was wrong with respect to decency. Every time we engage in discourse around sexual violence, there are survivors who can hear us.
Survivors of rape and sexual assault likely did not expect to run into Crowder on their way to classes Monday afternoon, but they still saw his sign. In a place where they are supposed to feel supported and safe, and where Title IX regulations are routinely stressed by administrators and staff, survivors had to work their way around a large throng of students, a camera crew, campus police, and several people who turned up to support Crowder.
It should be noted that survivors of sexual assault frequently relive their experiences when this topic is brought up publicly. Sexual violence should not be talked about lightly. When we engage in debates on topics relating to rape and sexual assault, we must exercise humanity and respect. Otherwise, we are further harming some of the most vulnerable in society. — Written by Erin Ratigan